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Dragged passenger David Dao reaches settlement with United Airlines

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 16:02:40 EDT

CHICAGO —The passenger who was dragged off a flight after refusing to give up his seat settled with United for an undisclosed sum Thursday in an apparent attempt by the airline to put the fiasco behind it as quickly as possible.

David Dao's legal team said the agreement includes a provision that the amount will remain confidential. One his lawyers praised United CEO Oscar Munoz.

Munoz "said he was going to do the right thing, and he has," attorney Thomas Demetrio said in a brief statement. "In addition, United has taken full responsibility for what happened ... without attempting to blame others, including the city of Chicago."

Read more:

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The deal came less than three weeks after the episode and before Dao had even sued. The deal means United will not face a lawsuit, which could have been costly, both in legal bills and in further damage to the airline's reputation.

Keeping settlement amounts secret is standard practice, because companies often don't want others contemplating lawsuits or negotiating deals over separate grievances to know how much they've been willing to pay previously.

Several legal observers unconnected to Dao's case said a payout to him of a few million dollars was possible. Chicago-based attorney Terry Sullivan said United executives may have been willing to pay as much as $5 million to make this particular case go away. "United just couldn't afford any more bad publicity on this," he said.

United issued a brief statement Thursday, saying it was pleased to report "an amicable resolution of the unfortunate incident that occurred aboard Flight 3411."

The dragging was one of several recent embarrassments for United.

The airline was criticized in March after a gate agent stopped two teenage girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings — an apparent violation of a dress code for passengers travelling in a program for employees and their dependants. Then a giant showcase rabbit died this week after it was shipped across the Atlantic on a United flight from London's Heathrow Airport to O'Hare.

Cellphone video of the April 9 confrontation aboard a jetliner at Chicago's O'Hare Airport sparked widespread public outrage over the way Dao was treated.

The footage showed airport police officers pulling the 69-year-old Kentucky physician from his seat and dragging him down the aisle. His lawyer said he lost teeth and suffered a broken nose and a concussion.

In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Demetrio said the settlement also averts any lawsuit against Chicago officials. The airport police officers who pulled Dao off the jet work for the city.

"I praise Mr. Munoz and his people for not trying to throw the city under the bus or pass the buck," Demetrio said. "He stood in front of the world and has stated that, 'We, United, take full responsibility.'"

Demetrio said it was "unheard of" for a company to admit responsibility so quickly and completely.

"I hope corporate America notices when you goof up, people respect you a heck of a lot more when you admit it, instead of making people go through three years of depositions, motions, court hearings."

He said Dao was also impressed that "United stepped up to the plate."

The incident arose from a common air travel issue — a fully booked flight. Wanting to seat four crew members, the airline offered passengers $400 and later $800 to voluntarily relinquish their seats. When no one did, United selected four passengers at random.

Three people got off the flight, but Dao refused, saying he needed to get home to treat patients the next day. The airline then summoned the officers, who forcibly removed Dao.

The dragging was a major public-relations crisis for United. The company's response in the immediate aftermath was widely criticized. Munoz first defended the airline and described Dao as "belligerent" before publicly apologizing days later and vowing to do better.

The three airport police officers who took Dao off the plane were placed on leave from the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The agency released a report Monday in which the officer who pulled Dao from his seat, James Long, gave his version of events. Long said Dao was verbally and physically abusive and was flailing his arms before he lost his balance and struck his mouth on an armrest.

The department's roughly 300 officers guard the city's two main airports but are not part of the regular Chicago police force. They receive less training and cannot carry guns inside the terminals.

Also Thursday, the airline released a report detailing mistakes that led to the incident. United said it would raise to $10,000 the limit on the payments it offers to customers who give up seats on oversold flights and increase training for airline employees.

The airline has vowed to reduce, but not eliminate, overbooking.

United representatives have not said whether ticket sales have dropped since Dao was removed from the jet.

TTC takes 153 buses off the road due to safety concern

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 21:09:00 EDT

The TTC has temporarily taken all of its bendy buses off the road due to issues with “unexpected acceleration.”

The elongated, accordion-like vehicles account for only 153 of the TTC’s 1,900-bus fleet, and are used on just six routes: 7 Bathurst, 29 Dufferin, 36 Finch West, 85 Sheppard East, 53 Steeles Express and 41 Keele.

But TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said all bus passengers should be prepared for their Friday morning commute to take longer than usual, as buses are pulled from other routes to shore up the gaps.

“We might be two or three buses short on a route,” Ross told the Star. “We’re going to try to spread the pain out as much as possible so it’s minimal across the city.”

In a press release Thursday evening, Ross said the decision to ground their fleet of 18-metre buses was made after one of the vehicles “experienced a ‘full throttle’” during routine maintenance.

Another bendy bus — also called articulated buses — went into unexpected acceleration while being driven back to the garage, Ross said. No passengers were on board at the time.

The manufacturer of the buses, a Canadian subsidiary of Volvo Buses called Nova, was been notified and has come up with a solution to the problem, Ross said in the release.

The fix, however, takes approximately 20 minutes to implement on each bus and, as such, the fleet will not be back to full capacity until at least Friday afternoon, Ross added.

Ontario Liberals unveil balanced budget that features free youth pharmacare plan

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 16:20:21 EDT

Finance Minister Charles Sousa has prescribed a remedy for the Liberal government’s political ailments — an election-ready balanced budget with free pharmacare for everyone 24 and under.

Sousa on Thursday tabled the first Ontario budget without a deficit since 2008 thanks to a growing economy that has led to a massive jump in tax revenue.

It’s a record $141.1-billion spending plan that increases funding for health care by $7 billion over the next three years, including a signature $465- million children and youth pharmacare program that will pay for 4,400 different medications as of January 2018.

