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TORONTO STAR

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Ontario’s budget deficit drops to $1.9B

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 10:31:55 EST


Ontario is finally stanching the bleeding of red ink.

The province’s books will be balanced this spring, and for the foreseeable future, insists Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

Sousa made that pronouncement after revealing Tuesday the deficit for 2016-17 is now projected to be $1.9 billion, the lowest it’s been since the worldwide economic meltdown nine years ago.

“We’re looking at a balanced budget in this coming budget . . . next year as well, and the year after that,” he told reporters.

The treasurer’s announcement came at MaRS, the medical-and-related sciences hub at the corner of College St. and University Ave., which recently repaid $290 million in provincial loans three years ahead of schedule.

“Our government is proud to have made strategic investments here and elsewhere, investments that are providing tremendous benefits to Ontarians and to Ontario’s economy,” said Sousa.

In last February’s budget, Sousa estimated the shortfall for this fiscal year would be $4.3 billion.

The $2.4 billion improvement is due to $1.04 billion in higher corporate tax revenues, $803 million in increased harmonized sales tax proceeds, an additional $728 million in personal income taxes collected, and $514 million more in land transfer taxes.

Other tax revenues were down $118 million and federal transfers were $176 million lower than anticipated.

Tuesday’s data includes $10.7 billion of taxpayer-funded pension surpluses as paper assets on the province’s bottom line.

That’s based on the findings of a government-appointed panel of independent pension experts headed by Tricia O’Malley, chair of the Canadian Actuarial Standards Oversight Council.

Two weeks ago, O’Malley disagreed with auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s interpretation that government investments in the co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan should not be booked as assets.

That accounting change is worth around $1.5 billion to the province’s books.

Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli said the Liberals are painting a rosy picture in time for an election on June 7, 2018.

“It’s not too difficult to artificially balance the budget when you include the one-time sale of assets like Hydro One, the LCBO headquarters, the OPG headquarters,” said Fedeli, referring to downtown Toronto buildings housing the province’s liquor monopoly and Ontario Power Generation.

“They’ve also used $600 million of reserves and land transfer tax is up $500 million more than their estimates, so there are one-time events that are causing this.”


‘I’m getting burned!’ Slaying the beast that was the Badminton and Racquet Club fire: DiManno

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 16:47:00 EST


Fire and water: The crisis and the cure.

But it took 20 hours of steadfastly blasting the latter to extinguish the roiling conflagration of the former last week at the Badminton and Racquet Club of Toronto.

Bringing the blaze to heel — preventing it from leaping to condos and businesses on the four corners of St. Clair Ave. and Yonge St. — required a collective yeoman effort over three days: 520 firefighters, 167 fire engines, pumpers and three tower trucks with articulating booms, hazardous materials unit, dozens of hoses pumping simultaneously, an excavator and countless air cylinders consumed.

And still, days later, small spot fires continued sparking back to life.

A tall chore, killing a fire; throttling it.

This is how it was done:

Fire Hall 311 is situated almost directly behind the club. The D platoon answered the first alarm — one alarm — Tuesday morning, at 9:35, dispatching a pumper truck with a crew of four that had to manoeuvre around the traffic of club members racing to get out of the lot.

Capt. Steve Green was first-in at what originally manifested as light smoke emerging from an electrical outlet in the ballroom area of the complex. The building’s superintendent reported he’d used a fire extinguisher and believed he’d doused the problem.

“We don’t take anybody’s words until we investigate thoroughly ourselves,” recounts Dennis Graba, driver of Pumper 311. “It kind of presented initially as a routine electrical fire, nothing significant. There were no flames visible.”

One alarm.

Green suspected the problem was above, beyond the ceiling. They went up the stairs. “We could tell there was definitely something more aggressive burning up ahead,” in the small mechanical room, says Graba. “As it was burning up it was pushing down and out.”

Within moments, Green had orchestrated a preliminary rapid-attack plan, his crew hooking into on-site hose cabinets — charging the standpipes, it’s called; the club had its own firefighting water supply on the premises, helpfully.

“The fire was coming from the top, working its way down,” continues Graba. “We were able to take a peek inside. You could see that the flames were coming down the staircase.” And it was rapidly gaining momentum. “We tried to attack it with some larger hoses. But directing the hose stream wasn’t working so we went in with handlines to stop it from coming down any further.”

Most people fortunately will never have any experience with how quickly a small fire can turn into a big fire. “This was turning into a big fire,” says Graba. “I’m running lines into the building, then I’m running lines up the stairs. We had attack lines coming off the truck. Every port on this truck had hose lines going off, every which way, nine of them.”

“I’ve been on 15 years now and it still amazes me how quickly fire can grow,” marvels Graba. “It’s mesmerizing. After we’ve had big hoses on it, big water playing on the fire and it just keeps growing. It’s wild. Just the power of flame and fire — a bit of a beast or a dragon, what we call it.”

More pumpers coming, another aerial, an airlight truck is dispatched. They’ve no idea what’s burning — the fire-load — but it’s an old building, lots of wood, rafters, beams, insulation, maybe chemicals. “Sometimes there’s stuff that’s not supposed to be there, hiding.”

Hot, too hot.

But the firefighters are at least certain, now, that there are no people left in the building.

Two alarm.

From Fire Hall 134, on Montgomery Ave., Capt. Jeff David swung into a pumper truck with his crew. They would be second-in with Green calling for more hoses, meeting the first-in crew at the top of the ballroom stairs, together attempting to enter the mechanical room, switching from 45 mm hoses to the more powerful 65 mm.

“We were pouring a lot of water into the room and we weren’t making any difference,” says David. “It was just getting hotter and it was black. There were flames, we could hear them, but it was so black we couldn’t see them. It was like putting your hand over your face. We couldn’t even tell what size room we were dealing with.

“When we were first trying to get in the room, we could hear the fire and it wasn’t crackling. It was roaring like a subway train in the distance.”

One of his crew, Darren Pugh, yelled: “I’m getting burned!”

Despite the protective gear, the 50-pound basic bunker suits with the balaclavas and face shields, every inch of skin covered, the heat intensity makes it feel like they’re on fire. “It really wasn’t a place to be so I made the decision to get out, backed the crew out,” says David. “A second group behind us took over; they stayed on the landing, didn’t go in the room.

“We went downstairs, punched holes in the ceiling from below. We could see the fire above us. We poured water. That only took a couple of minutes before the roof started to come down and all the crews evacuated.”

David recounts it calmly now, but it was a perilous situation then. He and Green had been standing underneath, planning to use thermal imaging to scope the fire. “Steve read the situation very early on. He started getting guys out quickly. He probably saved lives.”

Both men were feet away when the ceiling suddenly collapsed. “If anybody had been directly underneath, they would have been injured or killed. Tons of steel and wood coming down. It wasn’t just the ceiling, it was the entire roof. And it was the fire, not all the water we’d pumped in there because the water was turning into steam anyway. Time to go.”

An outside commander made the decision to combat the fire defensively rather than offensively — from the exterior. Aerial ladders went up, firefighters positioning themselves on surrounding buildings, on balconies and rooftops. “It’s all about water and where you can get it,” says David. “One of the advantages of an interior attack is you can get at a fire from all angles. Once you’re outside it’s really hard to get at all parts of a fire, on the right spots, without being really close to it. That’s why they last so long. We just have to wait for it to burn itself through certain areas.”

Says Graba: “We have a motto: Risk a lot to save a lot. Risk little to save little. We knew there was no life to look for, so we’re not going to jeopardize our own guys to go in deep. We knew we couldn’t save the building. You back out. That’s when the aerial ladders go to work. At that point it’s called surround-and-drown. Surround the building with water and prevent exposures, prevent the fire from leaping to the other buildings.

“You can only attack something on the inside for so long. Then you have to attack it from the outside.”

Dozens of hose lines pouring water yet it continued to spread, hour after hour after hour, fatigue setting in even as crews rotated on the hoses. “The suits, the air on your back, your breathing apparatus while you’re manhandling a hose. The original adrenalin fades away quickly,” says David. Volunteers brought the fire fighters drinking water and food as they took rests. “Rehab, hydrate, get your pack off your back. Then go back at it.”

Three alarm.

Pumper 312 from the Yorkville St. fire house had just attended a small subway fire at Queen’s Park station. They were the first relief crew to arrive, taking over the attack line that waswithdrawing as their 45-minute air cylinders ran out.

“When we got there, there was smoke showing on the east side of the structure and it looked like the fire was well-seated already, getting bigger and bigger,” recalls Capt. Paul O’Brien. “You could tell by the heat inside, extreme heat conditions. Even on the end of a hose line, you could feel the heat coming at us.”

The crews had two crucial factors going for them — nearly everybody present was a seasoned firefighter, with tons of experience. And it wasn’t a particularly cold day, so they weren’t simultaneously freezing and burning. But the blaze was already progressing west and north in the huge complex, threatening attached buildings, all of them of ancient vintage and highly flammable.

