Sen. Bernie Sanders says he’s running for president in 2020

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WASHINGTON – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose insurgent 2016 presidential campaign reshaped Democratic politics, announced Tuesday that he is running for president in 2020.

“Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump,” the 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist said in an email to supporters. “Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

An enthusiastic progressive who embraces proposals ranging from Medicare for All to free college tuition, Sanders stunned the Democratic establishment in 2016 with his spirited challenge to Hillary Clinton. While she ultimately became the party’s nominee, his campaign helped lay the groundwork for the leftward lurch that has dominated Democratic politics in the Trump era.

The question now for Sanders is whether he can stand out in a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates who also embrace many of his policy ideas and are newer to the national political stage. That’s far different from 2016, when he was Clinton’s lone progressive adversary.

Still, there is no question that Sanders will be a formidable contender for the Democratic nomination. He won more than 13 million votes in 2016 and dozens of primaries and caucuses. He opens his campaign with a nationwide organization and a proven small-dollar fundraising effort.

“We’re gonna win,” Sanders told CBS.

He said he was going to launch “what I think is unprecedented in modern American history”: a grassroots movement “to lay the groundwork for transforming the economic and political life of this country.”

Sanders described his new White House bid as a “continuation of what we did in 2016,” noting that policies he advocated for then are now embraced by the Democratic Party.

“You know what’s happened in over three years?” he said. “All of these ideas and many more are now part of the political mainstream.”

Sanders could be well positioned to compete in the nation’s first primary in neighbouring New Hampshire, which he won by 22 points in 2016. But he won’t have the state to himself.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California, another Democratic presidential contender, was in New Hampshire on Monday and said she’d compete for the state. She also appeared to take a dig at Sanders.

“The people of New Hampshire will tell me what’s required to compete in New Hampshire,” she told shoppers at a bookstore in Concord. “But I will tell you I’m not a democratic socialist.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of nearby Massachusetts will be in New Hampshire on Friday.

One of the biggest questions surrounding Sanders’ candidacy is how he’ll compete against someone like Warren, who shares many of his policy goals. Warren has already launched her campaign and has planned an aggressive swing through the early primary states.

Shortly after announcing her exploratory committee, Warren hired Brendan Summers, who managed Sanders’ 2016 Iowa campaign. Other staffers from Sanders’ first bid also have said they would consider working for other candidates in 2020.

The crowded field includes a number of other candidates who will likely make strong appeals to the Democratic base including Harris and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. The field could also grow, with a number of high-profile Democrats still considering presidential bids, including former Vice-President Joe Biden and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

While Sanders had been working to lay the groundwork for a second campaign for months, it was unclear whether he will be able to expand his appeal beyond his largely white base of supporters. In 2016, Sanders notably struggled to garner support from black voters, an issue that could become particularly pervasive during a primary race that could include several non-white candidates.

Last month, he joined Booker at an event in Columbia, South Carolina, marking the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. In 2016, Sanders lost the South Carolina primary, which features a heavily black electorate, by 47 points.

Sanders also faces different pressures in the #MeToo era. Some of his male staffers and supporters in 2016 were described as “Bernie bros” for their treatment of women.

In the run-up to Sanders’ 2020 announcement, persistent allegations emerged of sexual harassment of women by male staffers during his 2016 campaign. Politico and The New York Times reported several allegations of unwanted sexual advances and pay inequity.

In an interview with CNN after the initial allegations surfaced, Sanders apologized but also noted he was “a little busy running around the country trying to make the case.”

As additional allegations emerged, he offered a more unequivocal apology.

“What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign — or any campaign — should be about,” Sanders said Jan. 10 on Capitol Hill. “Every woman in this country who goes to work today or tomorrow has the right to make sure that she is working in an environment which is free of harassment, which is safe and is comfortable, and I will do my best to make that happen.”

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Ryerson’s student union removes president amid questions over $700K in spending

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Ryerson University’s student union has impeached its president and suspended its vice-president of operations while it waits for the results of an audit of nearly $700,000 in spending.

The union’s board voted Monday night to remove president Ram Ganesh, and elected Maklane deWever as his replacement.

Ram Ganesh was removed as president of the Ryerson Students’ Union at a board meeting Monday night.
Ram Ganesh was removed as president of the Ryerson Students’ Union at a board meeting Monday night.  (Ryerson Students’ Union)

DeWever, a business major in his final year, told the Star he “reluctantly accepted” the appointment.

“Over the next two months, we will be starting the long and slow process of earning back students’ trust through real and meaningful action,” said deWever, 23, a student union board member who has been publicly pushing for transparency and accountability after he helped bring the questionable expenses to light.

The audit will review payments and credit card charges made over the past nine months by the union’s executive committee members. The student union’s operating budget is nearly $3 million, which comes from mandatory student fees — now a hot-button political issue as Premier Doug Ford recently moved to make such fees optional, claiming they bankroll “crazy Marxist nonsense.”

Despite protests from student groups, the provincial government announced last month that most student fees, which can add as much as $2,000 annually to post-secondary costs, would become an optional expense. Student leaders fear the decision could jeopardize a variety of programs that rely on union support, including mental health and sexual assault services as well as student newspapers like The Eyeopener, which uncovered the spending scandal at Ryerson.

Credit card statements in the name of Ryerson Student Union president Ram Ganesh.
Credit card statements in the name of Ryerson Student Union president Ram Ganesh.  (Eyeopener)

“What happened at Ryerson’s Student Union undermines the 52 years of hard work that our employees and student leaders have devoted to uplifting the Ryerson community,” DeWever wrote in a statement to the Star. “It is unfair to call our food bank, 96 student groups, centres for marginalized communities, legal aid and the voice we provide … Marxist nonsense. The Student Choice Initiative will kill student life and prevent us from providing services to the most vulnerable members of the Ryerson community. This does not mean that important financial reform is not needed.”

DeWever confirmed to the Star that a formal audit will “begin very shortly.” He said he’s not sure how long it will take.

During an emergency meeting earlier this month, the student board heard that Ganesh “chose to be” the executive’s “main point of contact” with a company hired to stage a concert at a nightclub that cost more than $400,000 in January. The union’s professional accountant told the group she had received no information about ticket sales for the event or any of the $350,000 she said she was told the union would receive in sponsorship money.