More on the 2017 Ontario budget

The Liberal plan comes just five days after NDP Leader Andrea Horwath promised a $475-million a year universal pharmacare plan to cover 125 commonly prescribed drugs if she wins the June 7, 2018 election and replaces Premier Kathleen Wynne.

“Four years ago, our government promised to balance the budget and today… I am proud to announce that we did it,” said Sousa, promising to keep things in the black again in 2018-19 and the year after that if the Liberals are re-elected.

The last time there was no shortfall in the provincial treasury was 2008 — just before the global financial crisis that led to the biggest recession since the Great Depression almost 90 years ago.

But the cost of running deficits for nearly a decade has been an Ontario debt that has ballooned from $169.6 billion in 2008 to a projected $311.9 billion this year, making the province the world’s largest subnational borrower.

“The road to balance has not been easy. We had critical choices to make,” said Sousa.

“We could do what some suggested: cut expenses, cut vital programs and services that people depended on to eliminate the deficit or take a more principled and thoughtful approach to make strategic investments and stimulate economic growth,” he said.

With the shortfall eliminated and a hotly contested election 13 months away, Sousa has loosened the purse strings and acknowledged that many Ontarians are feeling the pinch.

“We recognize that families are struggling with the increased cost of living so we’re doing more to help with everyday costs,” he said.

Read more:

Highlights from the 2017 budget

Winners and losers from the 2017 Ontario budget

Ontario budget to pump millions into child care subsidies

A pre-pre-election budget to bolster Liberal fortunes: Cohn

One-handed applause for youth pharmacare plan: Walkom

As first announced last month, residential electricity rates will be cut by an average 17 per cent starting in June — atop the 8-per cent reduction in the harmonized sales tax that kicked in on Jan. 1.

Overall, hydro relief measures will cost the treasury $1.4 billion in 2017-18.

The new spending is fuelled by tax revenue that has outpaced last year’s forecast by more than $3.4 billion, including $1.3 billion in additional corporate taxes, $717 million in extra personal income taxes, $714 million more in sales taxes and a windfall of $637 million in increased land transfer taxes due to skyrocketing house prices.

To slow southern Ontario’s rapidly rising real estate market, there’s the recently announced 15 per cent “non-resident speculation tax” on foreign buyers. It is expected to be revenue neutral because it should be offset by lower land transfer tax proceeds.

“It’s not fair for some speculators with deep pockets to drive up the cost of a family home at the expense of working families trying to save enough to realize their own dreams of a place to raise their kids and call their own,” he said.

That levy on offshore speculators is the only tax increase in the budget aside from a $2-a-carton hike on tobacco effective as of midnight Thursday. (There is no mention in the budget about anticipated revenues from legalized recreational marijuana, which Ottawa will allow as of July 1, 2018, because the province has not yet determined where and how it will be sold or taxed.)

Municipalities, however, will be empowered to impose lodging taxes — on hotels and Airbnb rentals — if they choose.

Sousa boasted that the province is outpacing most of the developed world with gross domestic product growth of 2.7 per cent last year.

“That’s almost twice the rate of growth of all of Canada — it’s better than Germany’s 1.9 per cent; it’s better than the United States at 1.6 per cent; it’s better than all G7 countries,” said the treasurer.

But Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who enjoys a double-digit lead over Wynne in public-opinion polls, insisted the budget was not balanced, claiming there is a $5 billion operational deficit due to one-time infusions of cash such as government land sales and the majority sell-off of the Hydro One transmission utility.

“It’s a scam. The numbers do not add up. The Liberals have no plan to get debt under control,” said Brown, who declined to say what services he would cut if elected next year though he stressed his opposition to municipal hotel taxes.

The NDP’s Horwath, whose pharmacare proposal would not take effect until 2020, said “this budget doesn’t even come close to undoing the damage Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals have done over the last 14 years.”

“Ontarians are desperate for change,” she said, blasting Wynne for falling short on universal pharmacare.

“We didn’t get the pharmacare plan that the people of this province deserve.”

Trump said he was serious about withdrawing from NAFTA, but then Trudeau called. And the Mexican president called.

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 12:58:32 EDT

WASHINGTON—Donald Trump’s administration had hinted Wednesday afternoon that he was about to sign an order that would begin the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump announced Wednesday night, though, that he would not be doing so.

What happened?

Trump offered a remarkable explanation on Thursday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto called him, he said, and asked him not to proceed.

And he likes them, he said, so he agreed.

“I was going to terminate NAFTA as of two or three days from now. The president of Mexico, who I have a very, very good relationship, called me. And also the prime minister of Canada, who I have a very good relationship, and I like both of these gentlemen very much, they called me,” he said at the White House. “And they said, ‘Rather than terminating NAFTA could you please negotiate.’ I like them very much, I respect their countries very much, the relationship is very special. And I said I will hold on the termination, let’s see if we can make it a fair deal.”

The extraordinary story offers a measure of vindication for Trudeau’s studiously nonconfrontational approach to Trump. It demonstrates, again, the primacy of personal relationships in the impulsive decision-making of a president who has little policy knowledge or fixed political principles.

“I really hope this is just spin,” Scott Lincicome, a trade lawyer and Cato Institute adjunct scholar, wrote on Twitter.

The complete list of all 212 false things Donald Trump has said as president

It may be; it allows Trump to look magnanimous and in control. But Trump has regularly changed his mind because someone explained something to him. After claiming for more than a year that China had the power to solve the conundrum of North Korea, he abandoned that view after Chinese President Xi Jinping spent “10 minutes” explaining the situation.

Trump’s account was essentially confirmed by Trudeau.

“We had a good conversation last night. He expressed that, yes, he was very much thinking about cancelling. I highlighted quite frankly that whether or not there was a better deal to come, there was an awful lot of jobs, an awful lot of industries right now that have been developed under the NAFTA context,” Trudeau said Thursday during a visit to Gray, Sask.

