Pensioner left in dark after hydro pulls plug

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 05:00:00 EDT

Peggy Mills doesn’t own a clothes dryer and has given up cable TV and telephone service in her ongoing struggle to repay a $2,500 hydro debt and keep a lid on her ever-rising monthly electricity bills.

She has disconnected her electric stove and is scouring rummage sales for a gas appliance.

And in June, the 74-year-old pensioner applied to Hydro One’s Home Assistance Program to replace her aging refrigerator and freezer with more energy-efficient models to cut costs further.

But days after Mills received word her free new appliances were ready for delivery, Hydro One cut off power to her tiny bungalow in McArthurs Mills, about 25 km east of Bancroft.

“Maybe they won’t let me keep them now. Wouldn’t that be a bummer,” said Mills, whose electricity was disconnected July 18 after she gave up paying her bill in frustration over barely making a dent in the debt.

“One arm of the company gives and the other takes away.”

Not only has Mills lost power, but without electricity to run the pump on her well, she has no water either. So she drives to Bancroft several times a week to fill up five-gallon jugs from public taps. A neighbour has been letting her take baths.

“By the end of the day I’m pretty exhausted,” said Mills, who is waiting for a knee replacement operation and has other health problems.

An artist who lives on less than $17,000 a year in old age pension and HST credits, Mills is among hundreds of low-income residents in North Hastings County who are in arrears and at risk of disconnection, said Jane Kali, a community worker at North Hastings Community Trust.

“We get five to 10 calls a day from people in financial crisis because of their hydro bills,” said Kali. “Hydro can’t disconnect them in the winter, so they do it in the summer. For most people, it’s a question of paying for hydro or paying for food.”

Kali, who worked for more than a decade serving the homeless in downtown Toronto before moving to the area at the edge of Algonquin Park about five years ago, says rural poverty doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s radar.

“The isolation is huge. People are living in shacks. Hydro is the thing that is pushing people over the edge,” she said. “And there are not a lot of places people can turn to for help.”

Local Councillor Bill Kilpatrick, who sits on the board of the community trust, says average household incomes of $42,000 make it tough to pay hydro bills that can hit $1,000 a month.

“People here are making very hard choices between eating and paying the hydro,” he said. “Poverty is relatively hidden here. It’s down some back road where you don’t see it, whereas it’s far more visible in the big cities.”

When the Star reached out to Hydro One about Mills’s predicament Tuesday, a spokeswoman said disconnection is “always a last resort,” but that the utility is willing to take a second look.

“We’re very concerned about this customer,” said Nancy Clark.

“It appears that her situation is especially difficult,” she said. “So we are going to take this opportunity to look at this account again, reach out to social services in the area ... and see if there is an arrangement that we can find.”

A spokeswoman for Ontario’s energy ministry said the province offers energy tax credits, payment programs and monthly subsidies to help low-income residents pay arrears and make bills more affordable.

“Ontario’s government is focused on ensuring that vulnerable customers have the resources to help avoid disconnection,” said Katrina Xavier.

Kali has already helped Mills get a grant of $500 from the provincial Low-Income Energy Assistance Program to help pay her arrears. In the spring, Mills started receiving a $30 monthly energy credit on her bill through the Ontario Electricity Support Program, introduced in January.

But the mother of five and grandmother of eight who visits the local food bank twice a month and has furnished her home with castoffs from the local dump, has been unable to get ahead of her hydro debt.

“My consumption charges are only about $49 a month. But delivery charges are almost twice that amount. And they keep rising,” Mills said.

Combined with her monthly debt repayment charge of $90 — which she says never seems to make a dent in the total amount she owes — Mills was forking out as much as $200 a month to keep her lights on and water running.

About three months ago, when Hydro One hiked her monthly debt repayment charge to $450 and threatened her with disconnection, Mills says she gave up paying altogether.

“It was going to cost me more than my mortgage,” she said.

Kali says Mills’s reaction is common.

“Hydro puts people on payment plans they can’t afford,” she said. “It’s a real problem.”

Kali, is teaming up with the Toronto-based group Put Food in the Budget, to put rural poverty on the provincial agenda. The group will be touring North Hastings County in September as part of what Kali hopes will result in dozens of rural communities taking up the charge.