When the Star called Ganesh’s cellphone for comment Tuesday, a man answered. When a Star reporter identified herself and asked to speak with Ganesh, the man said, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk,” and hung up. A followup text to the same number received no response.

Ganesh’s student status was not immediately clear. Some board members told the Star he has graduated from the school’s engineering program while others believe he is still attending classes. Ryerson University’s spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. In an earlier statement, Johanna VanderMaas said the school takes allegations of financial mismanagement very seriously but “has no ability to conduct an independent investigation” because the union is a separate entity with its own governance structure.

Ganesh attended Monday’s impeachment. He abstained from voting on the motion, according to The Eyeopener. Reporters not affiliated with campus media were barred from the meeting.

Savreen Gosal was suspended from her role as the union’s vice-president of operations until an accounting firm completes its audit.

The Eyeopener reported that Ganesh and Gosal were responsible for the student union’s credit card and may have charged more than $270,000 in unusual purchases.

Ganesh told student reporters that the union’s credit cards could be used by any part-time or full-time union staff member. Credit card statements provided to the student newspaper showed more than $2,500 spent at a Cineplex theatre, $2,300 at a bar and nearly $800 at an LCBO.

The Toronto Star has not received copies of these statements to verify the accuracy of these expenses.

Diana Zlomislic is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @dzlo

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Is Netflix really a foreign colonizer? CBC president Catherine Tait might not be wrong

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Catherine Tait, the uber-boss of the CBC, has compared Netflix’s television domination to the kind of colonialism exhibited by the British and French empires.

So far, no correlation has been made to Amazon Prime Video being headed by Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan running programming at Hulu, although I imagine those shops would be heavy on drama, light on comedy.

Next, we’ll hear that Tait wants to build the Great Cultural Wall of Canada barring the Americans from flooding the market with their cheap reruns of Three’s Company.

Donald Trump, still trying to build his wall or fence, or semi-permeable Styrofoam barrier, would be impressed.

The reality for Canada, though, is that the barbarians are already at the gate.

You don’t need to be an anthropologist to see what the most recent numbers reveal every week: American culture dominates our viewing habits.

The No. 1 show for several years running in Canada has the CBS nerd sitcom The Big Bang Theory. ABC’s The Good Doctor and CBS’s Young Sheldon were in second and third place. No Canadian show made the top 10 except for Lisa LaFlamme holding the fort by gamely talking about Trans Mountain pipelines on the CTV National News.

But bully for Tait for not showing the white flag.

“I was thinking about the British Empire and how, if you were there and you were the viceroy of India you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India,” Tait said on a media panel in Ottawa Friday. “If you were in French Africa, you would think ‘I’m educating them. I’m bringing their resources to the world and I am helping them.’”

Tait made her comments while Netflix director of public affairs Stéphane Cardin reportedly shook his head in disbelief — although he might have just been trying to figure out his most recent bonus cheque since the company’s revenues grew by 35 per cent in 2018 to $16 billion (U.S.).

Not bad for a shop that started out sending you DVDs in the mail. Remember DVDs?

Or it could be because Cardin’s heard it all before. Despite the indignation from those in the industry who disagree with her, Tait’s comments aren’t new.

“They are the perfect representation of American cultural imperialism,” Christophe Tardieu, director of France’s National Cinema Centre, the organization that pays for most of the Cannes Film Festival, told the New York Times way back in 2017.

Netflix, of course, isn’t just disrupting legacy broadcasters; it is upending the movie industry as well, taking A list stars and plopping them on the same screen that you use to watch Jeopardy! Which, next to eating Cheez Whiz on Saltines, is as sacrilegious as it gets for the French.

Still, Tait has a point. Canadian broadcasters have a legitimate axe to grind with Netflix.

Netflix is not required to contribute to the Canadian Media Fund, through which cable companies and broadcasters help to finance original Canadian productions.

Secondly, streaming companies don’t have to collect GST or HST sales taxes if they don’t have brick and mortar operations in the country. Meanwhile, their competitors have to collect that tax as well as contribute 5 per cent of their gross revenue to the Canadian Media Fund.

Netflix has said it shouldn’t pay into the fund because that would force “foreign online services to subsidize Canadian broadcasters.”

Ottawa decided not to implement taxes after Netflix said it would spend at least $500 million over five years on programming, a number which the company says it will exceed.

But the reality is, the playing field is grossly distorted. Australia, the European Union and Japan have already moved to eliminate the competitive disadvantage. Quebec started requiring Netflix to collect taxes this year. So Tait isn’t far off the mark.

“So all I can say is, let us be mindful of how it is we, as Canadians, respond to global companies coming into our country,” she says.

Still, as a broadcaster and producer, Tait has to tread a fine line. She has to figure out how to work with the steaming giant while not being swallowed by them.

Partnering with Netflix has its advantages. Just ask the cast of CBC’s Kim’s Convenience, who are now global superstars, or the makers of Citytv’s newly popular Bad Blood, which the streamer recently acquired. Netflix has become the gateway to the world for quality Canadian television.

Yet success on Netflix is a double-edged sword. Tait said “it was very painful” for her to read a Vanity Fair article thanking Netflix for Schitt’s Creek, even though it was a show that originated on the CBC.

But nothing is more revealing than the whole Bird Box controversy. A unanimous motion in the House of Commons asked Netflix to remove all images of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy from its fiction catalogue. The streamer used stock footage of the 2013 derailment and explosion in the Sandra Bullock thriller Bird Box and the TV series Travelers.

Netflix apologized but has so far refused to pull the images from Bird Box. However, the producers of Travelers said they would yank the images from the show.

Perhaps the fact that Travelers is proudly co-produced by Canadians and originated on a Canadian channel made the difference. They had skin in the game. They were sensitive to the concerns in their own backyard.

That’s what Tait was trying, in a ham-fisted way, to say after all. That caravan of producers crawling north from Hollywood with a wad of cash? They don’t always have your best interests at heart, Canada.

Or put another way: “Looking at the ecosystem, everybody’s swimming in the same swimming pool,” she once said. “But some of the people aren’t cleaning it up.”

Tony Wong is the Star’s television critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @tonydwong

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Former ambassadors and academics urge China’s president to release Canadian men

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OTTAWA—More than 100 former ambassadors and prominent academics specializing in China and Asian affairs are appealing directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping for the release of two Canadian men who the Trudeau government says are being “arbitrarily” held by Chinese state security forces.