“Every structure is different and the fire shows itself to you in different ways,” explains O’Brien. “Fire is like water, it wants to find its own way out. You had to wait till the fire got to you because we couldn’t attack it from the inside anymore and it wasn’t coming through the roof. Fighting it was very complex. We’re moving hose lines, we’re moving equipment. It’s like doing a marathon continuously.”

O’Brien’s crew took a defensive position on the roof of a Yonge St. restaurant, a 16-foot alley gap from the club, deploying 65 mm handlines and three water towers pumping away. “We could see the whole thing collapse as we were fighting it, the centre was collapsing . . .”

Four alarm. Five alarm.

“We went on the fifth alarm,” says Capt. Cheryl Rendle. All the way from Fire Station 145, north of Wilson and Dufferin. They were actually sent first to Fire Hall 135, to fill in at that station before being rerouted to the actual fire.

They staged a couple of blocks south, then were forwarded to get hose lines on the fire from the condo complex at 1430 Yonge. “That building was ridiculously close. You could almost reach out (from the club) and put your hand on it. That’s one of the reasons it was good for us to be on the roof. We protected that building.”

Nearly all residents had already been evacuated. Some were escorted back to their units to retrieve medications. Others, though, they rescued a . . . rat. “A rat in a cage,” laughs Rendle. “We just called it a pet over the radio.”

Another crew rescued a dog.

“We were on the sixth floor, putting our water on the fire from balconies,” says firefighter Barry MacIntyre. “Spots would look like they were going out, you’d put the hose line somewhere else and then the other one would pop up again.

“From where we were, you could look into the building through the roof, you could see it glowing inside but we couldn’t get access to that. We couldn’t get at it from a horizontal angle. When a building collapses onto the fire, it continues to burn underneath where we can’t get water on it.”

That’s why an excavator was eventually summoned, squeezing through a narrow opening from the street. But it was a slow and laborious process . . .

Six alarm.

. . . Which 56-year-old Acting Capt. Chris Lawrence had never before experienced in his quarter-century fighting fires.

“Even late at night, maybe 11 o’clock, standing on the roof of Scallywags” — a restaurant at 11 St. Clair Ave. W. — “that fire was not going out. It just wouldn’t go out.”

By then, ironically, all that water had created its own dilemma: 1430 Yonge, with five floors below ground including three levels of parking, was flooding.

Capt. Chris Rowland had brought his specialized technical rescue squad — no water hoses but equipped with “trash pumps,” commonly used to pump water (that may have trash floating in it) from basements or low-lying areas during firefighting operations — to the scene from Station 445 up at Burnhamthorpe and Martin Grove Rds., far in the west end. Their assignment was underground water control — flushing out the tons of water that was putting tremendous strain on the structural foundation of the building with enough pressure to crush concrete walls and the upwards of 200 vehicles parked down there on three levels.

“Saving the cars was a byproduct. Our real fear was all that water going down through the basement and coming through the concrete walls.”

Rowland eyeballed a Land Rover, in particular, as a gauge for the rising tide, watching the water rise from tires to mid-window height and floating. At the lowest level, the water had risen to about 3 metres (10 feet).

The crew ripped out screening from exhaust fans in the basement and “fished” vacuuming hoses through the ventilation shafts from a hole cut out of the building’s back wall. That ingenious tactic sucked out most of the water, flushing it into a lane leading toward St. Michael’s Cemetery, which then drained into street sewers that were being cleared by City of Toronto vacuum trucks.

“We were kind of chasing our tails,” says Rowland. “They needed to put water on the top but we had to get rid of it from the bottom. It has to go somewhere.”

Rowland and his crew cleared the scene at 3 a.m.

The one-alarm crew, first to arrive, walked back to their fire hall at 5:30 in the afternoon — left the truck there — to dry off, change into spare gear. Returned half an hour later and officially checked out at 8:30. O’Brien and his gang were relieved mid-afternoon but were back from 6:30 to 2:30 a.m. David’s crew got back to their station at midnight. Rendle’s pulled out after nine hours — then continued their 24-hour shift by answering two medical calls and responding to a gas leak.

The Badminton and Racquet Club of Toronto fire, which began with a trace of smoke at 9:30 a.m., Feb. 14, was officially pronounced under control at 5:45 a.m. on Feb. 15.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.


Ontario teacher allegedly told students vaccines can lead to death

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:18:54 EST


A teacher who is accused of disrupting a vaccine clinic in a high school cafeteria, telling students vaccinations could lead to death, appeared at a disciplinary hearing at the Ontario College of Teachers on Tuesday.

Timothy Sullivan is accused of professional misconduct by the college. The hearing notice from the college says he “told students not to get vaccinated and/or suggested that they should not get vaccinated” and told students “that they could die as a result of the vaccination” on March 9, 2015.

Sullivan, who is a science teacher in the Grand Erie District School Board and was representing himself at the hearing, said that he did warn students of the risks associated with vaccines.

The name of the school is under publication ban to protect the identities of students.

“I teach science,” Sullivan told the Star. “You don’t just teach one side of the story.”

But he denied the college’s allegations against him and said his issue is with informed consent, rather than vaccines.

Sullivan told the Star that he is “pro-informed consent, pro-asking questions, not an anti-vaxxer.”

“Informed consent is the reason I’m here,” Sullivan said. “It’s embarrassing really that I didn’t know about the effects as a parent, as a teacher, as a biology teacher. I was unaware of the severity of some of the side effects.”

Angela Swick, a registered nurse with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, who was administering vaccines at Sullivan’s high school on the day of the incident, said he visited the clinic three times.

During his first visit to the clinic, he asked for the inserts included in each vaccine box. Students were receiving vaccines for polio, diphtheria, and other diseases that day, Swick said.

“But his tone and manner was abrupt and left us with an unsettled feeling,” Swick said. “He said something like ‘I hope you’re letting these students know these vaccines can cause death.’ I remember feeling threatened.”

Swick informed the principal of the school at that time, Brian Quistberg, about Sullivan’s behavior. Quistberg said he visited Sullivan’s class and asked that he not go back to the cafeteria, where the clinic was being held. Then, he locked the doors to the cafeteria closest to Sullivan’s classroom and checked up on the clinic regularly throughout the day.

During his second visit to the clinic, Sullivan “asked kids if they knew what was in this vaccine and shouted at them not to get it,” according to Swick.

“One student had mentioned to us that he wasn’t surprised that Sullivan would do this,” Swick said. “He’s been known to talk to his class about vaccines and not to get them.”

Concerns about Sullivan bringing up vaccinations in class have been expressed by both students and parents before, according to Quistberg. One incident that Quistberg notified the school board about occurred earlier in 2015 when one student left Sullivan’s class in tears after giving a presentation on vaccinations. An email sent by the student’s parents to Quistberg said that Sullivan “argued the information was incorrect” and his “anger level escalated.”

During his final visit to the clinic that day, Swick said Sullivan accused her of hiding information about the vaccines and was “very fixated on the fact that vaccines could cause death.”

During his harried cross-examination Sullivan extensively listed rare side effects to the vaccines that were being administered that day and asked Swick if she informed students about rare but potentially dangerous side effects. Swick said she notifies students about the most common side effects and will mention certain side effects if student’s answers to her screening questions make it relevant to do so.

A formal meeting was held after the events of March 9, 2015, according to Quistberg, to address Sullivan’s actions which were “over the line.” Sullivan was suspended on April 15, 2015 for one day without pay as a result.

“Clearly it is not the teachers job to address students lined up to get vaccinations,” Quistberg said. “That is a parent’s decision. That, to me, is outside your role.”

The hearing is scheduled to last two days.


Ontario tells utilities to stop winter disconnections of hydro customers or it will ban practice

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 16:54:01 EST


Ontario will ban winter disconnections of hydro customers Wednesday unless all local utilities in the province agree to stop the practice, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault says.

In an about-turn from last week, Thibeault promised standalone legislation amid more pressure from both opposition parties and NDP objections to an omnibus bill whose measures include a ban.

“I would like to see it done as quickly as possible,” said the minister, who previously rejected putting the ban in a separate piece of legislation, saying it would take too long.

But, on Tuesday he said, “tomorrow it will pass.”

The legislation will be introduced — no objections expected from the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats — if Ontario’s utilities don’t agree to voluntarily halt disconnections.

Thibeault said a “significant number” already have agreed to this.

“We have not had a ‘no’ from anyone yet.”

Opposition parties said the government was being heavy-handed by putting the ban in the larger Burden Reduction Act introduced last June. PC Leader Patrick Brown was “disappointed” the government voted against opposition bids for an immediate ban on Tuesday.

“They could have ended it today.”