“I’d love to see busloads of us converge on Queen’s Park to tell Premier Wynne what it’s like in rural Ontario,” she said. “To put food in the budget in rural Ontario, you have to put hydro in the budget.”

Help with hydro bills:

  • Ontario Electricity Support Program:

Residents with after-tax household incomes of $52,000 or less are eligible for the Ontario Electricity Support Program to help make monthly hydro bills more affordable. The program, offered through the Ontario Energy Board since January, offers subsidies of up to $75 monthly. About 500,000 households are expected to qualify. About 194,800 households had applied as of July 14. To date, 113,325 households have been accepted.

  • Low-Income Energy Assistance Program:

Emergency, one-time assistance of up to $500 is available for low-income customers who have fallen into arrears and are at risk of having their power disconnected. Those with electric heat can get up to $600.

  • Consumer Protection:

Hydro utilities are not permitted to demand deposits or connection fees under ConsumersOntario Energy Board consumer protection rules. All customers have the option of setting up payment plans to help them pay their bills. Utilities must give advanced notice of at least 10 days and provide information on options before any disconnection. The board also helps negotiate affordable payment plans for those in arrears.

  • Tax Relief:

The Ontario energy and property tax credit provides up to $224 a year to help with sales tax on energy costs. An additional northern Ontario energy credit of up to $124 for singles and $224 for families is available for households in the northern part of the province.

  • Energy-efficiency:

Free energy-efficient upgrades to help lower costs are available for low-income households including light bulbs, weather stripping and new appliances under Hydro One’s Home Assistance Program.

Councillor Carolyn Parrish fires back at ‚??cranky constituent‚??

Tue, 26 Jul 2016 20:55:00 EDT

Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish is standing up for her profession, after sending a letter to a resident calling him a “cranky constituent” for suggesting she took a “bribe.”

“As politicians all we have is our reputations,” Parrish told the Star. “The best way to get me riled up is by claiming I’ve ever taken a bribe. In my 32 years I’ve never taken a nickel. We are not steel-coated people. We do have emotions. You should treat me with a similar courtesy that you should use with your doctor, your teacher and others who work to make ours a better society.”

In her July 8 letter to resident Frank McGurk, Parrish wrote: “You are a cranky constituent — insulting to say the least. The Cliff Gyles reference was obnoxious. I suspect from your tone, others may find your opinions equally rude so I’m not concerned greatly regarding your opinions of me.”

The Malton resident had earlier sent Parrish a letter regarding the planned demolition of a local shopping plaza to make way for a mixed-use residential development that would include affordable housing units, which has been a priority for Parrish.

“I’m very disappointed as I read the minutes of the meeting regarding Netherwood plaza,” McGurk had written to Parrish two days earlier. “The plaza is a mainstay in this community where I have lived for 40 years plus. I smell another Cliff Gilles (sic) move here. We do not need 30 more detached homes with front yards the size of postage stamps.”

Gyles is a former Mississauga councillor who accepted $35,000 from businessmen to support a zoning application in 2003. He was convicted of municipal fraud and spent time in a federal prison.

The Star asked McGurk about his reference to Gyles.

“The only thing that brought attention (to the issue of the plaza’s possible demolition) was when I brought up the Cliff Gyles scenario,” McGurk said. “By no means was I calling anyone in Mississauga council dishonest, I just threw that at them to get their attention.”

Asked to respond to Parrish’s claim that he attacked her reputation, McGurk said, “Well, it happened once before. How can we guarantee it doesn’t happen again?”

Parrish’s office provided a letter that she sent to neighbourhood residents. She wrote that a public meeting was held May 16 to deal with the demolition of the Brandon Gate Plaza to make way for residential units.

The letter outlines plans to include a variety store in the new residential development.

“This store will address the concern that there would be no store within walking distance for local residents,” the letter says.

“The homes to be built on the rest of the property have generous front setbacks so there is adequate driveway parking for each home and will have the largest backyards in the community. They will be an attractive addition to (the) neighbourhood.”

A small number will be for affordable housing.