“A disruption like cancelling NAFTA, even if it theoretically, eventually might lead to better outcomes, (but) would cause a lot of short- and medium-term pain for an awful lot of families,” he said.

The conversation was their second about trade this week alone. Trump, long silent about trade with Canada, has ratcheted up tensions over the last 10 days, lambasting Canadian dairy and lumber policies and claiming Canada has generally taken advantage of the U.S. on trade. On Monday, his administration announced a new 20 per cent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber, a decision that was widely expected for months.

Trudeau refused to rule out retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. moves, but he said both he and Trump prefer to keep relations “positive and co-operative.”

“There’s broad range of options and paths available to us that we’re looking at but it is certainly my preference that we be able to sit down and discuss in a firm but responsible and polite way the different ways we can move forward,” Trudeau said.

Trump’s order would not have immediately terminated NAFTA. Instead, it would have initiated a six-month notice period after which the U.S. could have withdrawn or not withdrawn.

The move may have increased the pressure on Canada and Mexico. But it may have been even harder on the U.S., and Trump would have faced intense opposition from business groups and high-profile Republicans in Congress. One senator, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, had called the idea “disastrously bad.”

Trump’s late-Wednesday statement said he would not withdraw “at this time.” He went further on Thursday, saying that withdrawal would be a “pretty big shock to the system” and that “we’re going to give renegotiation a good, strong shot.”

“If I’m unable to make a fair deal, if I’m unable to make a fair deal for the United States, meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA,” he said.

A pre-pre-election budget to bolster Liberal fortunes: Cohn

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 17:14:44 EDT

A pre-election budget normally comes on the eve of a campaign.

This one arrived prematurely — a pre-pre-election budget — the better to shore up worsening Liberal fortunes. While there’s still time, well before next year’s campaign.

More on the 2017 Ontario Budget

Just as a hanging clears the mind, fear of an electoral lynching has forced the Liberal brain trust to appeal for clemency. For they come now with offerings.

Repent and repeat:

  • Free pharmaceuticals for young people (a blessing). Transit breaks for old people (a sop).

  • Cheaper child care for young parents (long overdue). Free tuition for most college students (already announced but still worthy and worth repeating).

  • Rent control for everyone (a reprise). Hefty discounts off everyone’s hydro bills (a perennial).

  • And the first balanced budget after a decade of deficits (about time). Which clears the way for its more progressive measures, notably phased pharmacare.

All this thanks to surging tax revenues from a robust economic recovery that is leading the country and most of the industrialized world, while driving unemployment down.

Just days after the NDP proposed its own embryonic pharmacare program, we now know why the Liberals were at a loss for words all week: They didn’t want to give away their own budget plan.

Read more:

Ontario Liberals unveil balanced budget that features free youth pharmacare plan

Highlights from the 2017 Ontario budget

Winners and losers from the 2017 Ontario budget

One-handed applause for youth pharmacare plan: Walkom

By redressing the embarrassing gap in Canadian health care — medicare without full pharmacare — Ontario is finally taking a first step toward a truly universal program. The rival Liberal and NDP plans have similar projected costs (under $500 million a year), and offer only partial coverage, each in their own way.

Taken together, however, they serve as a reminder that the battle for progressive voters has already begun — the giveaways are underway. The budget materials include colourful graphics emblazoned with the word “free” so many times that they resemble those Boxing Day door crashers in Best Buy ads.

But along with the Progressive Conservatives, all three parties are also vying for the title of prudent financial steward by embracing the goal of a balanced budget.

Now the Liberals can lay claim to fulfilling the promise of a balanced budget they made back in 2008, when the great recession forced them to forego a planned surplus, plunging the province into a $19-billion deficit to bail out an ailing economy. Digging out from a decade of deficits required the government to rein in public sector salaries and pare spending, but surging revenues have changed the tide.

“Balancing the books has never been an end in itself,” Finance Minister Charles Sousa insisted Thursday.

But it is more than a means to an end. It also has political meaning.

It is a truism of politics, borne out in the last federal election, that red ink is rarely a vote-determining issue at the ballot box. But Premier Kathleen Wynne recognized that a perpetual deficit would hurt her credibility on the economy; constrain her government from funding worthy social programs; and crowd out Ontario’s fiscal capacity in case of future economic downturns.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the 2008-10 economic crisis surely merited such a designation and assignation. But there are ample reasons, political and economical, for eliminating the deficit now that Ontario’s economy has leapt into the lead.

Balancing the budget isn’t as simple as it sounds, however. The independent Financial Accountability Office kept casting doubt on whether the government could meet its target, and the PCs predicted it would never happen.

Now that it has, the Tories insist it still hasn’t, because the government is cooking the books. The NDP noted that the government’s allocation of $465 million for pharmacare is mysteriously missing from the budget document, suggesting a last-minute, back-of-the-envelope calculation.

Fair point on pharmacare, but if that’s what it takes to get started on free prescription drugs, so be it. The truth is that pharmacare makes sense on so many levels — medical, ideological and economical — that political will matters more than precise estimates at this point.

The bigger gap in the government’s pharmacare plan is that while completely free, it essentially excludes adults between 25 and 65. That’s not just tough luck for middle-aged adults, it’s also bad news for the bulk buying benefits that are the hallmark of truly universal pharmacare scaled up to the entire population.

The drawback in the NDP’s plan is that while everyone is covered (albeit with co-payments), only the 125 most commonly prescribed and effective drugs would be covered, leaving people who require costly anti-cancer medicines, for example, on their own.

Both of these belated proposals are a promising start, but still suffer from a lack of ambition. With a provincial budget of $141 billion, and total health spending of $54 billion, why are these two putatively progressive parties straining to stay under a modest $500 million cap for such a consequential program?