In an open letter published Monday, a copy of which was sent to the Star, 26 former ambassadors to China and 115 scholars from around the world say they are “deeply concerned” about the detentions and say it sends a chilling message to all who want to build bridges with China.

The letter comes as Beijing moved to soften its tone a week after its ambassador to Canada warned the Trudeau government it would face “repercussions” if it banned Huawei, the Chinese corporate giant that wants to play a key role in developing Canada’s 5G networks, the next generation of high-speed wireless networks.

Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, told reporters Monday that Ambassador Lu Shaye “did not mean that China intends to interfere in the decision-making of the Canadian government.”

She said Huawei “is a leading supplier in the 5G technology, so losses are inevitable if Huawei is not chosen as a co-operation partner,” later adding “We have been reasoning with the Canadian side, not threatening it.”

Nevertheless, the Chinese spokeswoman talked tough and accused Canada of “irresponsible” remarks and “microphone diplomacy” in its efforts to rally international allies to protest the men’s detention.

She disputed Canada’s claims that the leaders of Germany and Singapore have publicly supported Canada’s position, saying neither made public comments.

Canada’s allies have made varied statements of support.

But the letter published Monday by former diplomats, including five past Canadian envoys, and many others shows more than 140 Western experts on China speaking with one voice. Hua dismissed it Monday, according to a transcript posted on the foreign ministry website.

“I wonder who these western scholars and officials are and how much do they know about the real situation regarding the cases of the two Canadian citizens,” she said, adding foreign citizens are welcome in China. “As long as they abide by Chinese laws and regulations, there is nothing to worry about.”

Chinese state security officials arrested the two separately after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, wanted by the U.S. for allegedly lying to skirt American sanctions on Iran.

The Chinese government is rebuffing Canada’s calls for the men’s release. Beijing says the Canadians are being held on suspicion of “activities endangering China’s national security” but they have not been charged.

“Many of us know Michael Kovrig through his work as a diplomat in Beijing and as the senior expert for northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, an organization whose mission is to ‘build a more peaceful world’,” the letter reads.

“In both roles, Kovrig regularly and openly met with Chinese officials, researchers, and scholars to better understand China’s positions on a range of important international issues.”

“Michael Spavor has devoted his time to the task of building relationships between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China, Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere.”

Spavor had co-ordinated sporting and cultural trips into North Korea through his China-based business and made headlines when he worked as a fixer for former NBA superstar Dennis Rodham’s trip to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Read more:

China’s ambassador accuses Canada of ‘backstabbing’ in arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou

Chinese police prevent Canadian woman from returning home on connecting flight through Beijing

Trudeau enlists Trump to seek release of Canadians detained by China

The one-page appeal, in English and Chinese, says that kind of on-the-ground engagement is the foundation of serious research and diplomacy.

It says their detentions “send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China.”

It cautions that people who share “Kovrig and Spavor’s enthusiasm for building genuine, productive, and lasting relationships must now be more cautious about traveling and working in China and engaging our Chinese counterparts.” That leads to less dialogue and greater distrust “and undermine(s) efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground.”

“Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result,” the signatories wrote.

Among the group are six former ambassadors to China from Canada — Fred Bild, Joseph Caron, David Mulroney, Earl Drake, Guy Saint-Jacques and Rob Wright. It is also signed by former envoys from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Sweden, and Mexico, two former U.S. deputy assistant secretaries of state, and former foreign ministers from the U.K. and Australia.

The letter “respectfully” asks the Chinese president for the “immediate” release of the two Canadian citizens “so that they may be reunited with their families.”

One Canadian signatory, Joseph Caron, ambassador to China from 2001 to 2005, said he signed the letter “because it was the moral thing to do,” but declined further comment.

David Mulroney, who was Ottawa’s envoy from 2009-2012, said the letter is signed by a list of people “who have spent decades learning about China and trying to understand and interpret it. China has an interest in being better understood.”

He said it should remind people that “this is more than a Canada-China dispute.”

“Many people, from many places, are worried about the extent to which China is closing itself off, and punishing those who have struggled to understand it and explain it to others.

“China typically succeeds by isolating countries and punishing them, while others look on in silence. Sweden has just experienced this, and now we are, too. By broadening the discussion about what’s happening, we make it harder for China to bully smaller states.”

Last week, Beijing’s ambassador in Ottawa Lu Shaye signalled the Chinese government has no intention of intervening in what is now an investigation led by state security forces. He said that as the investigation “deepens and advances” the charges would be made “clear” and “specific.”

Lu insisted China is taking “compulsory measures” under law against the men. He contrasted that with Canada’s detention of Meng which he called “groundless” because she has broken no Canadian law. Meng is out on bail, restricted to remaining in Vancouver where she lives at one of her two mansions pending her extradition hearing. China wants her set free immediately.

On Sunday, newly appointed federal Justice Minister David Lametti said officials in his department, not him, will decide the next step, which is whether to issue the “authority to proceed” to put the U.S. case against Meng before a Canadian judge.

Under a bilateral treaty, the U.S. has until Jan. 30 to produce its documents or “record” of the case to Canada’s justice department’s international assistance group, which then has 30 days to review the package.

If all is in order, the justice department officials would grant the authority to proceed and its lawyers would argue on behalf of the U.S. before a Canadian judge that the U.S. has produced documents that meet the legal threshold to have Meng extradited to face fraud charges. A Canadian court judge will decide if indeed the U.S. has produced enough evidence that would have been sufficient to send Meng to trial if the conduct had occurred here, but doesn’t pronounce on guilt or innocence. Then it’s up to the justice minister to decide whether to surrender Meng to be extradited, taking account of legal and political factors.

“I will only intervene after a court decision to extradite with respect to the execution of that decision,” said Lametti.

“So in terms of the process I will stay away from the process in order to not be tainted if I do have to make a decision one way or the other,” Lametti told reporters Sunday.

The ex-diplomats’ and academics’ letter comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his efforts to speak to other national leaders about Canada’s concerns in the affair.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles cabinet, Philpott takes over as Treasury Board president

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OTTAWA—In an election-year cabinet shuffle, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put Toronto-area MP Jane Philpott at the helm of government spending and operations, sealing her reputation as a fixer in Justin Trudeau’s government.

Trudeau called Philpott a “natural choice” for the role of President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government, the third cabinet spot held by the MP for Markham-Stouffville—following stints in health and Indigenous services.