A woman working at a convenience store inside the plaza told the Star that the proposal to tear it down has upset many locals and some business owners.

With Peel Region facing an affordable housing crisis, last year Parrish pushed Mississauga council to make a minimum number of affordable housing units a requirement in all future development plans. Staff is working on a report to determine a viable percentage for all future residential construction that will have to be designated for affordable housing.

Ontario cautious on taxing foreign home buyers

Tue, 26 Jul 2016 17:26:52 EDT

Ontario finance minister Charles Sousa says he will cast a close eye on British Columbia’s move to tax foreign homebuyers in a bid to keep housing prices affordable in the scorching Vancouver real estate market.

The B.C. government announced Monday it will begin charging 15 per cent on home transactions involving foreign buyers as it faces mounting concerns about citizens being priced out of the country’s hottest market.

BMO chief economist Douglas Porter has urged the Ontario government to follow B.C.’s lead, given that single detached houses in the Greater Toronto Area have jumped almost 20 per cent year-over-year.

Sousa welcomed B.C.’s move. But Ontario needs to be cautious about how a similar measure in the Toronto area could spill over into the rest of the province.

“We have to be cognizant of the impacts of those decisions,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

That caution is well founded, said Dianne Usher, senior vice-president of the Johnston and Daniel division of Royal LePage.

“Toronto and Vancouver are magnets for foreign acquisition. To pull that away could have an impact across all sectors,” she warned.

“Any tax is going to eliminate some of the real estate activity which is a major, major contribution to the overall economy. What might be good for a major urban environment could have disastrous effects for smaller communities,” she said.

Usher cited Hamilton where real estate is just gaining strength after years of economic struggle. She also noted that an Ontario tax could discourage Americans from investing in cottages around Toronto.

“I would rather see foreign money coming into our country. If Vancouver’s not welcoming it any longer, bring them to other parts of the country, particularly in neighbourhoods that might be suffering some economic challenges, for example the east coast of Canada, or Alberta,” she said.

Foreign investment isn’t a problem in Ontario, said economist Frank Clayton. In fact, those investors often buy units that go into the rental market.

But Ontario needs to do something to reduce the “euphoria” around housing that sees people jumping in just because they fear being priced out of home ownership, said Frank Clayton.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to putting something in temporarily just to slow the whole market down,” said the senior fellow at the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development at Ryerson University.

It’s a “massive” tax that is probably being introduced too late to offer any significant relief to Vancouver homebuyers, said David Fleming of Bosley Real Estate, who doubts Ontario will take a similar measure any time soon.

“If — and it’s a big if — all that foreign demand came to Toronto and our market continued to spiral, you might see it,” he said.

But, he added, “The savviest and the smartest will still find their way around the tax.

“People are going to look for the loophole. It’s not going to take long for foreigners to set up Canadian companies and hold the property in those names or maybe move an 18-year-old child to go to university,” said Fleming.

It’s also naive to assume that any investment driven out of Vancouver by the new tax would necessarily land in Ontario.

Some of it might but, “It could also find a place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris or London,” he said.

The CEO of online mortgage aggregator RateHub, called the B.C. tax a “good policy move,” by a government that is bound to protect affordability for citizens.

It can cool the market without pushing those citizens out.

“Going this drastic on something like down payment (requirements) really has the potential for it to take longer for first-time home buyers to save that down payment and that may not be what we want,” said Alyssa Furtado.

Ontario will have the advantage of being able to see if the tax pushes investment outside Vancouver to secondary B.C. markets like Kelowna and Victoria, she said.

Sousa and his B.C. counterpart Mike de Jong are part of a federal committee looking at ways to improve affordability in Canada’s hottest housing markets.

Ottawa set up the committee about the same time that the Bank of Canada cautioned consumers against the likelihood of housing prices continuing to rise at the recent record levels.

The Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which regulates Canada’s banks, has announced they will have to test how they would handle a 50 per cent cut in Vancouver home prices and a 40 per cent drop in Toronto prices.

With files from Rob Ferguson and The Canadian Press

Canadian woman arrested in California with 38 kg of heroin

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 11:10:41 EDT

MODESTO, CALIF.—Police in Central California say they arrested a Canadian woman allegedly carrying 38 kilograms of heroin after a police dog alerted his handler to drugs inside her pickup truck during a traffic stop.