Still, it’s a start — for pharmacare, and the pre-election campaign. Whether this budget marks the beginning of a Liberal revival, or the start of a losing battle, is a question that voters might answer with another question:

After this pre-pre-election budget, are people better off than they were four years ago when Wynne and Sousa first took over? For the Liberals, Tories and New Democrats, that battle question may be the ballot question.

Crane climber, described as an ‘adventurous girl,’ released on bail

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 10:22:00 EDT

Marisa Lazo’s friend describes her as just “an adventurous girl,” and the choice to clamber up a construction crane as “not her best decision.” But Toronto police say the incident is criminal mischief — and it landed Lazo in jail.

Lazo, whose stranding atop the sky-high crane and dramatic rescue from it, transfixed onlookers for hours on Wednesday morning, was released on $500 bail Thursday. She faces six charges of mischief.

After her rescue, she was taken into police custody, but many unanswered questions — and much public curiosity — about her motives linger.

On Thursday, her bail hearing at Old City Hall shed little light on matters.

In the moments before Lazo’s bail hearing, a woman identifying herself as a “close friend” said Lazo simply has an adventurous spirit.

“It was not her best decision, but the fact that she did it was not a shock to me,” Sara Burton told reporters.

She identified Lazo as the owner of an Instagram account which includes photos that appear to show Lazo standing on the edges of rooftops with the Toronto skyline in the background.

Another friend, who asked not to be named, told the Star Wednesday that Lazo just “likes to climb things.”

While Lazo, herself, has not publicly commented on whether or not that is true, the practice of scaling skyscrapers and other tall structures is not unheard of in Toronto.

Over the past several years the practice of “rooftopping” — climbing up skyscrapers, abandoned buildings and construction equipment to take in views or snap photos — has grown in popularity.

“Rooftopping has become a photography trend that people all over the world are getting a piece of,” wrote photographer Neil Ta in a 2014 blog post about why he would no longer rooftop.

“In the beginning, we would simply walk into a building and . . . take the stairs or elevators to the top and look for an unlocked door or hatch,” Ta wrote. “But a newer breed of rooftopper in Toronto emerged. The idea was for them to get from 0 to 100 as quickly as possible without learning how to do it in a way that was respectful.”

Tom Ryaboi, a fellow rooftop photographer, told the Star in 2012 that climbing above Toronto is thrilling.

“You overlook the city. It’s really amazing, like a deep breath of euphoria,” he said.

When Lazo arrived in the courtroom at Old City Hall around midday Thursday, a man in the back shouted, “Marisa, you’re an angel.”

Following the hearing, Lazo made no comment to reporters gathered outside the court as she walked out.

As conditions of her bail, she must reside at an address approved by the Toronto Bail Program and attend any treatment, counseling, or rehabilitative programs ordered by her bail supervisor.

She may not enter any construction sites or go on any rooftops.

Lazo, who is a U.S. citizen, was also ordered to surrender her U.S. citizenship card.

Her bail hearing was held in Old City Hall’s mental health court.

But Crown Attorney Catherine Finley told the Star that, based on what the court saw at the hearing, there are no issues with Lazo’s mental fitness.

Court documents indicate that Lazo’s six charges of mischief relate to “interference with the lawful operation” of the construction site located at 50 Wellesley St. E., the Toronto Transit Commission bus service, the Toronto Emergency Services Paramedic Service, and the Toronto Fire Department.

The charges also relate to causing danger to the life of a Toronto police officer and firefighter.

Alison Craig, a Toronto criminal lawyer who is not involved in Lazo’s case, said she believes this is “overcharging” and “one count would cover the entire event.”

“In my opinion, it’s not going to result in any longer of a sentence should she be convicted of them all,” Craig said.

Lazo was rescued more than four hours after police were first alerted to a woman on the crane downtown.

Firefighter Rob Wonfor, a 52-year-old acting captain, climbed the crane and placed Lazo in a safety harness before securing her and rappelling to the ground.

Hundreds of people gathered to watch the rescue, which began at around 6 a.m. Wednesday, and lasted for 2 ½ hours.

Lazo was handcuffed after reaching the ground, and loaded into an ambulance.

She was taken to hospital for a checkup and spent the night in police custody.

Pearson airport border officers charged after cocaine seized

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:26:36 EDT

Two Canada Border Service Agency officers are facing charges for allegedly helping to import cocaine through Pearson airport.

The two officers, who were stationed at Pearson, are accused of facilitating the importation of 30 kilograms of cocaine to Toronto from Colombia and Jamaica.

The alleged offences occurred between January 2016 and April 2017, according to an RCMP release.

“All allegations of improper or illegal behaviour by CBSA employees are taken very seriously, and we continue to fully cooperate with the RCMP, who is leading the investigation,” said Goran Vragovic, regional director general with border agency.

“These allegations in no way reflect upon the true professionalism, dedication and integrity displayed each and every day by our CBSA staff.”

Patrick Ruddy, 37, of Toronto, and Brano Andrews, 41, of Barrie, face charges of breach of trust by a public officer, conspiracy of importing illegal substances and importing illegal substances.

Three others were charged in the joint investigation between the RCMP and the border agency.

Roberto Leyva, 32, of Niagara Falls, and Keith Hamid, 41, of Brampton, face charges for importing illegal substances. Rennie Escoffery, 57, also of Brampton, face charges for conspiracy of importing illegal substances.

Lawyers need signed consent to refer out cases

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 19:04:44 EDT

Ontario’s lawyers will have to get a client’s signed consent to refer their case to another lawyer — and the fees for doing so must be capped and transparent.

The Law Society of Upper Canada voted Thursday to approve several measures to bring the referral process “into the sunlight,” including a “sliding cap” on referral fees, which limits their amount, and a mandatory agreement that all parties will have to sign before a referral can take place.

Until now, clients, including accident victims, have often been in the dark about referrals and the fees associated with them.