Conservatives have supported the Burden Reduction Act, but the NDP has rejected provisions that New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath says will lead to the sale of Ontario Place and weaken workplace protections for workers.

“We don’t think that’s okay,” Horwath told reporters.

She said a voluntary ban by utilities doesn’t go far enough.

“It needs to be law here in Ontario that no utility can cut off anybody’s electricity during the winter months.”

Conservative MPP Todd Smith said the legislation on a disconnection ban would have been in place in time for winter if the government hadn’t buried it in the Burden Reduction Act as a “political carrot” that hasn’t worked.

About 60,000 hydro customers had their electricity disconnected for non-payment last year after hydro costs doubled in the last decade.

The Ontario Energy Board does not yet have figures for this winter.

Hydro One agreed before Christmas not to disconnect any customers this winter and re-connected about 1,400 while making arrangements for affordable re-payment plans with them.

The government has also promised another relief package for hydro users in addition to a waiver of the 8-per-cent provincial portion of the HST on bills that started in January.

That tax break is costing the treasury about $1 billion a year, and, Thibeault said, this points to the need for longer term “structural” changes in the electricity system to get costs down.

Ontario Power Generation, the Crown utility that owns nuclear plants at Pickering and Darlington along with other power-generating assets, wrote to Thibeault last week offering to reduce rates by 40 per cent in its latest application to the energy board.

“We understand the concerns of our customers,” chief executive Jeff Lyash said in a letter.

Thibeault said that’s the kind of action that’s necessary.

“They actually found ways to reduce their own costs . . . . That’s good news.”


Trump wants to undo Obama’s protections for transgender rights in schools

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 17:22:19 EST


WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is working on a new set of directives on the use of school bathrooms by transgender students, the White House said Tuesday.

The announcement alarmed LGBT groups and parents across the country who have urged U.S. President Donald Trump to safeguard Obama-era guidelines allowing students to use school restrooms that match their gender identity, not their assigned gender at birth.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer did not provide any details on the new guidelines that are being prepared by the Justice Department, but said Trump has long held that such matters should be left to the states, not the federal government, to decide.

“I think that all you have to do is look at what the president’s view has been for a long time, that this is not something the federal government should be involved in, this is a states’ rights issue,” Spicer said.

The guidance, issued by the Obama administration in May, held that transgender students can access restrooms and participate in school athletic teams according with the gender they identify with. Schools were also instructed to treat students in line with their expressed gender identity without requiring any medical proof.

Read the latest on U.S. President Donald TrumpEND

While the move was hailed by rights organizations, it was attacked by conservative groups, which called it federal overreach and an infringement on the personal space and safety of all other students. In August, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against those guidelines based on lawsuits from 13 states.

The National Center for Transgender Equality said Tuesday that even without former president Barack Obama’s guidelines, the federal law, called Title IX, which they are meant to clarify, would still prohibit discrimination against students based on their gender or sexual orientation. Still, rescinding those directives would put children in harm’s way, the group said.

“Such clear action directed at children would be a brazen and shameless attack on hundreds of thousands of young Americans who must already defend themselves against schoolyard bullies, but are ill-equipped to fight bullies on the floors of their state legislatures and in the White House,” NCTE said in a statement.

Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, an LGBT advocacy group, strongly condemned plans to amend the Obama-era instructions. At the same time, Tiven stressed that the guidance wasn’t legally binding and was merely a tool to help school districts comply with the federal law. Rescinding the guidelines won’t change the law, but will make states and districts more free in interpreting it and acting on it. As a result, she argued, there will be confusion and school districts will be more open to lawsuits.

“The important thing to understand is that it doesn’t change the underlying law, but it’s an invitation to harm the most vulnerable kids in school,” Tiven said.

Read more:

‘They’re hunting for us.’ Trans teens fearful as U.S. bathroom wars erupt

‘Percy Jackson’ author turns down invite to be honoured in Texas, cites bathroom bill

But Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Obama guidelines were unlawful, as Title IX protects students based on their sex, not their gender identity. He also said that those directives violated the rights of other students, especially girls who may have suffered from sexual abuse in the past and do not want to be exposed to male anatomy. “It’s understandable when a 16-year-old girl might not want an anatomical male in the shower or the locker room,” Anderson said.

He said that students, parents and teachers should work out “win-win” solutions at the local level, such as equipping schools with single-occupancy restrooms or locker rooms or allowing students to access the faculty lounge.

“We can find a way in which the privacy and safety of transgender students is respected while also respecting the privacy and safety of all other students,” Anderson said.

About 150,000 youth — 0.7 per cent — between the ages of 13 and 17 in the United States identify as transgender, according to a study by The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.


Trudeau is striking right balance with U.S., China, says former Liberal PM Paul Martin

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 14:57:20 EST


Canada should work to strengthen its ties with China and other countries while ensuring it maintains a good relationship with the United States, former prime minister Paul Martin said Tuesday.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sought to deepen Canada’s ties to China, he’s also building a relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump who has taken an anti-China stance in many of his comments.

“The Trudeau government should do exactly what it’s doing, which is to look to our needs,” Martin said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“And our needs require, obviously, that we have good relationships with the United States and, obviously, that we should establish sound relations with other countries — including China.”

Read more:

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Martin said pension reform is one of the areas where Canada and China have common interests, because each faces the challenge of a retirement population that’s growing faster than its workforce.

“We have an aging population and we, obviously as a country, have to deal with it,” he said.

Canada and China will each have only about 2.5 workers per retiree by 2046 — compared with Canada’s current ratio of four-to-one and China’s ratio of about seven-to-one as of 2016, according to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Martin made his comments following the official launch of a Chinese-language edition of Fixing The Future, a 380-page book about the creation of the CPPIB in 1997 while he was federal finance minister.

The CPPIB’s fund has since grown to nearly $300 billion — making it the biggest retirement fund in Canada — although it shares the world stage with retirement funds managed by Quebec’s Caisse de depot and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

Martin said the CPPIB’s collaboration with China’s pension reform efforts is the “kind of thing we should be doing.”

“At the same time,” he added, “we should be establishing the best relationship we can with our largest trading partner, which is the United States.”

Asked if he had advice for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Martin replied: “I think the prime minister is doing very well.”


Milo Yiannopoulos quits Breitbart over pro-pedophilia comments

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 15:41:14 EST


Polarizing right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos was by turns apologetic for comments he made about sexual relationships between boys and men and adamant he had been the subject of “a cynical media witch hunt” on Tuesday as he spoke after resigning as an editor at Breitbart News.

Yiannopoulos opened his remarks to reporters by saying two men, including a priest, had touched him inappropriately when he was between the ages of 13 and 16.

“My experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous,” he said. “But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humour might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, advocacy. I am horrified by that impression.”

The British writer said he was resigning from Breitbart, which helped make him a star, because it would be “wrong to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting.”

The apology followed days of criticism from fellow conservatives after the release of video clips in which Yiannopoulos appeared to defend sexual relationships between men and boys as young as 13.

In one of them, Yiannopoulos, who is gay, said relationships between boys and men could “help those young boys discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable sort of rock, where they can’t speak to their parents.”

On Monday, he was disinvited from the Conservative Political Action Conference after video of his remarks was promoted through social media.

Publisher Simon & Schuster announced it would cancel the publication of his upcoming book, Dangerous. Yiannopoulos said the book had already received interest from other publishers and would still come out this year. He pledged to donate 10 per cent of the proceeds to child sex-abuse charities.

But he also said the flare-up over remarks made a year ago “is a cynical media witch hunt from people who do not care about children. They care about destroying me and my career and, by extension, my allies.”

Yiannopoulos has long been known for provocative comments about women and Muslims and made his support for Republican Donald Trump clear in the last presidential election cycle. He was the technology editor at Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman, Steve Bannon, is now a senior adviser to Trump, who became president last month.

Before this controversy, Yiannopoulos was perhaps best known for getting banned from Twitter for helping to lead an online harassment campaign against comedian and Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.

Early in February, he was scheduled to give a talk at the University of California, Berkeley, but the speech was cancelled after violent protests.

Yiannopoulos has appeared, until now, to revel in those controversies and has portrayed himself as a champion of free speech. Tuesday’s apology, he said, was the first he’d ever made.

Still, the video clips, he insisted, had been edited to remove important context. He characterized media reporting on the tapes as unfair and inaccurate.


Sticker shock for olive oil buyers after bad Italian harvest

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 17:47:26 EST


ROME—From specialty shops in Rome to supermarkets around the world, lovers of Italian olive oil are in for some sticker shock this year, with prices due to jump by as much as 20 per cent.

The combination of bad weather and pests hit the harvest in Southern Europe, most of all in Italy, where production is halved from last fall. That’s pushing up Italian wholesale prices by 64 per cent as of mid-February compared with a year earlier, which translates to shelf price increases of 15 to 20 per cent in Italy.