The Modesto Bee reports 63-year-old Kathleen Landry, of British Columbia, was arrested Monday on Highway 99 in Modesto.

Modesto Police spokeswoman Heather Graves says investigators would not release the moving violation allegedly committed by the driver that led to the probable cause for the stop.

Graves says patrol officers, with the assistance of the Modesto Narcotics Enforcement Team, obtained a search warrant for the truck and recovered 38 kilograms of heroin with an estimated street value of more than $2 million (U.S.)

Landry was arrested on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance for sales and transportation of a controlled substance.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1 (209) 521-4636

Boy charged with criminal negligence after girl dies in Caledon crash

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 11:03:00 EDT

A boy has been charged with criminal negligence causing death after a girl died in a single-vehicle crash in Caledon early Tuesday.

Ontario Provincial Police said the boy and the girl were both younger than 16 and both in the car during the crash.

They said the girl, who was the passenger, was pronounced dead at the scene. The boy was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The crash happened at about 4:15 a.m. on Highway 10. Police said the car was travelling north on the highway when it crossed into the southbound lanes and struck an object in the ditch.

The boy, who cannot be identified because of his age, faces several charges, including criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

He is set to appear in court in Orangeville, Ont., Friday.

OPP Highway Safety spokeswoman Lynda Cranney said collisions involving young drivers without licences are rare, and not something for which the force compiles statistics.

There have been a few recent cases of underage drivers killing or injuring others in Ontario.

A 16-year-old Toronto boy was killed in 2010 when he was ejected from a car driven by a 15-year-old boy.

In 2013, two 13-year-old boys and one 15-year-old boy who police allege were driving a stolen truck were arrested in Oshawa and charged with several offences. The province’s police watchdog found the boy driving the truck lost control of the vehicle and seriously injured three pedestrians.

In 2011, a York Region police officer was killed after stopping a teen at the wheel of a minivan. The 15-year-old drove away, dragging Const. Garrett Styles for several metres before the vehicle rolled over and pinned the officer.

The driver, who is now quadriplegic as a result of the crash, was found guilty last year of first-degree murder in connection with the incident. He was sentenced to nine years of conditional supervision rather than prison time.

Fox News‚?? Bill O‚??Reilly vouches for White House slave builders‚?? living conditions

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 12:42:21 EDT

PHILADELPHIA—On Monday night in a widely praised speech at the Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama made a poignant observation about her life and race in America: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

Within minutes, PolitiFact confirmed the factual rigour of Obama’s claim. The New York Times also did a write-up: “Yes, Slaves Did Help Build the White House.”

On his Tuesday night program, however, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly felt he still had something to add to the conversation. “Slaves did participate in the construction of the White House,” O’Reilly said, noting that “free blacks, whites and immigrants also worked on the massive building.”

Then: “Slaves that worked there were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government,” the host said.

For even more context, try Jesse J. Holland’s book The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House, which notes, “With the invention of steam shovels still several years away, these slaves dug for the clay on site with hand shovels, working day and night to get the raw material to the skilled brick makers and at the same time, opening up ground on the site for the space that would become the White House’s foundation and cellar.”

“Digging up clay was unskilled, tedious and backbreaking work,” writes Holland. As to the “decent” lodging, Holland notes that a “barn” was built for the workers.

“It wouldn’t be a leap to say the living conditions in a barn were much less comfortable than in a house,” Holland said in an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog.

A “steady diet of pork and bread” was provided to slaves in quarries supplying stone for construction of the president’s house, according to Holland’s book, though the author cautions against any conclusion that these folks were “well fed.”

“It’s hard to think they got all the food they wanted when they wanted it and all the food they needed when they needed it,” said Holland. “What does ‘well fed’ mean? When you don’t have a choice about what you eat, are you well fed?”

Why does Toronto‚??s east end hate everything?

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 12:20:47 EDT

Over the years, residents in the east end neighbourhoods of Leslieville and the Beach have complained about everything from breweries to music festivals and even a mysterious hum only some can hear.