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“We’re addressing a particular type of mischief and getting back to historic referral fee levels that were not seen as a problem,” said Malcolm Mercer, chair of the law society working group that has been studying the matter.

“There was a serious public interest issue that needed to be addressed and what we did was designed to change all of that.”

At a convocation meeting Thursday, the law society’s elected “benchers” voted 44 to 8, with two abstentions, in favour of these recommendations released by the working group earlier this week in a report by the working group.

While there was discussion about having a grace period before implementation of the new rules, Mercer said they will go into effect immediately because “the people that are actually involved in referral fees in a significant way are watching.”

Mercer said the new measures are just part of reforms intended to protect the public and the law society will now turn its attention to the remaining puzzle piece: contingency fee agreements — “you don’t pay unless we win.” The law society is considering creating a standard agreement for all Ontario lawyers to use.

The focus on contingency fee agreements comes on the heels of the Star’s ongoing investigation into Ontario’s personal injury lawyers.

The Star has found that for years, lawyers working on contingency for accident victims have been “double dipping” — taking more money from their clients than the law allows. As a result, the Star found, many Ontario residents have been overcharged thousands of dollars and likely do not know it.

The Star has also found that some law firms advertised so heavily that they received more business than they could handle. These files were farmed out to other law firms for a fee that was not regulated or controlled. Clients who called one firm would learn they had been shunted to another firm only when a new lawyer called them to arrange an appointment or when they were sent a bill.

Some personal injury lawyers take hefty referral fees, the Star found, including “up front” fees paid when the referral is made — and long before a settlement has been reached. Often, the accident victim was unaware that a referral fee had been paid, the Star found.

In February, the law society voted to ban “up front” referral fees in addition to cracking down on lawyer marketing, including mandating that lawyers can no longer advertise for services they don’t intend to provide.

Thursday’s meeting drew hearty debate about the new measures, which include requiring that lawyers report to the law society the total referral fees paid and received annually.

The rationale for the enhanced reporting, Mercer said, was that it increases accountability and “brings the issue into the sunlight.” When lawyers know attention is being paid to their billings, “they are more likely to be careful,” he said.

In addition to the mandatory referral contract that must be signed by all parties involved in the referral — the client, the referring lawyer and the lawyer who gets the case — the new measures also require lawyers to provide a document to their clients that explains their rights and warns that when it comes to referral fees, these fees are “not permitted to increase the amount of the legal fees charged to you.”

While some benchers took issue with the new income reporting measures, many who spoke at the meeting said they saw the merit of the new cap. Referral fees are now limited to 15 per cent of the first $50,000 in legal fees and 5 per cent of any fees above that, to a maximum of $25,000.

Historically, referral fees were in the 10- to 15-per-cent range of the entire legal fee.

Under the new rules, in a case that settles for $100,000, for example, the legal fee would be about $33,000 and the referral fee would total about $5,000. The calculations assume that lawyers are working on contingency and charge 33.3 per cent of the settlement as their legal fee.

A case would have to settle for more than $1 million for a lawyer to receive the maximum referral fee. Those cases are rare; most claimants receive settlements less than $100,000, according to the law society. In cases where the client recovers $50,000, the referral fee would be about $2,500.

Many benchers who spoke Thursday took issue with the need to have referral fees at all.

John Callaghan, a lawyer at the firm Gowling WLG, said “clients aren’t chattel to be sold.”

Calling a $25,000 referral fee “outrageous,” lawyer Bradley Wright said the new referral fees are “too lucrative and people can make a living just doing referrals.”

Michael Lerner, a partner at the firm Lerners, said that it is “disconcerting” to know that the law society is dealing with referral fee issues today only because some members have abused rules intended for the public interest.

“It’s a sad commentary upon us,” he said.

Quebec bill would end police pants protest

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 12:53:34 EDT

MONTREAL—Montreal’s police officers are being forced back into uniform after a years-long protest that has seen them opt for wearing brightly coloured army pants, blue jeans and even baseball knee breaches.

The Quebec government tabled legislation Thursday morning that would make it illegal for cops and court officers to substitute, add to, cover or alter their official service uniform.

It comes nearly three years after police opted to ditch their normal work pants in a show of protest over reforms to their municipal pension plans.

The bill says that police officers and special constables in courthouses across Quebec are essential to the administration of justice, the maintenance of order and upholding decorum in courtrooms. It also says that their uniforms make them identifiable as well as giving them the authority to carry out their duties.

“There is an exasperation about this across the population and it feeds into a lack of confidence towards our institutions, such as the police service,” said Quebec’s Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux.

He said there were also issues of safety and respect for the law behind his decision to bring the bill forward.

“In emergency responses, when it’s possible to be confused about identification and about who is who and who did what, it’s absolutely crucial and not wearing a uniform becomes a public safety issue,” he said. “There have even been cases where fines have been cancelled because people have argued that they didn’t know they were dealing with a police officer.”

Those who break the law could face a fine of between $500 and $3,000 for each day that they are in violation of the uniform rules. The penalties would be doubled for subsequent infractions.

And any unions or labour representatives found guilty of “assisting or inciting” their members to defy the law would receive fines valued at double those that would be incurred by individual officers or constables.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre tweeted a link to news of the legislation, commenting in French that: “The police will have to abandoned their ‘clown pants.’”

A spokesperson for the Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal, the city’s 4,500-member police union, declined to comment on the bill.

Franck Perales, president and spokesperson for the special constables’ union, the Syndicat des constables spéciaux du gouvernement du Québec, told Radio-Canada that the bill would strip away bargaining power from employees designated as essential-service providers and barred from taking other job actions.

“At the negotiating table, there will no longer be anything inciting the government to sit down with us because they have taken away the last tool we had—our visibility,” he told the broadcaster.