In other countries, the ultimate price increases will depend on several factors — such as how much retailers take on the costs themselves and the change in currency values. The U.S., for example, is likely to see a more modest rise in price as a stronger dollar keeps a lid on the cost of imports.

Italy’s harvest was especially hard hit by the combination of early rains that knocked buds off the trees and the threat of an olive fly that forced an early harvest, further cutting yields. Wholesale prices of olive oil from Spain, the world’s largest producers, are up a more modest 10 per cent, with yields similar to last year’s.

Vincenzo Iacovissi, the owner of the Sapor d’Olio olive oil shop in Rome, says sales have dropped, though he’s tried to ease the shock for customers by explaining why prices have gone up.

“When there are increases of 15 to 20 per cent there is some impact on sales. However, explaining the reasons for this increase has in part helped to make up for this,” Iacovissi said.

Italians collectively consume about 20 per cent of the world’s olive oil, leading Spain at 16 per cent, and that affinity makes them pretty resilient as consumers. The U.S. is the third-biggest market, consuming 10 per cent of the yearly total.

Flaminia Leoni, a 50-year-old mother of four, buys 80 to 100 litres of olive oil a year for her family and says that at most she will consider substituting lower quality olive oil for extra virgin for cooking — but not on the table, where olive oil is a staple giving accent to pasta, meats, salads and vegetables.

Cedric Casanova, the owner of an Italian grocery in Paris, said he was hoping to get 30,000 litres of olive oil delivered, but received just 8,000 litres. He will have to rely on leftover stock from last year to help make up for the remaining difference — and absorb some of the price increase himself.

“I’m working with a standard price, by trying to assume the cost myself,” he said.

With global stocks down just 14 per cent, no one is predicting general olive oil shortages, even with a 75 per cent increase in consumption of olive oil over the last 25 years as demand pushed into non-traditional markets. The market for olive oil in the period has grown by two-fold in the United States, seven-fold in Britain and 14 fold in Japan, according to Italy’s Coldiretti farm lobby, even if continental Europe remains by far the largest market.

Italian olive oil is more vulnerable than that of other major producers to climate shifts and pests due to its varied topography, from hills in the north to larger groves in the south. This also lends great variety to Italian olive oil, where unique flavours are derived from a combination of the terrain, topography and the more than 400 olive varieties, according to Nicola Di Noia, an olive oil expert for the Coldiretti farm lobby.

“We have hundreds of different varieties of olives that are more difficult to defend compared with Spain or northern Africa, where there are big groves that are easier to manage,” Di Noia said.

He said the challenge is educating consumers about why they pay for quality.

“We need to learn to choose oils with awareness. Extra-virgin is the juice of a fruit. The primary material from which it derives is very important. Therefore, oil should be tasted and smelled,” he said.

Barry reported from Milan.


New Trump memos outline his plans to deport millions of immigrants

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 12:37:37 EST


WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is greatly expanding the number of people living in the U.S. illegally who are considered a priority for deportation, including people arrested for traffic violations, according to agency documents released Tuesday.

The documents represent a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s immigration enforcement priorities.

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The Homeland Security Department memos, signed by Secretary John Kelly, lay out that any immigrant living in the United States illegally who has been charged or convicted of any crime — and even those suspected of a crime — will now be an enforcement priority.

Now, immigration agents, customs officers and border patrol agents have been directed to remove anyone convicted of any criminal offence. That could include people arrested for shop lifting or minor traffic offences.

Homeland Security said in a fact sheet released Tuesday that any person who is in the U.S. illegally is potentially subject to deportation.

The change in enforcement priorities will require a considerable increase in resources. With an estimated 11 million people in the country illegally, the government has long had to set narrower priorities, given the constraints on staffing and money.

The memos direct the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to begin hiring 10,000 agents and officers while the Customs and Border Protection agency hires 5,000 new agents.

The memos eliminate far more narrow guidance issued under the Obama administration that resources strictly on immigrants who had been convicted of serious crimes, threats to national security and recent border crossers.

Kelly’s memo also describes plans to enforce a long-standing but obscure provision of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the government to send some people caught illegally crossing the Mexican border back to Mexico, regardless of where they are from. One of the memos says that foreigners sent back to Mexico would wait for their U.S. deportation proceedings to be complete. This would be used for people who aren’t considered a threat to cross the border illegally again, the memo said.

It’s unclear whether the United States has the authority to force Mexico to accept foreigners. That provision is almost certain to face opposition from civil libertarians and officials in Mexico.

Historically, the government has been able to quickly repatriate Mexican nationals caught at the border but would detain and try to formally deport immigrants from other countries, routinely flying them to their home countries. In some cases, those deportations can take years as immigrants ask for asylum or otherwise fight their deportation in court.

The memos do not change U.S. immigration laws, but take a far harder line toward enforcement.

The pair of directives do not have any impact on President Barack Obama’s program that has protected more than 750,000 young immigrants from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals remains in place though immigrants in the program will be still be eligible for deportation if they commit a crime or otherwise are deemed to be a threat to public safety or national security, according to the department.

Senior Homeland Security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity during a morning conference call, told reporters Tuesday morning that the department intends to aggressively follow Trump’s promise that immigration laws be enforced to the maximum extent possible, marking a significant departure from the procedures in place under former president Barack Obama.

That promise has generated fear and anger in the immigrant community, and advocates for immigrants have warned that the new approach is a threat to many people in the country illegally who had previously been in little danger of being deported.

“These memos lay out a detailed blueprint for the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in America,” Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, said Tuesday in a statement. “They fulfil the wish lists of the white nationalist and anti-immigrant movements and bring to life the worst of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric.”

With files from Star Wire Services


Top honours for Panama Papers reporting

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 17:14:27 EST


In Brisbane and Ankara, Harare and Quito, Berlin and New York, the Panama Papers investigation into tax haven abuses has been recognized with some of the most prestigious journalistic accolades on the planet.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which co-ordinated more than 100 media partners from around the world — including the Star and the CBC in Canada — now lists 14 major national and international awards in its trophy case for its work on the Panama Papers. The prizes include a Polk Award, the Perfil Freedom of Expression Award, the Data Journalism Award for investigation of the year, the Online Journalism Award for innovation and the Barlett and Steele Gold Medal.

The Online News Association called the Panama Papers series “superlative reporting,” while the National Center for Business Journalism said it was “one of the most talked-about events in journalism history.”

ICIJ partners, including Swedish television station SVT, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and British daily The Guardian, have received an additional eight journalism honours for their reports based on the unprecedented leak of confidential information from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, bringing the total to 22 awards worldwide.

“This is journalism at its best,” wrote the Prix Europa jury. “(The Panama Papers) give great hope for the future (of) investigative journalism in Europe, at the same time as they give us a scary glimpse of the political situation in Europe and the dark forces within the human race.”

British Journalism Award judges praised the investigation, saying it “shone a light in some of the darkest corners of international finance.”

In total, more than 300 reporters on six continents analyzed 2.6 terabytes of data and 11.5 million files relating to 214,000 offshore companies and uncovered secret links to 140 politicians in more than 50 countries.

Calling the project “an unprecedented collaborative effort,” judges for the Maria Moors Cabot Prize wrote that “the series prompted a much needed debate about transparency and accountability in (Latin America) and around the world.”

“The Polk Award and other honours are an important recognition of the value of cross-border collaborations,” said Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ. “Some stories are so complex and so global they can only be unlocked when journalists are willing to share information and support each other.”

Reports revealed anonymous offshore corporations tied to the civil war in Syria, the looting of Africa’s natural resources, and a Russian network with ties to President Vladimir Putin that hid as much as $2 billion in assets.

In Canada, the Star and CBC revealed that a wealthy Canadian businessman was a middleman in what U.S. authorities called a $400 million “corruption scheme;” a Dubai-based Canadian lawyer registered a company that broke UN sanctions and supplied fuel to the Syrian government; and Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin paid $21 million to an anonymous offshore company to obtain business in Algeria.

The Star’s reporting also showed how Canada itself is emerging as a tax haven, used by foreign tax cheats and criminals to “snow wash” illicit funds.

“The Star has a long record of investigative journalism that has brought transparency where there was blackness,” said the Star’s editor-in-chief, Michael Cooke. “It was a privilege for us to play a role in this successful global effort to help bring this multibillion dollar international cheating by incredibly rich people to the front pages around the world. And believe me, this story isn’t over yet.”

In all, the international team of journalists published more than 4,700 articles that “led the U.S. to require that banks identify the real owners of shell companies that open accounts, and led the European Union to create a 65-member investigative committee to weigh tighter money laundering and corporate transparency rules,” wrote judges for the Polk Award.