But the region’s latest grievance – that toddlers playing in a park are too loud – has some wondering whether the east end doth protest too much.

“NIMBYism at its worst. This is why the Beach has such a bad rep in the city,” wrote one member of The Beaches Facebook group. “Give me a break, get a life. Let kids be kids,” wrote another.

“It’s probably just our demographic here,” said Beach Village BIA director Jessica Wright. “We’re bringing in some younger people but at this point it’s still a little bit of an older crowd.

“They’re used to kind of a sleepy neighbourhood a little bit.”

Local councillor Gary Crawford said recent complaints about a children’s sports program in Lynndale Parkette — in the Upper Beaches along the border with Scarborough — were related more to safety than noise; people were worried about the number of cars coming onto the quiet street.

“I’m hoping that there’s no NIMBYism here,” Crawford said.

Liz Rykert, co-founder of Shape My City, understands the frustration that noisy new businesses or music festivals can bring, but said neighbours in residential areas such as the Beach and Leslieville need to work together to find solutions.

“There’s so many things going on in Toronto that people are sometimes like, ‘Enough already. I just want to sit on my porch and have a quiet evening’,” she said.

Things Leslieville and the Beach have complained about:


Neighbours of Left Field Brewery worked themselves into a froth in 2015 over the sound of chatter and laughter coming from its customers.


Toronto’s popular Afrofest music festival was threatened with having its two-day permit curtailed after residents near Woodbine Park complained about the noise last year.

Food trucks

In 2013, food trucks stationed in Woodbine Park as part of a city-led pilot project were driven out after residents complained about noise and exhaust fumes.

The homeless

The news that an 80-bed homeless shelter was planned for Leslie Street north of Eastern Avenue prompted a flood of concerns from residents concerned about crime and property values.


Ryerson University turfed plans to upgrade the soccer field at St. Patrick High School in June, after an outcry from residents worried it would cause traffic jams.

A mysterious ‘hum’

According to some residents, there’s a maddening, low-frequency hum that’s always present in Leslieville. Its existence has not been proven, some east enders have reported hearing it constantly for months and even years.

Medic‚??s family launches $3.7M lawsuit in ORNGE chopper crash

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 06:00:00 EDT

OTTAWA—The family of a medic killed in the crash of an ORNGE helicopter is suing the air ambulance agency and the federal government, alleging the pilots lacked the proper training and that Transport Canada allowed the agency’s unsafe operations to continue for years.

The 2013 crash of the ORNGE air ambulance that killed Chris Snowball and three others in northern Ontario was “completely avoidable,” charges the statement of claim that was filed last week.

“The defendants knew there were significant safety problems at (ORNGE) for years yet did nothing to correct them and in fact allowed them to continue, consciously choosing to court the risk of a disaster such as this,” the court papers allege.

The documents claim that ORNGE and Transport Canada both turned a “blind eye” to safety problems that put the lives of employees and patients at risk.

The statement of claim names ORNGE along with two unnamed Transport Canada officials. The lawsuit demands disclosure of the names of inspectors involved in oversight of the agency in the three years leading up to the crash.

It was filed on behalf of Snowball’s parents, John and Deborah Snowball, and his 19-year-old daughter. They are seeking a total of $3.7 million in damages.

The court action comes about a month after the Transportation Safety Board released the results of its own lengthy probe of the accident.

The Sikorsky S-76A helicopter had been dispatched on a night flight from its base in Moosonee to pick up a patient in Attawapiskat. But the aircraft crashed soon after takeoff, killing Snowball and fellow medic Dustin Dagenais along with Capt. Don Filliter and First Officer Jacques Dupuy.

The board concluded that the helicopter’s inadvertent descent was not detected by the pilots because of the darkness and the lack of visual cues outside the cockpit.

But the safety board said the cause of the accident went far beyond the actions of the two pilots. It noted that ORNGE did not have experienced personnel to run its helicopter operations, operating procedures were inadequate and the two pilots lacked experience flying at night and in instrument conditions.

And it revealed that Transport Canada inspectors knew of the problems and indeed considered shutting ORNGE helicopter operations down until they could be fixed, but instead opted for a more co-operative approach that allowed the shortcomings to continue.