Philpott, a physician first elected in 2015, was vice-chair of the central agency and her shift confirms she is seen as a capable and steady hand at the cabinet table.

Trudeau’s surprise move was Jody Wilson-Raybould’s appointment as veterans affairs minister, moving from justice, where she was the first Indigenous woman to hold the porfolio, to a line department where dealing with the sensitive issue of veterans’ compensation is key.

Wilson-Raybould said she was “honoured” to take up her new post, and not disappointed. “I would say there is no world in which I would consider working for our veterans of Canada a demotion.”

Seamus O’Regan shifts out of veterans affairs to take Philpott’s place as Minister of Indigenous Affairs, taking on challenging issues facing Indigenous people, such as chronic water problems on reserves.

Quebec MP David Lametti, an Oxford, Yale and McGill grad and former law professor at McGill University, becomes justice minister. Trudeau said his promotion of the current parliamentary secretary for innovation, science and economic development shows the depth of expertise in his caucus.

Trudeau defended his moves, insisting Wilson-Raybould was not demoted. He stressed that Indigenous services and veterans affairs files are two of his government’s highest priorities and require a deft touch — which he said both Wilson-Raybould and O’Regan have.

“Seamus’s compassion and advocacy will help us as we walk the road of reconciliation with our Indigenous partners…I know he will work tirelessly…to bring about real change for Indigenous communities in this country.”

“Indigenous services and veterans affairs are two areas in which direct delivery by the federal government needs to be done right and is an important responsibility.”

Trudeau referred to O’Regan having grown up in Labrador and his demonstrated ability to show “compassion.”

“Reconciliation is not just about a government and Indigenous people, it’s also very much around non-Indigenous Canadians doing their part as well and that’s something that we recognize,” said Trudeau outside Rideau Hall.

Read more:

Ottawa abuzz with speculation about Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle

Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison resigning from cabinet, won’t seek re-election

Philpott urges doctors to help improve health of Canada’s ‘most vulnerable people’

Bernadette Jordan, who represents a rural Nova Scotia riding, becomes minister of rural economic development, a new cabinet position, signaling a new focus by the Liberals on rural issues. She will be tasked with developing a national strategy for rural development as well as plans to extend broadband internet to rural areas.

Trudeau said her appointment shows his government is taking a “new approach” to rural issues.

Jordan, first elected in 2015 in the riding of South Shore-St. Margaret’s, was chair of the Liberals’ Atlantic caucus and previously worked for eight years at a foundation that raises money for local health services in Bridgewater, N.S.

Philpott became the first-ever Indigenous Services minister when she was shuffled from the health portfolio in the summer of 2017. The new department was created to oversee responsibilities of the former Indigenous and Northern Affairs department, as well as some services previously provided by Health Canada.

Philpott took over the role as Ottawa committed billions of dollars to health services, child welfare programs, housing and other infrastructure on First Nations’ reserves and in Indigenous communities.

Philpott was responsible for pursuing the high-profile Liberal promise to eliminate “long-term drinking water advisories”—warnings about unsafe drinking water that are in place for at least a year—on reserves across Canada.

So far, Indigenous Services says 78 of these advisories have been lifted since the Trudeau government took power in 2015. The goal is to eliminate the remaining 62 advisories by March 2021.

Last June, Philpott announced changes to how the government would approve funding for Indigenous children’s orthodontic work. The move came after an uproar over a case in which the government spent more than $110,000 to fight a $6,000 bill for a teenage girl’s braces.

Philpott was also tasked with working to transfer authority for services from the federal government to Indigenous groups. In December, alongside leaders from Canada’s three national Indigenous organizations, Philpott announced coming legislation to reform child welfare for these communities. She said the bill would end decades of “discriminatory policies” and keep more Indigenous children in their home communities.

In an ongoing case, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has repeatedly ruled the lack of funding for Canada’s child welfare system for First Nations children is discriminatory.

O’Regan will now assume responsibility for these initiatives. The Newfoundland MP and former journalist moves from the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio, which he has held since August 2017 when he took over from Calgary MP Kent Hehr.

As Veterans’ Affairs Minister, O’Regan took heat from opposition Conservatives. Last year, he was blasted in the House of Commons after his department approved payments to cover PTSD treatment for a Halifax man who murdered an off-duty police officer.

He was also forced to stickhandle the fallout of an accounting error that shortchanged pension payments for disabled veterans by $165 million between 2003 and 2010.

There has also been a backlash against the Liberal’s $3.6-billion plan to provide lifelong pensions to disabled veterans. The changes give more money to severely disabled veterans but the plan has been criticized for falling short on payments to many former soldiers compared with a previous pension scheme that was abolished in 2006.

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

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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

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Le président du Conseil du Trésor du Canada, Scott Brison, quitte son poste

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L’un des vétérans du cabinet de Justin Trudeau démissionne. Scott Brison a annoncé qu’il quittait ses fonctions de président du Conseil du Trésor et qu’il ne serait pas candidat aux élections fédérales d’octobre prochain.

Le premier ministre devra donc remanier son Conseil des ministres lundi, à un peu plus de 10 mois du scrutin fédéral.

Un brassage des cartes qui prévoira « des changements », admet-on en coulisses, plutôt qu’un simple remplacement de M. Brison.

Dans une déclaration vidéo publiée sur Twitter jeudi, Scott Brison a partagé cette « décision familiale » prise pendant la pause des Fêtes, qui représente « l’occasion de faire le point ».

Le député de la circonscription de Kings-Hants, en Nouvelle-Écosse, a expliqué qu’après sept mandats et 22 ans comme élu fédéral, il avait envie de changement. « On dit que la vie débute à 50 ans. Et bien, j’ai 51 ans et je suis prêt pour de nouveaux défis. »

M. Brison a en outre insisté sur le fait que la raison principale de son départ était sa famille. « J’ai eu des rôles importants, au fil des ans. Mais les rôles ou les titres les plus importants de ma vie seront d’être l’époux de Max et le père de Rose et Claire », a-t-il fait valoir aux côtés de son mari Maxime St-Pierre et de ses jumelles de quatre ans.

Justin Trudeau a salué le « dévouement » de Scott Brison et remercié sa famille. « Pendant 22 ans, il a défendu sans relâche les intérêts des citoyens de la Nouvelle-Écosse et du reste du Canada, tout en restant l’une des personnes les plus aimables du milieu », a commenté le premier ministre sur Twitter.