The reporting prompted the resignations of the Prime Minister of Iceland, executives in Austria and the Netherlands, government officials in Spain and Armenia, and an ethics expert at FIFA. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to explain his interest in a secret offshore fund set up by his father, and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif answered questions about his children’s offshore holdings in his country’s highest court.

One study found the market value of nearly 400 publicly traded companies linked to the Panama Papers dropped by a collective $135 billion (U.S)


Want to get ahead with Trump? Access is key, Mulroney says

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 17:41:00 EST


Access is everything. That is the advice former prime minister Brian Mulroney has for leaders in the age of U.S. President Donald Trump.

“You’re invited by the president of the U.S., you go. Access is the currency of success,” Mulroney said Tuesday at a forum on North America’s future, organized by the Canadian Council for the Americas.

Mulroney made the remarks as Canadian and Mexican leaders strategize how to handle Trump’s unorthodox presidency, and his goal to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to favour American interests.

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“It’s hard to imagine two people with less in common than Trump and Trudeau. But he worked at it and they had a very successful meeting,” Mulroney said of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Washington last week.

That, Mulroney said, was a more productive approach than the one Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto took last month when he cancelled a visit to Washington after Trump issued an ultimatum that Mexico would have to pay for his planned wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

An eventual visit to Washington will go a long way to improving Mexico’s relationship with Trump, Mulroney told the Toronto forum, attended by about 250 corporate executives, bankers and analysts. “When the Mexican president goes to meet Trump, he will get high marks and he will advance Mexico’s case and we will come out of this in one piece with a strong NAFTA.”

Mulroney acknowledged that Mexico faces steep challenges in its relationship with the U.S., compared to Canada. “There is a world of difference between the NAFTA negotiations that I think (the U.S.) sees coming with Mexico and what they see coming with us.”

“We are members of NATO and NORAD together. We are G7 members together. Our relationship is a different kettle of fish.”

But Mulroney said it’s important to take a trilateral approach to North American trade, as many trade issues affect all three countries, including changes to independent dispute mechanisms and rules of origin, which say how to determine which country made which product.

“This throw-under-the-bus stuff is for losers not winners and Canada is a winner,” he said, in reference to Mexican worries that Canada might go it alone and negotiate with the U.S. bilaterally.

Mulroney, who has known Trump for 25 years, warned the audience not to underestimate the new president or pass judgment prematurely. “He is somewhat unorthodox as a president but that doesn’t mean you can’t be surprised on the upside.”

“If Trump can deliver on his agenda on some level he has a chance of rewriting history and going down big time … If you don’t do big things while you’re in office, history will forget you.”

Mulroney attended a cancer fundraising event at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Saturday. Invited on stage by Canadian songwriter David Foster, Mulroney sang When Irish Eyes are Smiling — an encore performance for the former prime minister, who sang it for then President Ronald Reagan in Quebec City in 1985.


This Queen’s student froze to death on a Kingston pier. Here’s how he came back to life

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 07:00:00 EST


KINGSTON, ONT.—Tayyab Jafar walks through a gruel of slush coating the wide pier behind a King St. public works building. He stops and points to the place he died.

“Right about here,” says the fourth-year Queen’s University student from Oakville.

The spot is at the pier’s edge. Near a warning in long faded letters stencilled across the ground: “No Diving.”

He is silent for a moment. Wintry drizzle falls. Lake Ontario’s steel-grey waters slap below. The sky’s wet gloom frames Jafar’s slender figure.

The 22-year-old, shrugging, hands in pockets, says: “That happened.”

But what happened was far from ordinary. Jafar’s story is one of resurrection; how tenacious medical teams brought a frozen man back to life.

A year ago, cloaked in the darkness of a frigid January morning, this is where Jafar chose to end his life. Two days before his 21st birthday, Jafar was found at early light — shoes off, coat over his face, an empty prescription sedative bottle nearby — without vital signs.

“Vital signs absent means dead,” says Julie Socha, one of four Frontenac County paramedics who rushed to the scene.

Engaging and intelligent, Jafar had been studying physics courses at Queen’s in hopes of getting into engineering. That plan began to unravel just weeks before he quietly left the off-campus house he rented with friends. He’d placed a goodbye note on his desk and, a stickler for details, banking instructions so his housemates wouldn’t miss a bill payment.

Then he walked 10 minutes to the pier.

On that sub-zero morning, Jafar lay in a snow bank. His body was starting to freeze. His core temperature would later be recorded at 20.8 C — about 16 degrees below normal. Hypothermia occurs when a person’s core temperature dips below 35 C, a condition often caused by exposure to cold weather or water immersion.

The death appeared to be an intentional overdose to the paramedics, who promptly initiated CPR. But how the young man died was a medical puzzle for Kingston General Hospital emergency teams to solve:

Did Jafar die from an overdose, then get cold? Or did the drugs only render him unconscious, then he died because he became so cold?

“There’s actually a difference,” says Kingston General cardiac surgeon Andrew Hamilton.

The faintest hope of resuscitation flickered only if Jafar had become profoundly hypothermic after his overdose attempt. The key was determining that sequence: a seemingly impossible task on a very cold body.

Of all the critical work done at Kingston General to return Jafar from the dead — an hour of CPR at 110 chest compressions a minute, streams of heated saline flooding his system, multiple doses of epinephrine, a transfusion of more than 100 units of blood products culled from 134 individual donors, machines to warm and oxygenate his cooled blood and a 200-joule jolt to his chest — it was a simple blood test that would give Jafar a chance at survival.

Even so, odds were bleak. At best.

Texting goodbye

Six Queen’s students, all friends, lived in the house on Nelson St., a short walk from campus.

Alex Reid woke up in his second-floor bedroom just before 7 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2016. It was a Friday. Almost the weekend.

The biology major reached for his cell phone. He saw texts and Facebook messages that filled him with dread.

Sorry I couldn’t be stronger.

Love you.

Good bye.

They were from his housemate, Tayyab Jafar.

Jafar had been suicidal before. Reid had talked him through moments of distress. Talked him off the top of campus buildings. Talked him into visiting Kingston General for mental health attention in second year.

Jafar had been seeing a university psychiatrist since first year, initially to regulate prescription medications for two disorders: OCD and ADHD, diagnosed during high school. He says he also had “a few issues with depression.” In fall 2015, sleeplessness became new trouble when his usual nighttime medication, mirtazapine, was no longer effective.

“In my fugue state, I’d just stare,” recalls Jafar, who’d been working with his psychiatrist and was still attending classes. “I didn’t care. I’m not talking much. I’m reserved, socially excluded.”

Jafar’s housemates — young men busy with classes and assignments — didn’t realize how desperate their friend had become. Jafar says lack of sleep hurt his marks and, ultimately, his engineering aspirations. He’d been rejected from engineering as a freshman despite an 87-per-cent high school average and was hoping to reapply.

When Reid saw Jafar’s notes, sent about 3 a.m., he panicked.

“Right away, you could tell that somebody was saying goodbye.”

Reid checked Jafar’s bedroom. Empty. He ran down the stairs to look for Jafar’s jacket and shoes. Gone. He called Jafar’s phone; no answer. Reid ran to campus to search.

“I knew a few places to look,” the 21-year-old says.

Reid scanned the tops of school buildings. Then he checked the ground below. Nothing.

He called 911 to report that a missing friend was suicidal. The Kingston police began to hunt, too.

Reid considered one last place: the pier.

“I thought that if you were going to kill yourself in Kingston, that’s where you’d go. It’s a beautiful spot — a fantastic place to end it,” he says, laughing grimly.

Running across King St. to the back of the public works building and up a slight rise to the pier, Reid spotted a black bump. It was Jafar’s jacket. He saw an empty beer can. Close to the jacket was his friend. Lying face up in the snow.

“I was like, ‘S---, he’s dead.’ ” You could tell,” Reid says. He noted Jafar was “as cold as a rock” and had coughed up blood. The empty prescription bottle was nearby.

Reid called 911 again, then “I was sitting there, trying to wake Tayyab up.”

“Shaking him, giving him the sternum rub for a while to see if he was conscious, checking for breath, checking for a pulse. Couldn’t find anything,” he says.

Reid threw Jafar’s abandoned jacket over him. A frightened, futile effort to warm his friend.

The police arrived within a minute, paramedics seconds behind. It was close to 8 a.m. — about five hours after Jafar had sent Reid the goodbye texts.

On the pier

In Tayyab Jafar’s body, capillaries had contracted long before Frontenac County paramedic Jonathan Andreozzi put his fingers on the young man’s carotid artery to check for a pulse.

Capillaries form a network of thin blood vessels between small arteries and veins. They allow delivery of oxygen, nutrients and heat to the tissues.

Jafar’s body was trying to retain heat at its core, one of its first protective acts while outside on a morning that, according to paramedics, dipped below -11 C.

“Constriction is at the capillary level,” says international cold-weather expert Gordon Giesbrecht, a thermophysiologist at the University of Manitoba who’s also known as “Professor Popsicle.”