The statement of claim highlights those problems, alleging that ORNGE failed to ensure the pilots had the necessary training and experience to safely conduct the flight. And it says poor supervision allowed “two inexperienced or insufficiently trained pilots” to be paired together for the flight.

It charges that ORNGE was more concerned with the bottom line, paying “exorbitant” salaries to senior executives rather than invest in its operations.

“Money their executives should have spent on safety, they spend on themselves,” the suit said.

The statement of claim also takes aim at Transport Canada, claiming that the federal regulator was “negligent” for not forcing the air ambulance agency to correct deficiencies “despite being aware for years that (ORNGE) was not in compliance with applicable regulations and company requirements.

“Transport Canada pressured its inspectors to permit (ORNGE) to continue to operate despite known safety deficiencies and the inspectors yielded to such pressure,” the suit claims.

Christopher Du Vernet, a Mississauga lawyer acting for the family, said the release of the safety board report was a catalyst for the family to launch legal action.

“When the report came out, the trauma really turned to anger because they realized there were just so many mistakes, that this was an accident that easily could have been avoided,” he said in an interview.

He said Canadian air travellers assume that Transport Canada has “done its job.”

“Most of the time it does but when it doesn’t, people die,” Du Vernet said. “I think it’s a terrible reminder that constant vigilance is required by regulators.”

The allegations outlined in the statement of claim have been not proven in court. Transport Canada declined to comment this week because the matter is before the courts.

ORNGE confirmed Tuesday that it had received the statement of claim from the Snowball family.

“Our hearts go out to his family, as they have suffered a tragic loss. Since this matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to provide further comment,” ORNGE spokesperson Joshua McNamara said in an email.

Democratic National Convention, Day 3, Obama‚??s legacy depends on getting Clinton elected

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 12:00:15 EDT

WASHINGTON—U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged Wednesday that his hopes for a new tone in politics, embodied in the rousing Democratic convention speech he delivered 12 years ago, never materialized. Still, he says he remains undaunted.

In 2004, he was the obscure Senate candidate from Illinois whose words catapulted him to the centre of American political consciousness.

On Wednesday night, he steps on the convention stage as the battle-hardened president hoping his legacy won’t be eroded by the outcome of the election to replace him.

It’s hard to overstate what Obama has at stake as he implores voters to elect Hillary Clinton; take Republican Donald Trump at his word, and, if elected, he’d undo just about everything Obama has done, from climate change and immigration to trade and foreign relations.

Obama has cast Trump as dangerous and unprepared.

In an interview aired hours before his remarks, he said Trump lacks “basic knowledge about the world” and has shown no interest in learning more about it.

Democrats should be “running scared” about the real political challenge Trump poses, he said in an interview aired Wednesday on NBC’s Today show.

Obama’s speech will be a moment to revisit his political story and the words he used to captivate Democrats in Boston and beyond. His scolding of pundits who carve up America into red and blue states, and his declaration that there is no black or white America, but “we are one people” looks largely aspirational after a decade of increased political polarization and months of heightened racial tensions.

“I’m the first to admit that when I spoke in 2004, when I ran in 2008, my hope, my expectation was that we could lift up all that common ground and create a new way of doing business in Washington and a new political tenor, a new political tone that was more respectful and more practical in trying to solve problems,” he said.

“And that hasn’t happened.

“But it doesn’t keep me from wanting to keep on trying.”

After his wife, Michelle Obama, brought delegates to their feet with a stirring speech Monday evening, Obama stayed up late into the night fine-tuning his words, the White House said.

His speech will combine an affirmation of Clinton’s judgment and fortitude with a rebuke of the scare tactics he accuses Trump of deploying.

“The president will talk about who we are as a country and that we are better united than divided, and that we’re better together than apart,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

That Democrats are so eager for Obama to grace the convention stage is a reflection of how dramatically things have changed from just two years ago, when Democrats practically begged an unpopular Obama to keep his distance from the campaign trail.

His approval ratings have since recovered, although a solid majority of Americans still feel the country is moving in the wrong direction.

His vice-president, Joe Biden, addresses the convention on Wednesday, in a reminder to some Democrats that the candidate they wanted this year was the one they couldn’t have.