Scott Brison a d’abord été élu sous la bannière du Parti progressiste-conservateur en 1997. Il a rejoint le Parti libéral du Canada en 2003 à la suite de la fusion du Parti progressiste-conservateur et de l’Alliance canadienne, notamment en raison de la position du nouveau Parti conservateur du Canada sur le mariage entre conjoints de même sexe.

Au cours de sa carrière politique, M. Brison a été ministre des Travaux publics (2004-2006) et président du Conseil du Trésor (depuis 2015).

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U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’s classmates from her Canadian high school cheer her potential run for president

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WASHINGTON—In the yearbook photo of the 1981 graduating class at Westmount High School near Montreal, the left hand of a beaming Kamala Harris is resting on the right shoulder of Hugh Kwok.

Kwok went on to run a Montreal car business with his father. Unbeknownst to him, Harris went on to be a U.S. senator. She’s now contemplating a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, seen here in a May 5 file photo.
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, seen here in a May 5 file photo.  (CHRIS DELMAS / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

When Kwok was asked in December for his thoughts on his old pal’s potential run, he answered a reporter’s question with a question.

“She’s running for president of what?” he asked in a tone that suggested he thought the answer might be the local Rotary Club.

Informed that it was the presidency of the United States, his voice rose. “No way. Oh my goodness. I can’t believe it,” he said. Then he decided he was supportive of this idea.

“We could use a good president,” he said. “She was a sweet, kind person. Very happy, very social. I’m just very excited for her, if that’s what she wants to do with her life.”

Harris has said she will decide over the holidays whether to run for president. If she does, she will be considered one of the major candidates in what is expected to be a crowded competition for the Democratic nomination. It is now possible that Westmount, the 145-year-old public school where singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and hockey legend Art Ross also studied, will produce a U.S. president before it produces a Canadian prime minister.

Harris returned to her native U.S. for university, and she long ago lost touch with most or all of her Westmount acquaintances. But some of them have traded delighted texts and Facebook posts about her ascent. And they are generally not all that surprised.

They remember the California senator, now 54, as an assured, cheery teenager who thrived both in school and on the dance floor. They say she maintained an easy popularity across the subtle divides of a racially and economically diverse student body that drew from both wealthy and lower-income neighbourhoods.

Harris “gave off an aura suggesting she was poised for success,” said Paul Olioff, now an academic adviser at McGill University, who recalled her as a “terrific, confident presence” with an advanced fashion sense.

“Westmount High was a very racially segregated school when we attended, not in a hostile way, but more because of socio-economic divisions. Ms. Harris transcended this, as there were few students she didn’t get along with,” Olioff said in an email.

This is at least the fourth consecutive presidential election in which a major candidate has had family ties to Canada. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who lost the Republican primary to Donald Trump in 2016, was born in Calgary. Former president Barack Obama has a brother-in-law from Burlington.

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As Obama and Cruz know, the “America First” Trump has a talent for portraying an opponent’s links to foreign countries as grounds for voter suspicion. Asked via email how her Westmount years influenced her, Harris expressed no particular fondness for Montreal, Quebec or Canada.

“While my sister Maya and I made great friends and even learned some French, we were happy to return home to California,” she said through a spokesperson.

She did add: “One of the women’s auxiliary groups at the hospital my mother worked at ended up inspiring me to help create an auxiliary group at the Highland Hospital in Oakland later in life.”

Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, is the California-born daughter of two immigrants to the U.S., both of whom earned PhDs: India-born scientist and breast cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan Harris and Jamaican-born economics professor Donald Harris.

They divorced when Kamala was a young child. When she was 12, she said, her mother moved to Montreal for a job researching at the Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill. Her mother spent 16 years in the job, according to a 2009 family obituary.

Both of Harris’s parents were involved in the U.S. civil rights movement. Sister and fellow Westmount student Maya Harris, who became a lawyer, adviser to Hillary Clinton and television commentator, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Kamala became something of an activist in Quebec at 13 — organizing a successful children’s protest against a no-playing-in-the-yard policy at their apartment building.

In the 1981 Westmount yearbook, Harris thanked her mother and listed “California” as a cherished memory. She said a favourite pastime was “dancing with super six; Midnight Magic.” Old friend Wanda Kagan told the Canadian Press last year that Midnight Magic was their amateur dance troupe, which she said performed at fundraisers and for seniors at community centres.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is running for president, graduated from Westmount High School in Montreal in 1981.
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is running for president, graduated from Westmount High School in Montreal in 1981.  (Submitted by John Dila)

Eyal Dattel, a human resources director in Vancouver, said he recalls his drama classmate as “always a truly nice person” and now sees her as “an ideal candidate for a progressive future.” Dean Smith, a Montreal basketball coach, said he remembers Harris as a hard-studying and likeable student who helped classmates with schoolwork and preferred to spend time with average kids rather than with moneyed elites.

“In my opinion, she’d be a great president, because she’s fair,” he said.

John Dila, a Harris classmate who is now a Harris constituent as a businessman on the California startup scene, said the Westmount students of the day regularly discussed politics.

Harris lived in Quebec at a tense time in local affairs: the provincial government passed its French-language law in 1977, held a referendum on independence in 1980, and, in 1981, opposed the patriation of the Constitution. Dila, who praised Harris at length, said he thinks she understands policy issues better than American colleagues who have had narrower life experiences.

“Having lived in Canada — those are seminal years, and I can’t believe she wasn’t deeply shaped by the handful of years that she was there,” he said.

At least one Westmount classmate is cool to Harris’s candidacy. Gail Clarke described the teenage Harris as “pretend sweet,” lamenting that the senator decided in Grade 11 that she was too unexciting to continue hanging out with. Clarke added: “I do wish Kamala the best.”

Before Harris, Westmount’s most successful politician graduate was Stockwell Day, the Conservative former federal minister and former leader of the Canadian Alliance party.

Even Day, Class of ’67, had positive words about Harris’s bid. He said her experience at a school at once diverse and harmonious would have “given her some great insights into how a multinational population really can work and live together.”

“Her policies as Attorney General in California on things like gun control and criminal justice reform would fit in quite well in Canada,” Day said in an email. “If she runs and wins the presidency, I will definitely reach out to her to see if Westmount High alums can get tickets to her inauguration!”