Giesbrecht says once you get cold, “you mount thermoregulatory defences including vasoconstriction (which) decreases capillary blood flow to the skin to decrease heat loss.” Like turning off the valve to a hot-water radiator, the professor says.

Shivering — involving involuntary muscle contractions — is also part of the thermoregulatory process.

“Shivering is muscular energy and we all know that muscular energy produces heat,” Giesbrecht says.

Giesbrecht, who does not know Jafar and was not part of his care, says ingesting drugs and consuming alcohol can affect how a person experiences hypothermia.

Jafar recalls that besides downing a large dose of the powerful sedative chloral hydrate, he took at least “10 different” types of prescription pills that he washed down with three or four beers that morning.

“Those drugs sound like the kind of drugs that would have diminished his shivering capacity,” says Giesbrecht, who’s also director of the university’s Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine.

“If a friend of similar weight and clothing went out there and sat beside him, this guy (Jafar) would have cooled quicker because A, his shivering response would have been blunted by the drugs and B, he was lying down on the ground and C . . . he took some clothing off.”

Giesbrecht says there are two possibilities why someone in this situation might remove clothes: to hasten suicide, or from “paradoxical undressing.”

Reid recalls Jafar was not wearing his jacket or shoes. The paramedics did not recall if his shoes were on.

“It’s not uncommon that people, when they get close enough to being cold enough to become unconscious, their body plays some tricks on them,” Giesbrecht says.

“They think they might have a feeling of warmth and in a deluded mindset, they think, ‘Oh, I have to take some clothes off,’ and that can range anywhere from just loosening clothing to being completely naked.”

As Jafar’s core temperature plunged, his body was still trying to protect its internal organs and the brain by slowing metabolic activity.

“Cooling protects everything,” Giesbrecht says. “As you cool any tissue, its metabolic requirements decrease so a given amount of oxygen will last longer, and that effect is greater in the brain.”

The heart will stop when it cools and that can occur any time the core temperature drops below 28 C, says Giesbrecht, who has jumped into icy Canadian lakes — sometimes with skis — and rivers to conduct extreme-weather research and promote survival education.

“You can still have a beating heart as low as 20 (C). It’s possible.”

Giesbrecht theorizes that with Jafar’s core close to 21 C, his heart may have arrested around 25 C. Without a pumping heart, there was a finite amount of oxygen in his system. The brain, though extremely sensitive to no or low oxygen, was cooled enough to need less oxygen — but not forever.

“The brain can go longer without oxygen than if (his heart had stopped) at regular body temperature,” Giesbrecht says.

A key unknown in Jafar’s case: how long had his heart been still? There’s no way to know. It could have been seconds. Or hours.

Jafar’s sister, Rida, a University of Guelph student, calls her big brother’s resuscitation and recovery “a miracle.”

Giesbrecht sees it differently.

“It’s not miraculous. I’m a Christian and I believe in miracles,” he says.

“Everything that happened can be explained physiologically.”

Normally, “the colder you get, the longer (your heart is stopped), the more difficult it is to get a full recovery — or to survive at all,” he continues. But Giesbrecht does allow for a bit of luck.

“This guy, once he collapsed, he collapsed in a very good place and he was lucky he had a very good friend,” he says, referring to Reid’s frantic search.

“And when he got to the ER, he had a medical team that didn’t just pronounce him dead.”

Kingston General Hospital

Just before 8 a.m. on that Friday, two paramedic teams had finished separate calls that brought them to Kingston General’s emergency department when their dispatcher called.

Jonathan Andreozzi and partner Andrew Liersch bolted in their ambulance, racing to the pier in just over a minute. Julie Socha and her partner, Lise-Anne Lepage-McBain, followed. The police were already there, speaking to Alex Reid.

Andreozzi found Jafar had no carotid pulse. No breathing. He and Liersch began a rapid assessment, scanning for obvious signs of death: rigor mortis, stiffness in the muscles, lividity in tissue. None were apparent.

“How long was he down without a pulse?” says Andreozzi. “For all we know, it could have been hours.”

As they quickly began CPR and moved Jafar to a stretcher, the paramedics all had the same thought: a hypothermic patient isn’t dead until the patient is warm and dead.

Liersch and Lepage-McBain shared CPR duty. Andreozzi and Socha pulled the stretcher across heavy, crunchy snow and loaded Jafar into the lead ambulance. Socha started a saline solution intravenous in Jafar’s arm. Andreozzi suctioned vomit from Jafar’s mouth and cleared his airway. A heart monitor was attached: no heartbeat.

Lepage-McBain took over CPR while Liersch drove the ambulance the 900 metres to Kingston General’s emergency department.

The hospital doors whooshed open. Staff was ready. Liersch had radioed: 21-year-old male, VSA.

Jafar was whisked into the resuscitation room. Andreozzi gave a verbal report while the emergency team began its work.

Chest compressions continued as Jafar was wheeled in. His wet clothes, a thin T-shirt and pants, were cut off. He was intubated for assisted breathing. A heart monitor replaced the paramedics’ gear. Epinephrine shots were prepared. Two more IV lines were inserted. Saline solutions were being heated to 43 C — fluid to warm body cavities. A rectal thermometer read: 20.8 C.

“The lowest temperature I’d ever seen was 28 C,” says nurse Jane Lewis, an emergency department veteran who was “scribe” that day — the chronicler of all the “organized chaos” in the room to chart patient treatments.

“I’ve never seen anybody that cold.”

Jafar was also “asystole.”

“That’s what people call a flat line,” says Dr. Joey Newbigging, one of the emergency department physicians working that day.

“There was no blip-blip-blip on the screen. It was just a straight line.”

Calm but aggressive teamwork continued to, essentially, manually warm the man found on the pier.

The heated saline flowed into veins in Jafar’s arms. It was also cycled into his bladder through a catheter; add, drain, repeat.

Newbigging cut into Jafar’s chest, just under his right armpit. The incision was to insert a tube “through which we could flow warm fluid into his chest (to) bathe the right lung and right side of his heart, which would warm his blood,” the physician says.

There were as many as 15 on the team to help Jafar; doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, support staff, aides running bags of saline into the room.

“Everyone was pretty invested in this case because it was a young person,” Newbigging says.

The emergency department staff also knew the patient had likely tried to end his life.

The team pushed to buy Jafar time should he be deemed a candidate for the next stage of resuscitative measures. Chest compressions, a physically exhausting manoeuvre performed for at least an hour, were as vital as any other act that day to force oxygen-carrying blood to the brain.

“With the CPR, it’s trying to make the blood vessels squeeze to get more blood to his brain because that’s really what we’re trying to preserve and rescue,” Newbigging says.

Soon, a critical question arose: was Jafar suitable for a procedure called extracorporeal rewarming, which could quickly raise his core temperature closer to 37 C? Using the cardiopulmonary bypass system, the procedure takes circulation outside the body so blood can be warmed and oxygenated then returned.

One way to determine Jafar’s suitability was through a blood sample drawn for a serum potassium test.

Upon death, human cells break open and spill their potassium stores into the bloodstream. Those salty spills can be measured. High readings from a serum potassium test would suggest Jafar was too far gone — dead too long — to be saved. He needed a result of less than 10 milliequivalents per litre to be considered for the next round of last-ditch resuscitation efforts on the cardiopulmonary bypass machine.

Jafar’s test result was 7.

“That, basically, is the green light,” recalls Newbigging at seeing the lab result.

The quick decision in the ER: “Let’s try.”

Still, other things needed to line up. A bypass machine and a cardiac surgeon had to be available, along with support teams and technicians.

Surgeon Andrew Hamilton was free. He said he’d try, too.

At about 8:48 a.m., Jafar was wheeled from emergency — with a nurse on the stretcher, straddling his stomach, still performing about 110 chest compressions a minute — and rushed into the operating room. Newbigging accompanied Jafar.

Jafar’s last core temperature in the emergency department was recorded by Lewis at 22.8 C; a two-degree increase in about 45 minutes, largely from heated saline irrigations and the warming blanket. Extracorporeal rewarming could raise his core temperature by nine degrees in an hour and during that time, perhaps his heart could be restarted. Perhaps.

Another question lingered: would he want to be revived?

The student had attempted to end his life. Now an all-out resuscitation effort was underway. This was not lost on the emergency department team — and that this patient “was a young kid who was obviously unhappy,” Newbigging says.

“If we get them back, are we helping them?” the physician says of patients who arrive with no vital signs. “Because we may not be bringing them back to the state of health that they were in when they first got sick. A lot of people ended up being quite disabled and never get back to independent living.”

Nurse Lewis was blunt.

“Did we do him a favour?”

Cardiac bypass

In the earliest days of heart surgery half a century ago, controlled clinical cooling of the body aided intracardiac surgery. Surgeons had a little extra time to work on an inert heart when circulation was temporarily halted.