With his last State of the Union address behind him, Obama’s speech in Philadelphia will be one of his final opportunities to define and defend his tenure with a massive audience watching.

Tens of millions have been tuning in to the conventions in primetime this year.

Democrats are hoping that Obama is uniquely positioned to persuade wary voters that Clinton is right for the job and to vouch for the trustworthiness of a nominee most voters say they still don’t trust.

White House officials have described him as a “convert” to Clinton’s cause who, after fighting her bitterly in the 2008 Democratic primary, saw her abilities firsthand when he named her secretary of state.

Canadian banks ordered to disclose Cayman dealings

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 06:00:00 EDT

A Federal Court judge has ordered two Canadian banks to disclose their dealings with a financial institution in the tax haven of Cayman Islands.

It’s the second time the government has sought a court order to investigate offshore tax evasion since the Star, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, made the Panama Papers leak public in April. After years of weak enforcement, experts say the recent activity is evidence of a new-found will to crack down on the wealthy who hide their money offshore.

Royal Bank of Canada and Citibank, N.A. now have 120 days to hand over all transaction information for accounts held by Cayman National Bank Ltd. between 2009 and 2015.

The banks will have to provide the Canada Revenue Agency with account statements, deposit slips, cheques, bank drafts and wire transfer orders, all of which will help CRA auditors determine whether Canadian residents used these banks to transfer money home without reporting it.

Neither bank opposed the federal government’s court application.

In May, the CRA also sought a court order for RBC’s dealings with the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers leak, Mossack Fonseca. RBC didn’t oppose that request either.

“It’s part of a resurgence in the investigation and prosecution of offshore tax evasion,” said tax lawyer Joseph Markson. “In the present climate, following the Panama Papers and international efforts to end tax haven secrecy, resistance becomes futile.”

Markson wasn’t surprised that the banks didn’t oppose the government court applications because the CRA is targeting individual tax cheats, not the banks themselves.

“The banks want to be seen as good corporate citizens,” he said.

In an affidavit filed with the Federal Court, CRA auditor David Letkeman described how the CRA was tipped off about the Cayman tax dodge by a Canadian woman who voluntarily came forward to disclose her hidden offshore assets.

Documents showed how the woman transferred money from the Cayman Islands, through Cayman National Bank’s account at a Canadian branch of Citibank, N.A., to a Canadian bank account in her name.

She was ordered to pay a total of more than $1.2 million plus interest for unreported capital gains related to offshore property. Because she came forward through the CRA’s voluntary disclosure program, the woman did not have to pay penalties and avoided criminal prosecution.

While the CRA has no evidence that other Canadians have used the same methods, the court order will allow it to investigate.

“This is symptomatic of a broader worldwide effort. The Canadian government is catching up, looking to expose and deter tax evasion through offshore accounts,” said Markson.

While there were few prosecutions of offshore tax cheats under the previous Conservative government, in its first budget last spring the Liberal government announced $444 million over five years to beef up the CRA’s investigation of offshore tax cheats. It expects to recuperate $2.6 billion in taxes.

“Times are changing” said Markson.

Tax havens used to enforce absolute bank secrecy and tax cheats were able to sleep easy, he said, “but that’s all been blown apart in the last 10 years through a series of leaks.”

“There’s now pressure on countries around the world to prohibit secret accounts.”

When this news reaches those who used the Cayman Bank, Markson said tax lawyers’ phones will start ringing.

“Count on it,” he said. “There will be a lot of conversations between clients and lawyers trying to figure out what to do.”

With files from Star wire services

John Hinckley Jr. released from hospital 35 years after shooting Ronald Reagan

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 09:54:54 EDT

WASHINGTON—The man who attempted to assassinate U.S. president Ronald Reagan will be allowed to leave a Washington mental hospital and live full-time in Virginia, a judge has ruled.

John Hinckley Jr. is ready to live in the community, Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled Wednesday, granting him full time convalescent leave that shall begin no sooner than Aug. 5. Friedman’s ruling comes more than 35 years after the March 30, 1981, shooting outside a Washington hotel in which Reagan and three others were injured.