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

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No president was ‘more courageous, more principled and more honourable’ than George H.W. Bush, Mulroney says in eulogy

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WASHINGTON—Future historians will say that no American president was “more courageous, more principled and more honourable than George Herbert Walker Bush,” former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney said in an eulogy at Wednesday’s state funeral.

“Let me tell you that, when George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman. A genuine leader. One who was distinguished, resolute and brave,” Mulroney, a longtime friend of Bush, said at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Mulroney hailed Bush for his World War II military service; his handling of the implosion of the Soviet Union; his leadership in the Gulf War; the Americans with Disabilities Act; and the North American Free Trade Agreement they negotiated together, which “created the largest and richest free trade area in the history of the world.”

Mulroney also praised Bush’s “strong” environmental legislation, including his 1990 strengthening of the Clean Air Act and a 1991 acid rain treaty with Canada that Mulroney described as a “splendid gift to future generations” in both countries.

“There’s a word for this: It’s called leadership. Leadership,” Mulroney said.

Bush’s son, 43rd president George W. Bush, delivered the last eulogy, choking up at the end as he contemplated his father in the afterlife. Other eulogies were given by biographer Jon Meacham and former Republican senator Alan Simpson.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered flags lowered to half-mast on Wednesday at federal buildings in Canada and the U.S., including the embassy in Washington. His government was represented at the funeral by Ambassador David MacNaughton and MP Scott Brison.

“He was a man of great civility, a great patriot and a true friend of Canada,” Brison said on Twitter.

Members of the Canadian military stood and saluted as Bush’s hearse passed the embassy on Pennsylvania Ave.

“We remember your service. We remember your dedication. We remember your leadership. The @CanadianForces salutes you, Sir,” the military said on Twitter.

Bush’s body was flown to Texas after the service on the plane best known as Air Force One. He will be buried Thursday on the grounds of his presidential library alongside his wife Barbara, who died earlier in the year.

The funeral drew together political adversaries. President Donald Trump, who has mocked Bush’s aspirational “thousand points of light” voluntarism motto and his politician sons George and Jeb, was seated beside Democrats Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.

The memorialization of Bush has been shaped in part by views of Trump. Even Bush’s ideological opponents have applauded his personal and policy differences with the current president. Some others on the left have lamented what they see as an undue canonization.

Meacham remembered Bush as “America’s last great soldier statesman, a 20th century founding father,” who stood firm against both totalitarianism and “unthinking partisanship.” He said Bush was “a lion who not only led us, but who loved us.”

“An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union,” Meacham said.

Mulroney told a story about visiting Bush at his family’s ocean-side compound in Maine in 2001. Bush and Barbara, he said, seemed serene, “truly at peace with themselves: joyous in what they and the children had achieved” and “genuinely content with the thrill and promise of each passing day.” He said Bush had tears in his eyes as he spoke, then responded, “You know, Brian, you’ve got us pegged just right.”

Mulroney, who also spoke at the funeral for Bush’s Republican predecessor Ronald Reagan, in 2004, concluded with a proverb: “There are wooden ships; there are sailing ships; there are ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.”

George W. Bush said his father’s “decency, sincerity and kind soul will stay with us forever.” He said his father was “no cynic,” a man who looked for the good in each person and “usually found it.” And he said the 41st president lived an aggressively full life, zipping through even rounds of golf.

“He played fast so he could move on to the next event, to enjoy the rest of the day, to expend his enormous energy, to live it all,” George W. Bush said. “He was born with just two settings: full throttle, then sleep.”

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

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Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, patriarch of one of America’s most successful families, dies at 94

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He urged Americans to be a “thousand points of light.” When fighting an election, he promised, “read my lips — no new taxes.” And once in office, he put his foot down: there would be no more broccoli for President George H.W. Bush.

The former U.S. president, vice-president, ambassador, congressman, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and patriarch of one of America’s most successful political families died November 30, 2018. He was 94.

“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” his son, former President George W. Bush, said in a statement released early Saturday.

“George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”

His death comes eight months after the death of Barbara Bush in April.

The Bushes, who were married Jan. 6, 1945, had the longest marriage of any presidential couple in American history. Mrs. Bush was one of only two first ladies who had a child who was elected president. The other was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy Adams.

The Bushes, who were married Jan. 6, 1945, had the longest marriage of any presidential couple in American history.
The Bushes, who were married Jan. 6, 1945, had the longest marriage of any presidential couple in American history.  (Olivier Douliery)

Bush suffered from a variety of health problems in his final years. In 2012, in an interview with Parade magazine, Bush revealed that he had Vascular Parkinson’s, which forced him into a motorized scooter.

“It just affects the legs. It’s not painful. You tell your legs to move, and they don’t move,” he said. “It’s strange, but if you have some bad-sounding disease, this is a good one to get.”

He was hospitalized over a bout of pneumonia in January 2017, ending up in the intensive care unit of Houston’s Methodist Hospital. That episode caused Bush to miss the inauguration of Donald Trump — “My doctor says if I sit outside in January, it will likely put me six feet under,” Bush wrote in a letter explaining his absence.

Bush — often referred to as Bush Sr., or Bush 41, to differentiate him from his son, another former president named George Bush — was elected the 41st president of the United States of America in 1988. His four years in the Oval Office, from 1989 to 1993, saw the Cold War end, the Berlin Wall fall, and much of the North American Free Trade Agreement hammered out.

But Bush may be most widely remembered for Operation Desert Storm and his decision to send U.S. soldiers into Kuwait to remove Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces in the winter of 1991.

“His big success was the Gulf War,” said Paul Quirk, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia. “At the point this was happening, and shortly after, Bush had the approval of 90 per cent of the American public.”

Bush couldn’t maintain that momentum, however. He had to renege on his promise not to raise taxes in a deal with the Democrats to reduce the deficit, and it was largely the faltering U.S. economy that led to Bush’s defeat to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election.

Though most closely identified with the state of Texas — where he made his fortune, and where his eldest son launched the political career that eventually landed him in the White House for two terms — George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Mass. on June 12, 1924, into blue-blooded privilege as the son of Connecticut senator Prescott Bush.

He graduated from Yale University in 1948 with a degree in economics, although his studies had been waylaid by the Second World War. Bush enlisted in the U.S. military on his 18th birthday, becoming a pilot. He flew torpedo bombers and was shot down over the island of Chichi-jima in the Pacific; he was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action.