Today, extracorporeal rewarming equipment (commonly called cardiopulmonary bypass machines) is so “biocompatible” with living tissue that cardiac surgeon Andrew Hamilton says the hard part “is making the decision to do it. That’s No. 1.”

Extracorporeal rewarming is the only way to effectively rewarm a patient whose circulation has arrested, Hamilton says. That is done by circulating the blood outside the body where it is warmed, oxygenated then returned.

Potential candidates can be rejected if deemed they are beyond saving. Jafar’s low serum potassium count got him on the bypass machine — even though he was still flatlined.

“It doesn’t matter if the heart’s not beating at this point,” Hamilton says.

The surgeon explains that for Jafar’s extracorporeal rewarming, one tube about the size of a thumb was fed up from the groin vein into the venous confluence of the heart, allowing removal of the blood from the body to the machine. Another slightly smaller tube was inserted into a groin artery and was used to return the warmed oxygenated blood back to the body.

A perfusionist attended the machine constantly.

Hamilton recalls when Jafar’s core temperature reached about 28 C, he applied external contact pads to the chest and delivered an electric shock of 200 joules. That was likely before 10 a.m.

“He was easy to get started,” the surgeon says, noting the patient had age on his side. “Nice young heart like that? Poof!”

Finally, heartbeats. Strong ones.

But serious complications flared when the time came to remove Jafar from the extracorporeal rewarming circuit. The combination of the hypothermia and duration of cardiopulmonary bypass had rendered his blood incapable of clotting, explained Hamilton. “In addition, this combination of factors caused his blood’s protective mechanisms to become abnormally activated, leading to, among other things, edema (swelling) of his lungs,” the surgeon says.

Hamilton says extracorporeal circulation can be used for days if needed, “but it’s a very toxic event to have your blood running through an external machine.”

“The longer you’re on the extracorporeal circuit, the more likely that you’re going to accumulate this toxic damage,” he says.

Jafar developed a condition called coagulopathy; his blood could not clot despite an alchemy of medications and adjustments to remedy the issue. Hamilton recalls there was bleeding into Jafar’s chest. Intensive-care-unit nurses Jennifer Bird and Vanessa Holmes recall blood was gushing out of the chest tube incision, too.

Jafar now required massive transfusions.

Over his first 48 hours in hospital, Jafar received: 50 units of red blood cells; 32 units of frozen plasma (the liquid portion of whole blood that needs to be frozen in storage, then thawed for use); 20 units of cryoprecipitate — a concentrated component of plasma that contains high levels of clotting proteins — and eight units of platelets.

Dr. David Good is Kingston General’s hematopathology service chief. He wasn’t directly involved in Jafar’s case but reviewed records of the blood components used in his care.

“The most common blood component is the actual pack of red blood cells (and) over two days, he received 50 units,” says Good. A red blood cell unit is about 400 millilitres per bag.

“A normal person’s blood volume is about 10 units,” Good continues. “He basically had his blood replaced about five times over the two days.”

Jafar’s blood group is AB positive — rare in Canada and found in about 3 per cent of the population, says Good. People with AB blood are considered universal recipients for red blood cells and platelets (meaning they can get these components from donors of any blood type) but require frozen plasma from an AB donor. Good says the hospital had enough frozen AB plasma on site. (It was quickly restocked through daily Canadian Blood Services shipments from Ottawa after Jafar depleted hospital reserves.)

Canadian Blood Services spins whole blood from individual donors into four basic components, which are then stored. In Jafar’s case, Good calculated the number of individual donations required to supply all the stored components needed for his transfusions. His estimate: 134 people had rolled up their sleeves.

“To look at it another way, it took 134 people to save this man’s life,” Good says.

Saving his lungs, though, required mechanical intervention.

Jafar’s lungs were hit hard with inflammatory edema: fluid build-up. In this situation, which Hamilton calls common in rewarming efforts, it’s difficult for oxygen to reach the bloodstream from the lungs.

Hamilton and his colleagues ultimately were able to calm the distressed lungs and restore clotting ability on a system called ECMO — Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. ECMO temporarily replaced the function of Jafar’s swollen lungs. Not all Canadian hospitals have ECMO capabilities.

“Every now and then we have somebody whose lungs don’t work for whatever reason and you go through all the various things you can try,” Hamilton says.

“When you get to the bottom of your drop-down menu, it’s ECMO.”

After at least a day on this system, the Queen’s student stabilized.

“Over time, his body cleared the toxic effects of the hypothermia and the cardiopulmonary bypass,” Hamilton says. When that was achieved, ECMO was discontinued.

Jafar’s fragile lungs were functioning. His clotting ability returned. His heart was beating. Kidneys and liver were up and running, too.

“Once you have all that stuff working well enough that he can take care of his own environment, then you start to figure out: is his brain working?” Hamilton says.

“Until then, you don’t know.”

The surgeon had to explain the situation to Jafar’s “poor, shattered parents” after hours in the operating room trying to save their son.

“ (I said) ‘OK, we have a circulation established, we don’t know if the lungs can recover to the point where they can continue and we have zero idea of how his mental state will be,’ ” he says.

“ ‘We may have just saved him into a chronic vegetative state and you’re going to have a really awful decision to make.’ ”

Hamilton pauses and shakes his head.

“You can imagine.”

Intensive care unit

The thumping sound filled the ICU. It came from a high-frequency oscillation ventilator that was pulsing oxygen into Jafar’s lungs.

He’d undergone a tracheotomy; a tube snugly in his throat would allow the flow from the oscillator. He was off cardiopulmonary bypass and ECMO.

Dr. Daniel Howes was not Jafar’s assigned ICU physician but he helped with care. Howes says Jafar could not use a standard ventilator because his highly inflamed lungs were at risk.

“A normal breathing machine pushes air in,” Howes says.

“When (lungs) get inflamed, they get sort of waterlogged. They’re like sponges — but instead of (being) like nice dry sponges, which is the way they’re supposed to be, they get soaking wet and very stiff,” the doctor continues.

“So if we try to blow air into them the same way we breathe, they end up being injured.”

Howe says the oscillator is “notable because of its thumping and it looks like a big bass speaker,” adding: “It, essentially, vibrates oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of the breathing tube.”

The swelling wasn’t only in Jafar’s lungs. His head and face bloated. Body, limbs, hands and fingers had ballooned.

Howes says sometimes critically ill patients will experience swelling.

“It has to do with inflammation in the body. It makes the blood vessels very leaky; fluid leaks out and gets into the tissues and they get very puffy.”

Jafar’s once-slender, 140-pound frame was almost unrecognizable to his mother, Lubna Jafar, and father, Jafar Hussain, at his bedside in the ICU. After racing from their Oakville home to Kingston by car on Jan. 15, they would rarely leave their eldest son’s side. Alex Reid, who found his friend on the pier, was often there, too.

Jafar’s parents had originally been informed by Oakville police — relaying the news — that their son was found without vital signs. That was around 9:30 a.m. About an hour later, when the parents were readying to drive to Kingston, the police had an update: Jafar had a pulse.

When the worst had passed, it was Sunday. Jafar’s 21st birthday. By then, more family had arrived. Cautious optimism emerged.

“I think my brother, deep down inside, had some will (to survive) when he was coming back to life, to continue improving,” says Rida, 20, also noting the skill of doctors who “did an amazing job” rescuing her brother.

During his three weeks at Kingston General, Jafar remained under heavy sedation but recalls fleeting moments of consciousness. Of his parents’ presence. Of mouthing words like “water” to his ICU nurse, Holmes, who’d learned to read his lips. Of his father and Reid sharing a joke when they thought he was asleep.

On Feb. 5, Jafar was stable enough to be transferred by ambulance to the ICU of Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. He remained intubated but was switched to a standard ventilator. Howes recalls the move was primarily to be closer to his family during his rehabilitation phase.

In Oakville, a recovery of another sort would be needed.

Jafar was not at peace with being revived from the dead.

Home and away, again

The earliest days at Oakville Trafalgar were Jafar’s darkest after resuscitation.

He was weaned off heavy sedation and quickly became aware of his situation — though he had, and still has, no memory of attempting to end his life.

(As part of telling his story, Jafar agreed to sign consent forms giving his permission for Kingston General Hospital and Frontenac Paramedic Services staff to discuss his personal health-care details with the Star. He also sat in on some of the interviews, learning more about the resuscitation.)

Jafar couldn’t speak because he was intubated. There was extensive nerve damage across his shoulders, down his arms and into his hands and fingers. He was told he might never use his hands again. Pain was constant. He’d lost almost half his body weight; down to about 80 pounds.

He cried. From frustration. From fear.

“Am I dying? Just let me die. What are you guys trying to do?” Jafar recalls thinking as he lay immobile in the Oakville facility, unable to communicate with doctors and nurses directly.