The police protest movement began in July 2014 when the officers began wearing red hats and jeans or coloured pants to show their frustration over legislation that made changes to municipal pension funds across the province of Quebec. It was passed into law in December 2014.

Police have put aside their protest and stepped back into their regulation gear on only a few occasions over the years. They included the 2014 funeral of a Quebec-based Canadian soldier killed in an October terror attack in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu; the 2015 funeral of singer Celine Dion’s husband and manager, René Angelil; and last February’s funeral service for three of the six victims of the mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque.

But officers were sharply criticized in the summer of 2015 when some of them wore camouflage army-style pants while working to direct traffic and control the crowds at the funeral of former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau.

TTC subway air quality ‘not likely to endanger’ employees: Ministry of Labour

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 16:18:55 EDT

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has determined that the air quality in the TTC subway system is “not likely to endanger” employees. The ruling comes after the publication this week of study that found elevated pollution levels on Toronto’s transit system.

In a statement released Thursday, the TTC said that the ministry was called in to investigate after four employees instigated work refusals over concerns about air quality. The employees — three subway operators and a maintenance worker — wanted to be permitted to wear protective masks.

“The ministry’s ruling confirmed that the TTC met all of its legal and due diligence obligations,” said the TTC’s statement, which added that “the air quality in the subway system is safe and personal protective equipment related to air quality is not required.”

The release quoted TTC CEO Andy Byford as saying it was “most regrettable” that in “certain media articles” the air quality on the subway was compared to that of Beijing, “one of the planets most polluted cities.”

“Doing so, frankly, has caused harm to the TTC’s reputation and unnecessary alarm for some TTC employees,” Byford said.

The comparison to Beijing was made by Greg Evans, a University of Toronto engineering professor who co-authored the study.

Earlier this week he was quoted by several media outlets, including the Star, as saying the level of fine particulate matter found in the subway was comparable to a typical day in the Chinese city, known for high levels of pollution.

The study, which was led by Health Canada and published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, discovered the mean concentration of a fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 on the subway system was 95 micrograms per cubic metre, or 10 times the levels outside.

The researchers didn’t measure the possible health effects of the pollution, which they said was high in iron and was likely generated by friction between the steel subway wheels and tracks.

PM2.5 is not considered a health hazard for most people, but experts say it can cause illness in vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with certain health conditions.

In a letter to the TTC on Thursday, Health Canada reiterated that the study results were not intended to measure the health hazards of the subway system.

The health agency said that researchers have conducted air quality studies of other subway systems around the world, including New York and London, and pollution levels on the TTC are “consistent with levels observed elsewhere.”

Despite the ministry’s determination, leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 were not convinced that the subway air is safe for employees who can spend over eight hours a day underground.

“There’s no level of acceptability” for fine particulates, said Kevin Morton, secretary-treasurer of Local 113, which represents over 10,000 transit workers. “They’re bad for you.”

Morton argued that workers who want to should be allowed to wear masks, and warned “there could potentially be job action” if they’re not permitted.

“Why is the TTC afraid to give their employees the option of wearing a mask?” he asked.

The TTC has not conducted its own major air quality study of the subway since 1995, but plans to perform one this year.

The transit agency says that since the last study it has taken several steps to improve underground air quality.

Dozens to be tested after tuberculosis case at Niagara private school: DiManno

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 17:23:20 EDT

The student was sickly and slovenly.

But colds and coughs are common in high schools. “And he’s a teenage boy,” stresses Meghan Wood, director of Royal Elite International Academy, a private high school in Niagara-on-the-Lake that caters primarily to foreign students. “Sometimes teenage boys can be dishevelled. That had nothing to do with it anyway.”

This teenage student, however, has been diagnosed with an active case of tuberculosis. He is in quarantine.

The 18-year-old from China, according to sources at the academy, appeared ill as far back as September. He only sought medical attention in February, by which point he was coughing up blood.

Subsequently, the Niagara Region public health department was called in. Forty-nine students and staff are either getting skin tests or — because some have already returned home at end of term — letters urging them to get tested in their home country. (For accuracy purposes, a wait period of at least eight weeks is required between last contact with the active TB patient and administration of the test.)

At least eight students and four teachers have tested positive so far, the Star has been told, although Dr. Mustafa Hirji, associate medical officer for Niagara Region, would not confirm results, maintaining that to do so would violate health privacy rights.

To be clear: a positive tuberculin skin test does not mean a person has contagious (active) or even latent TB. The next step is undergoing chest X-rays, which was being done this week. A PPD (purified protein derivative) test determines only if someone has developed an immune response to the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. “It means the TB bacterium is living inside you,” explains Hirji.

Some 95 per cent of people with latent TB will never develop the disease. They are not infectious and can’t spread it to others.

All of which should be comforting news to those who’ve been in contact with Teenage Boy X — fellow students, teachers, his billeting family — and especially those now undergoing further examination.

This is Canada, where tuberculosis is scarcely a concern anymore and routine vaccination was discontinued in the seventies. It is no longer administered except in persistently high-risk aboriginal communities.

In 1867, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in this country.

But globally — China, Africa, Third World countries — TB remains a serious health problem, ranking as second leading cause of death from an infectious disease behind only AIDS. It’s estimated that one-third of the world’s population has latent TB infection, with an estimated 8 to 10 million developing active TB disease annually.

Hirji makes it clear there’s no evidence of an epidemic afoot at the academy and no reason to panic, pointing out that the Niagara Region sees an average of seven active TB cases per year.

“There has been exposure from one person. This doesn’t mean other people have contracted TB.”

But the academy, which has a student population of about 120 and moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake only last fall, has a disproportionately large number of foreign students. That’s the attraction for families from afar who send their kids — at a cost of about $40,000 for a high school education, according to one teacher — “to essentially buy their child’s entrance into Canadian post-secondary institutions.” Most of the foreign students are from China, but some have come from Nigeria, Mexico, Ukraine and other parts of Europe.