Bush married Barbara Pierce in 1945, and they had six children — George, Robin (who died as a child), John (known as Jeb), Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy — as well as 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Jeb Bush also entered politics, launching an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2016 after serving as the governor of Florida.

Following a career in the oil industry in Texas, Bush entered politics there and was first elected to Congress in 1966. He ran twice for the Senate, unsuccessfully, but was appointed to several other powerful roles, including ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, U.S. envoy to China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, which he headed for a little less than a year.

“He was known for his leadership in organizations, and he was quite supportive of lower staff,” said Mark Brawley, a professor of political science at Montreal’s McGill University. “He could speak the language of bureaucrats, he was smart, he was good at taking advice, and I think he was good at building corporate morale.”

George W. Bush, left, is shown with his father, George H. W. Bush in this photo from 1968 at Ellington Field, Texas.
George W. Bush, left, is shown with his father, George H. W. Bush in this photo from 1968 at Ellington Field, Texas.  (AP Photo/Texas National Guard)

Bush served as Ronald Reagan’s vice-president for two terms, from 1981 to 1989, and in the 1988 presidential election, with Dan Quayle as his running mate, he defeated Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis to move into the White House.

That campaign was hard-fought and remarkable for its negative tone: Republicans went after Dukakis, accusing him of being weak on crime and using the case of Willie Horton — a convicted murderer who fled while out on a weekend pass and committed another attack — to illustrate that.

After his inauguration in January 1989, Bush’s first visit to a foreign country was to Canada, to see then-prime minister Brian Mulroney. At the top of the agenda was discussion of an accord on acid rain.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President George H.W. Bush at the White House in August 1989.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President George H.W. Bush at the White House in August 1989.  (Star file photo)

Bush declared that Ottawa was “colder than hell” — according to a Star reporter who was there, it was about -5 C — but called the visit “outstanding.”

The mood was different than it had been on Bush’s previous visits to Canada, as vice-president. After one trip to Ottawa, in 1987, Mulroney was frank in expressing his opinions on acid rain to his American guest.

“I really unloaded on him, because I knew that this was the only way that I was going to get the message through to the rest of the administration,” Mulroney said in a recent article for the Institute for Research on Public Policy. “So, when he said, ‘I got an earful,’ he really did.”

After leaving office Bush joined forces with his one-time political foe, former president Clinton, to raise money for those affected by natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the hurricanes that later pounded the Gulf Coast.

Bush is also remembered for his distinctive speaking style — comic Dana Carvey, who imitated him on Saturday Night Live, described him as a cross between Mr. Rogers and John Wayne — and, amusingly, his decision to ban broccoli from Air Force One.

“I do not like broccoli,” Bush said. “I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”

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I loved being class president at St. Mike’s. Here’s what it is getting wrong

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Liam Mather is a former class president at St. Michael’s College School who graduated in 2013. He holds a B.A. in History from McGill University. Mather is now based in Beijing where he manages a high school debate league. This piece is adapted from a posting he originally wrote on Facebook.

After much painful reflection about the recent sexual assault at St. Michael’s College School, I have a few thoughts that I want to share.

Liam Mather seen in Beijing this year. He is wearing a St. Mike's sweater.
Liam Mather seen in Beijing this year. He is wearing a St. Mike’s sweater.  (Courtesy Liam Mather)

I am deeply saddened for the victim. The assault was unspeakably violent. I am disturbed that he was repeatedly victimized as images of the assault were shared across social media, and I am upset by the school administration’s initial response. I pray that this boy is receiving support.

There is a powerful stigma against victims of sexual violence. Our conversations must be focused on caring for this boy and other victims that are coming forward. We must talk about how the school can prevent and respond to future assaults, or this story will repeat itself.

Personally, I have been struggling to reconcile my overwhelmingly positive experience at St. Mike’s with this horrific assault. I cherished my time at the school. Serving as the student government president made me proud. I wasn’t an athlete, but I benefited from the school’s academic rigour and rich extracurricular programming. I had wonderful mentors, such as Father Malo, who taught me values like compassion, personal discipline, and love of scholarship. I became politically conscious through the fine teaching of Paul Barry, Norah Higgins-Burnham, and too many others to name. My parents made sacrifices to send me and my brother, Thomas, to St. Mike’s — and we worked hard to make those sacrifices worthwhile. I had great friendships that transcended social cliques. I felt safe, happy, and supported.

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Since news of the sexual assault broke, I’ve felt a range of emotions: depression, anger, humiliation, confusion, even guilt. I felt devastated that such a violent assault occurred on campus. I also felt discomfort watching national and international media outlets attack the sanctity of my positive memories of the school. Were they wrong? Or had I overlooked something as a student?

But let’s be clear about the main issue. The school is not a victim. The alumni who feel defensive are not victims. A student was sexually assaulted within the school. He is the victim. The ones who perpetrated the assault, the ones who filmed and posted it on social media, and the ones who stood by and said nothing as the assault happened, they were also students. What compelled them to commit or enable this terrible crime?

It is morally imperative and prudent that graduates critically reflect on the school’s culture. It is convenient, dishonest and dangerous for graduates to frame the assault as the independent behaviour of a few exceptionally bad students. The school needs to assess the factors that contributed to these students’ destructive behaviour — and prevent this story from happening again. As alumni, if any harmful values were cultivated during our time at the school, we need to identify those values and discard them. That is the courageous way to move forward.

Liam Mather, right, with his younger brother, Thomas, at Thomas's graduation from St. Mike's in 2017.
Liam Mather, right, with his younger brother, Thomas, at Thomas’s graduation from St. Mike’s in 2017.

My personal reflections and my discussions with some alumni have led me to the following conclusions.

First, the assault absolutely reflects a cultural failure of the school. The notions that define manhood are changing. Society used to demand that men be physically strong, emotionless and chauvinistic. But increasingly, empathy and intelligence are valued. What version of manhood is St. Mike’s imparting onto its boys?

The school seemed to be grappling with this question when I was a student. Long renowned for its athletic programs, the school also began promoting music, dance, theatre, media production and visual arts. It built a multimillion dollar performance centre on campus, which opened in 2010. The space for artists, writers and dedicated students expanded; I genuinely felt that the school encouraged my intellectual curiosity. Teachers and the administration began promoting mental health awareness. The Basilians preached a liberal interpretation of doctrine. There was more collaboration with girls’ schools.