“I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t talk to them either. They’re doing things (to care for him) and I’m trying to talk, but I can’t say anything.”

Jafar had “terrible” headaches. He’d hold his sister Rida’s hand for comfort, squeezing it with his weakened grip when pain crested.

“It was physical and psychological pain,” says Jafar. “I don’t know how I endured that.”

Eventually, the tracheotomy tube was removed and with help at first, he could eat and drink normally. Jafar began occupational and physical therapy. A social worker met him. His mood lightened as he healed.

He was assessed for brain damage — Jafar says he quickly “aced” cognitive assignments. Clusters of nerve cells were repairing but for a time, some body parts, like his hands, still felt like they were burning from a phantom cold. His lungs continue to recover.

Jafar learned to walk again, doing laps around ICU with a rolling aid.

On March 29, 10 weeks after he wasfound on the pier, Jafar strolled out of the hospital with his parents to continue his remarkable recovery as an outpatient; he hadn’t even lost a toe to frostbite.

Jafar returned to Queen’s last fall. That was always his plan once he recovered. To be back in the house on Nelson St., supported by housemates and a small group of friends who knew the truth about his life and death and resurrection. The only visible clue that he’d been ailing were white splints on his hands (while muscle tissue rebuilds).

When Jafar heard a rumour that he’d had a stroke, he wrote a Facebook post last year stating, incorrectly, that he froze in a snow bank after falling and sustaining a concussion. He says he used that explanation to address his long absence from Queen’s and spare his parents and housemates (who knew the truth and were offered counselling by a Queen’s chaplain) further emotional toll.

Jafar agreed to disclose the full truth after consulting his housemates and his psychiatrist, whom he visits monthly. Jafar, who stays in regular contact with his parents through Skype, says he feels strong enough now to confront what really happened on the pier.

“He’s definitely in a much better spot at this point,” says housemate Nick Musicco, 22, a public health major from Connecticut. “There was a point when we didn’t know if he was going to make it, so I just prayed a lot. I’m happy he’s pulled through.”

The Kingston General staff who treated Jafar lost track of him after his transfer to Oakville. Many learned of their patient’s full recovery in December when a student publication repeated the Facebook information.

“I thought . . . probably he would have a lot of disabilities and I didn’t even know if he would survive,” Newbigging says.

Andrew Hamilton, the cardiac surgeon, says he’s treated hypothermic patients before but Jafar was unique.

“I’ve been doing this 25 years and he’s the first survivor that I had,” says Hamilton, smiling.

Jafar survived his own death. Is he happy with a second chance at life?

“That is kind of an interesting question,” he says.

“Obviously I survived but still, I’m happy because I want to do many things (regaining use of his hands was key to that contentment) . . . but I’m pretty much happy at this point.”

He seems upbeat. He’s sleeping well, using a trio of prescription drugs at night that balance well with the OCD and ADHD medications he takes each morning. The Nelson St. housemates have a Florida trip planned for late February. (Alex Reid will miss it. The B.C. native has taken a year off of school to work in Calgary.)

Jafar, studying general mathematics, is already planning to return to Queen’s this fall. He enjoys life in Kingston, the campus, the challenging classwork, the camaraderie.

He’ll even take jaunts back to the pier. Jafar was there during frosh week last summer, a hot day with students jumping in the lake for a refreshing dip.

The pier does not haunt him.

“It’s just a place to me,” Jafar says. “For me, I don’t have any real connection to it.”


Lawyer ads, referral fees under fire in Ontario law society report

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 20:06:32 EST


Ontario’s legal regulator is proposing significant changes to the fees lawyers take when they refer clients and to the way legal services are marketed to the public.

A Law Society of Upper Canada committee released a report Tuesday recommending referral fees — money paid when one lawyer refers a client to another lawyer — either be banned outright or capped.

The report, by the Advertising & Fee Arrangements Issues Working Group, also proposes curbing or banning the use of paid-for, often misleading awards; and prohibiting practitioners from marketing services they don’t intend to provide — a practice critics say would put an end to so called brokerage houses that draw in clients with flashy ads only to refer them out for a fee to lawyers at different firms, often without the client’s consent.

“(Lawyers) should not be advertising a service that they are not intending to perform,” the report states.

Malcolm Mercer, the chair of the law society working group, said “the principal concern about referral fees was about the effect on injured people.”

“There appears to be a substantial lack of transparency when injured people are looking for a lawyer. It is not clear to them that referral fees are earned in that process.” These referral fees, paid by the lawyer who will ultimately handle the case, can range as high as 30 per cent of the overall fee according to the committee and its members have concerns that those payments limit the lawyer’s ability to properly represent the client.

The working group’s proposals, which will be voted on during the law society’s convocation meeting Thursday, come on the heels of a Star investigation into the referral fee and marketing practices of Ontario’s personal injury lawyers.

In one story, the Star looked at law firm Diamond & DiamondDiamond & Diamond and found that for many years it has been attracting thousands of would-be clients and then referring cases out to other lawyers in return for sometimes hefty referral fees. Along the way the firm’s marketing, which has included women in tight T-shirts and ads above the urinals at the Air Canada Centre, has raised the ire of the law society, clients, and some lawyers. Diamond & Diamond maintains it has a growing number of lawyers working cases at the firm, but would not say how many cases are referred out.

In another story, the Star showed that the world of personal injury advertising is like a “wild west” with many lawyers apparently breaking the rules designed to prevent false and misleading marketing. The Star found that more than two dozen Ontario personal injury law firms described themselves as the “best” or “#1.”

The Star also found that for years, lawyers working on contingency for accident victims — “you don’t pay unless we win” — have been “double dipping,” taking more money from their clients than the law allows. As a result, the Star story said, many Ontario residents have been overcharged thousands of dollars and likely do not know it.

The law society report on advertising and fee arrangements does not make recommendations on contingency fee agreements and states that the working group continues to explore that issue.

When it comes to referral fees, the working group’s view is that there are “significant issues” with the current operation and “apparent non compliance” with existing rules. Currently, the law society allows referral fees if the client consents, the fee is reasonable and does not increase the client’s bill.

In its December investigation, the Star heard from some clients who called Diamond & Diamond after an accident and alleged the firm passed their personal details to other firms without permission, something that, if it happened, would be a breach of professional rules. Diamond & Diamond has denied these allegations and through its lawyer stated that the firm abides by all law society rules.

The law society report, which does not name any lawyers, says the working group’s information suggests that “clients are not sufficiently aware of the fact that they are being referred to another lawyer, that there is a referral fee, or the quantum of the fee” and the committee recommends either banning the fees altogether or regulating the practice, possibly capping referral fees at 10 per cent of the total fee.

One concern about banning fees altogether would be that it would lead to undisclosed “cash” referral payments, the report says.

Referral fees, which can today range from 15 to 30 per cent of what the lawyers charge when the case settles, can vary depending on the seriousness of the client’s injury, the report says.

But the severity of injury doesn’t necessarily mean more work for the lawyer and in many cases, the report says, the amount received by the referring lawyer could be “seriously disproportionate” to the value provided to the client. The Working Group favours a fee cap in the range of 5 to 10 per cent of the net legal fee.

The report states that Working Group has “significant concerns” that the lack of transparency” about referral fees has been fuelled by misleading advertising and recommends modifications and additions to the Rules of Professional Conduct that govern how lawyers behave.

One lawyer the Star researched made impressive sounding claims on his website, informing visitors he had been voted “#1 in Client Satisfaction” and “#1 Personal Injury Law Firm” by a group called “Elite Lawyers Ontario.”

The Star discovered there was no registered business with that name. There was, however, a website called elitelawyersontario.com. that was registered in 2015 by the lawyer who made the claims.

Rather than scrapping the existing rules and starting over, the committee recommends giving clearer guidance to lawyers on how to advertise in ways that don’t mislead, confuse or deceive the public.

The committee’s recommendations include modifications and additions to the Rules of Professional conduct, which govern lawyer conduct.

The modifications include providing examples of marketing that contravenes the rules, for instance, failing to disclose “a practice that the lawyer has of referring clients for a fee,” failing to disclose what type of professional — lawyer or paralegal — will provide the services, and “bait and switch” techniques where clients are drawn by prices or services that differ from those provided.

Particular care should be taken when it comes to using awards in marketing, the report says. Awards that contravene the rules are ones that do not genuinely reflect the performance and quality of services provided, are not part of a “reasonable evaluative process,” are “conferred in part as a result of payment of a fee” and contain superlatives, such as “best” and #1. One solution, the report suggests, is to have lawyers inform the public when an award the lawyer received has been paid for.

Michele Henry can be reached at (416) 312-5605 or mhenry@thestar.ca . Kenyon Wallace can be reached at (416) 558-0645 or kwallace@thestar.ca




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