Some faculty are dismayed by the school’s failure to take prompt action even after teachers brought the teenager’s chronic sickliness to their attention. “The boy is over 18,” Wood points out. “He’s responsible for his own health. We couldn’t force him to go to a doctor.”

A teacher who attended a staff meeting with school authorities in November — the main topic of discussion was how to reduce stress for students, as many had noticed that kids were in a high state of anxiety about their academic performance — recalls that the health of Teenage Boy X was raised as well.

“We’re teachers, we’re not health and safety people. Our job is to teach the curriculum. But a few teachers mentioned that this student had a bad cough and it wasn’t going away. Nothing was done.”

This particular staffer tested positive this week. A chest X-ray came back clear, but the teacher will still have to take antibiotics for the next nine months.

“I’m just sick about it. I’m beside myself,” she told the Star. “I was in tears at the doctor’s office. I feel like this puts my entire life on hold.”

The Star is not identifying the teachers who spoke for this column because they fear for their jobs.

“It was apparent to all that the kid diagnosed with TB was ill,” another teacher told the Star in an email. “Staff repeatedly expressed their concern about this kid, who was dirty, coughing and very obviously unhealthy.”

Wood insists the school took every appropriate action after the diagnosis.

In an email sent to staff and faculty this week, Wood — just returned from maternity leave so not at the school when worries about the boy first surfaced — laid out steps the school is taking. These include covering expenses for the testing process and any antibiotics and treatment required not covered by OHIP; distributing surgical masks for those who wish on exam days; making alternative arrangements for high-risk students who have tested positive (they won’t be allowed back until their chest X-ray results are confirmed); even paying mileage for those who have to drive to a clinic for the X-rays.

Perhaps most crucially, and belatedly, the school will screen newly arriving students from overseas “as it apparently isn’t included in their immigration medical exam,” Wood says in the email. “We are also looking at a new rule that all kids who have been sick longer than 1 week must go to the doctor, regardless of whether they think they are seriously sick or not.”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada screens individuals applying for permanent residency and “certain individuals applying for temporary residency” — but only for active cases of tuberculosis or those who’ve been treated for tuberculosis in the past.

A study released in 2015 showed that the majority of active tuberculosis cases was found in people arriving in Canada from six countries — China, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam, with 157 prospective immigrants (between 2002 and 2011) having active TB and screened out. Over the decade-long study, 22,391 immigrants were referred by immigration officials to provincial health authorities for post-immigration surveillance, but only 13,387 followed the order. Within two years of obtaining their permanent status, 102 of them developed active TB. By comparison, active TB was found in 334 newcomers out of all those who had not been referred for surveillance and 66 cases involved those who were referred but did not report.

The upshot: only 1 in 40 cases was actually detected through post-immigration surveillance, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the post-immigration referral process, the study said.

Infectious disease experts called for Ottawa to improve its immigration health screening system.

In attempting to alleviate fears, Wood urged staff to avoid “unnecessary panic/hysteria,” and that admonishing tone didn’t go over well either.

As one of the aforementioned teachers told the Star via email: “The public health nurse who tested me was completely shocked I had a positive result. She said public health didn’t expect any Canadian-born people to test positive.”

Now there are four.

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

Toronto council votes to push for federal ban on shark fin imports

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 12:36:19 EDT

Toronto council voted Thursday to call for a federal ban on the import of shark fins, as applause rang out from the council chamber where late Toronto filmmaker Rob Stewart’s family sat watching.

Councillors voted 38-4 for a motion by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam to support a federal bill introduced earlier this month by Conservative Senator Michael MacDonald, which seeks to create a law prohibiting the importation of shark fins to Canada.

“Shark finning” in Canadian waters has been illegal since 1994, but the sale and importation of shark fins is not.

The practice involves cutting the fins off living sharks and then throwing the animals back into the ocean. Unable to swim, the sharks sink to the bottom of the ocean where they are eaten alive or die of suffocation.

Stewart’s father Brian, joined at city hall Thursday by Rob’s mother Sandy and sister Alexandra, said the biggest city in the country passing this motion sends the right message to Ottawa.

“Rob’s passion was to create a world where we’re an army with nature. This is his legacy,” he said. “Rob’s belief was he had to show people the beauty of the ocean,” he said. “He had to show them that this is worth fighting for and worth saving, and in his case, worth dying for.”

“We’re thrilled and we knew Rob would’ve been thrilled as well,” Sandy added.

Read more: U.S. coast guard continues search for missing Sharkwater filmmaker

Council bans sale consumption of shark fin

Sharkfin ban resurfaces as Toronto council backers seek new narrower rule

Stewart died while diving off the coast of Islamorada, Fla. in January. The 37-year-old was filming a sequel to his 2006 documentary Sharkwater, which aimed to draw attention to the practice of “finning” sharks for soup and its impact on the ocean’s ecosystem.

“Since Rob’s first film Sharkwater, over a billion sharks have been killed,” Brian said. “If we allow sharks to disappear from our oceans, we’re taking the key ingredient that’s been around for 450 million years. That balance would be gone. (If) the balance is gone, the oceans will die. If the oceans die, mankind goes with it, so this is not just about saving sharks.”

Wong-Tam’s motion, seconded by Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, also asked the premier to consider a provincial ban on the sale of shark fins should the federal bill fail.

In 2011, Toronto council voted to ban the possession, sale and consumption of shark fin by the same 38-4 margin.

“My heart has all the warm butterflies inside,” Rob Stewart said following the vote. “I couldn’t feel better.”

An Ontario Superior Court judge later overturned the ban, calling it “highly intrusive” and ruling the city overstepped its powers because the bylaw banned consumption by Torontonians in their own homes.