However, the school retained a hypermasculine subculture, in which conventional masculine values were incubated. When I was a student, this subculture lurked in the shadows of the locker hallways and the changing rooms. If you put teenage boys together, without adult supervision, aggressive behaviour can carry social rewards. Boys can feel an urge to act dominant; other boys will feel reluctant to challenge the alphas. This is well-established in psychology literature. When I was at St. Mike’s, hypermasculinity sometimes degenerated into bullying. I think the recent assault is a particularly heinous outgrowth of hypermasculinity. This subculture might not be unique to St. Mike’s, and might not define St. Mike’s, but it is there.

The St. Mike’s administration has a responsibility to correct the perverse psychological incentives of its students. It must establish a zero-tolerance policy for “boys being boys” behaviour. It needs to delineate the spaces where controlled aggression is acceptable (on the football field) and where it is not (in the locker room, everywhere else). It needs to reaffirm to all of its boys that it is OK to be gentle, caring and artistic. While there is obviously a significant difference between a dust-up in the hallway and sexual assault, the line is finer than people think. I don’t say this to be glib, but consider Piggy’s death in Lord of the Flies. The dominant tendencies of young boys, when unchecked, can have catastrophic consequences. St. Mike’s never fully focused its efforts on stamping out these tendencies.

A second and related problem is that St. Mike’s, overall, was not a nurturing place for gay students. I am straight, and I do not wish to speak on behalf of all gay former students. I have reached this conclusion after speaking with many of my close friends at St. Mike’s who were gay, as well as through personal retrospection about the culture. Many gay students thrived at the school. However, they did not receive outward institutional support and faced widespread homophobic attitudes from students — and even from a few teachers. It was common for boys to use homophobic language in an effort to emasculate and assert dominance over their peers. Many gay students were not comfortable coming out at St. Mike’s. I do not think this has changed since I graduated in 2013. This is unacceptable.

I want to echo the call of my courageous friend and former class vice-president, Jonah Macan, for the school to found a gay-straight alliance to fight homophobia and promote inclusiveness.

The third problem is also related to hypermasculinity. It is an issue that I have been reflecting on since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely went public with her sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. I was troubled by the media’s portrayal of Kavanaugh’s high school, an all-boys Catholic private school where gross sexism was ingrained into the student body. It haunted me because Kavanaugh’s school reminded me of St. Mike’s.

When I was a student, many of my classmates had a hyper-sexualized view of women. This toxic attitude went mostly unchallenged by the school, except by a few teachers and staff. The school did not actively promote positive relationships with women. It did not rigorously teach feminism or consent. For the students who tried to resist sexist social currents, many still did not a develop a deep understanding of women’s health, social or political issues. Everyone has some personal responsibility for their attitudes and behaviours; I also call on my classmates to reflect on how they treat the women in their lives. But St. Mike’s should impart on its students a positive understanding of what it means to respect women. A new program, aimed at teaching Grade 11 and 12 students about consent, is a step in the right direction.

Some of you might still insist on disconnecting the assault from the school’s culture. To you, I say the following. Even if you think the assault is an outlier, society does not tolerate the male behaviours and attitudes that I have described. We can use recent events as an opportunity for critical self-reflection and growth. For the interests of the school as an institution — not to mention for the well-being of future students, women and everyone else — St. Mike’s needs to confront the negative parts of its culture.

The final point I would like to make concerns the response to the assault by the school and the broader community. First, the administration’s initial response was wrong. The administration should have reported the assault to the police immediately. After all, private institutions have powerful incentives (their reputation, money) to cover up sexual assaults.

Maybe we can give the previous administration the benefit of the doubt regarding its intentions. However, the optics are still damaging to all victims within the school, who might lose trust in the administration and authority figures more broadly. The response is especially unacceptable given the recent history of the Catholic Church covering up sexual assault. As members of a Catholic community, we must hold the school to a high standard.

Gregory Reeves, the St. Michael's College School principal when the scandal about alleged school sexual assaults broke. Reeves resigned just over a week ago.
Gregory Reeves, the St. Michael’s College School principal when the scandal about alleged school sexual assaults broke. Reeves resigned just over a week ago.  (Christopher Katsarov)

With the resignations of Principal Greg Reeves and President Father Jefferson Thompson, the incoming administration must undergo training on how to respond to sexual assault in a manner that is consistent with victims’ interests.

Second, I am disappointed that so many former students have blindly defended the school, without also acknowledging the suffering of the victim. One implication of some graduates’ nostalgic Facebook posts is that they stand in solidarity with the school as its reputation tanks, and not in solidarity with the victim. This is probably unintentional, but it is inexcusable. We should focus our energies on supporting the victim and asking hard questions about the school’s culture.

These posts have another negative implication. They might deter other victims in the St. Mike’s community from speaking out, because they will feel uneasy about further tarnishing the school’s reputation. There are almost certainly other victims of sexual assault or bullying in the community who have been suffering in silence. I urge alumni to express support for all victims of sexual assault and severe bullying. You might not have been a bully. You might have not been bullied. You might have enjoyed your time at the school, as I did. But evidently, it was not a safe place for every student. We must validate the experiences of victims, rather than stifle their voices.

I am also a little embarrassed by the parents and alumni who have criticized the media. Again, the school is not the victim. The victim is the victim. The assault was a brutal crime and is a matter of public interest. The media uncovered this story; they have been hawkish because the school was not immediately transparent; they have kept the story in the news cycle because more assaults came to light. The broader public is judging our community’s capacity to respond with empathy. If you pretend the school is the primary victim, you are not only being insensitive to real victims, you are actively reinforcing negative tropes about the community.

At the end of the culture review, the leadership of St. Michael’s must make a decision. It can pretend nothing is wrong. In doing so, it will edge out a new niche in the Toronto private school market as the bastion of male chauvinism. Maybe this version of the school can still win football championships. But I will not want anything to do with it.

Alternatively, after a long and difficult introspection, the school can make the difficult choice. It can build out progressive programming that confronts its cultural problems and prevents future assaults. There is going to be resistance to these changes, because our beloved school is old, and old places are bad at changing.

But hopefully, over time, the phrase “St. Michael’s Man” can acquire a new, robust meaning: a man that excels in the classroom, on the field, on the stage and in the debating hall. A man who treats women with respect. A man who has the space to explore alternative sexualities. A man who respects his peers. A man who will still win a Metro Bowl ring. I have faith that the good people at St. Michael’s will make this choice. The right choice.

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