Chinese-Canadian merchants and restaurateurs had protested the ban, arguing shark fin soup was a delicacy in Chinese restaurants and the ban would cause them to lose significant business.

But Wong-Tam said shark finning is a quickly fading Chinese cultural practice.

“It’s not cultural in any way and if it was to be categorized as cultural, I can tell you there’s certain things that we would do culturally that we don’t do anymore,” she said. “We no longer bind women’s feet in Chinese culture. We also don’t have multiple wives and that is not part of what Chinese culture is today.”

Wong-Tam noted that 17 Canadian municipalities have already banned sale of shark fin and related products, including London, Newmarket, Oakville, Brantford and Pickering.

De Baeremaeker said an estimated 280 million sharks have been killed in the last four years since Toronto’s ban was overturned.

“This slaughter, happening in every ocean on this planet is happening because we, Canadians and others around the world, eat shark-fin soup,” said De Baeremaeker, arguing it has no nutritional value, doesn’t taste good and is overpriced. “This slaughter can stop if we simply stop eating shark-fin soup.”

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who also joined the Stewart family Thursday morning, said Canada is responsible for two per cent of shark fin consumption around the world.

“It’s no different from the ivory trade. It’s as cruel as it is wasteful,” Erskine-Smith said.

He noted this was the third attempt to ban the import of shark fins at the federal level, following his own efforts and those of NDP MP Fin Donnelly which were both defeated. Erskine-Smith said he was confident MacDonald’s bill would be successful because of its support among all three major parties this time.

“It is a non-partisan issue,” he said.

Raptors earn best shot at the King: Arthur

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 22:23:42 EDT

MILWAUKEE—Maybe you were howling it at your television screens when the 25-point lead was down to 13; maybe you were screaming it when the lead was eight, then three, then gone. There were so many times to bellow from the rooftops: SAME OLD RAPTORS.

But they couldn’t hear you. In fairness, they couldn’t hear anything, because that lead was vanishing like Pepto-Bismol poured down a drain, and it felt like every man, woman and child in Wisconsin was emptying their lungs in the Bradley Center. The Bucks had found life and the Raptors looked like the ball had been coated in school-room glue, and that 25-point lead vanished in the din. Oh, hell. Game 7, again.

And then, unexpectedly, they didn’t let it happen. The Raptors pulled out Game 6 over the Milwaukee Bucks, 92-89. They will play Cleveland and LeBron James, starting Monday night.

“We just kept fighting, kept scratching, kept competing . . . but we made it harder than it needed to be,” said coach Dwane Casey. “I loved our resiliency. I love that our guys didn’t cave in. I’ve coached guys that would have caved in under that pressure — the arena, the crowd.”

Down two with three minutes left, DeMar DeRozan’s endless well of self-confidence got them a bucket. Down two again, Patrick Patterson — the formerly indispensable Raptor who had been recently forgotten, lost in a slump — played give-and-go with Cory Joseph and dunked to tie it again. The Raptors got a stop, moved the ball, and Joseph, who was 0-for-3 for the game, nailed a three.

“You’ve got to play until that clock reads zero, zero, zero,” said Joseph. “I was just saying in the timeout — because it seemed a little bit intense, and guys were a little bit uptight on the bench — I was just telling them, relax, let’s run some plays, let’s move the ball, let’s keep doing the things that got us up that high in the first place. Just trying to calm everybody down.”

“It’s human nature to get a little bit tense when things aren’t going your way.”

Both those plays started with double-teams on DeRozan, and ended because they passed the ball to guys who had no reason to be confident, except they had been trusted. And in the final minute, DeRozan turned the corner to avoid a double team, got past seven-footer Thon Maker, rose before Giannis Antetokounmpo could get up, and dunked with 48.7 seconds left: 87-82. Joseph added two free throws. The Raptors had to make free throws to seal it, and DeRozan finished with 32 points. It was enough to survive.

They survived partly because Milwaukee missed nine free throws in the second half. They survived partly because the incredible Antetokounmpo played all but 81 seconds of the game, and the Bucks could only stay dead even with Toronto when he was on the floor.

“When you look at this, it came down to free throws,” said Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd. “It’s not that hard. We don’t need to over-analyze this. We got to the stripe and we just couldn’t capitalize on that.”

Maybe the Raptors don’t need to over-analyze this, either — they all said the Raptors built that 25-point lead by moving the ball, and they all said the lead vanished when they stopped. But once it stopped, the key might be that they had enough trust left to move the ball when it mattered. That’s what saved them.

Before the game, Kidd was asked what you learn about players in elimination games. It applied to Toronto too, more or less.

“You learn a lot about their character,” said Kidd. “Who is going to fight; who is going to run. Who is able to handle it when things are good. This is just the start of the journey for this young group, and understanding it is not always easy to win, and can you handle it when things don’t go well?”

“This is about stars showing up. If you look around the league the stars are showing up, and this is fun to watch.”

Kyle Lowry is still a big question mark; he finished with 13 points and four assists in 44 minutes. He never really tried to take control of the game. But DeRozan did. The Raptors found out who could fight when things were going well, and when they weren’t.

So now it’s Cleveland, the kings of the east. But this time Cleveland’s defence is softer, and Toronto has more than it has ever had. Maybe the Cavaliers are vulnerable enough. Maybe the lesson of this Milwaukee series was that the Raptors have more than one way to beat teams, and are ready for this.

Or maybe the lesson is that these Raptors can’t score consistently enough to stay with a team quarterbacked by the greatest basketball force in the world. As one NBA coach recently said, “Beating LeBron James in a seven-game series is the hardest thing on the planet.” Nobody has stopped LeBron on the road to the NBA final since 2010.

But this is probably Toronto’s best chance to take a run at the king. They have more than they ever have; they may not be the same old Raptors. Every year LeBron leaves teams smoking on the side of the road. Time to try again.

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