Doctors have said for many years that the now 61-year-old Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting, is no longer plagued by the mental illness that drove him to shoot Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster.

Hinckley’s release from Washington’s St. Elizabeths hospital has been more than a decade in the making. In late 2003, the judge allowed Hinckley to begin leaving the hospital for day visits with his parents in the Washington area.

In 2006, Hinckley began visiting his parents’ home in Williamsburg, Virginia, for three-night stretches. That time has increased over the years so that for more than the last year he has been allowed to spend 17 days a month at the home, which is in a gated community and overlooks a golf course. Reagan himself died in 2004 at the age of 93.

While outside the hospital, Hinckley has had to comply with a series of restrictions, and a number of those will continue now that he will be living full time in the community. He will have to attend individual and group therapy sessions and is barred from talking to the media. He can drive, but there are restrictions on how far he can travel. The Secret Service also periodically follows him.

Despite the restrictions, life in Williamsburg will likely be busy for Hinckley. According to court records and testimony at a recent court hearing on the issue of his release, he has spent time volunteering at a church as well as a local mental hospital. He has attended meetings for people living with mental illness, talks at a local art museum and concerts. His hobbies include painting and playing the guitar and he has recently developed an interest in photography. He’s also indicated he’d like to get a full-time job and at one point went to Starbucks and Subway to talk about applying.

“I don’t like flipping around the TV, I want to do things,” a court document quoted him saying.

He also has said he wants to “fit in” and be “a good citizen.”

Prince William and Kate coming back to Canada this fall

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 09:28:05 EDT

Don’t strain your ears to hear grumbles from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during a fall tour of Canada announced Wednesday.

They might be a bit shy, but they’re not complainers.

Kate and William didn’t say boo during their 2011 visit to Canada, when they were compared in Quebec to circus freaks and parasites by demonstrators who greeted their motorcade with crude gestures as a plane flew overhead dragging a banner that read, “Vive le Quebec libre.”

‘Parasite go home’: William and Kate greeted by protesters in Montreal

Despite all the hubbub, a spokesperson said at the time that the royal couple had “fallen in love” with Canada, and that they even considered the protests against them as an example of the country’s characteristic complexity.

“Their Royal Tour will take them to the beautiful province of British Columbia and the scenic territory of Yukon,” Governor General David Johnston said in a prepared statement on Wednesday.

A detailed itinerary will be published later by the Department of Canadian Heritage, but there was no mention Wednesday of a stop in Toronto.

The royal couple didn’t come to Toronto in their 2011 visit, either. Instead, they visited Canada’s Capital Region, and made stops in Montreal, Quebec City, Charlottetown, Summerside, Yellowknife, Slave Lake and Calgary.

There was no immediate word on whether they would bring their children George and Charlotte along with them on the trip, but don’t be surprised if the kids stay home at the palace.

Is it Kate or Catherine? Let the royal debate begin

During a recent tour of India, Kate was asked why they didn’t bring George and Charlotte and replied: “Because they’d be running around.” 

In April 2014, Prince George, then eight months old, grabbed a plastic block from a tot named Amelia in Wellington, New Zealand, in front of cameras from around the world. Amelia screamed at the theft, prompting a royal apology.

The Cambridges – as they’re known in the British press – have faced criticism for “allegedly putting their own family ahead of the family “firm,” in the words of Camilla Tominey of The Express.

That criticism – which includes Williams being called “Work-shy William” – intensified this spring after it was reported that the Queen, who is 90, still carries out more official engagements than the Cambridges and Prince Harry combined, Tominey noted.

It’s not that they don’t try.

They work hard, allowing Buckingham Palace and Clarence House to cram their schedule with a multitude of engagements, often sending them off on separate dates.

In India – one of Kate’s favourite spots – they played cricket, visited a slum, bumped up against Bollywood notables and fed baby rhinos.

Prince William, Kate recreate Diana’s iconic Taj Mahal photo

That said, the Indian Express grumbled that the visit still had a flat feel to it.

“One possible explanation is the intense amount of media control by Kensington Palace,” Tominey wrote. “William and Harry aren’t particularly fond of the media, still blaming Fleet Street for making their mother’s life a misery while invading their privacy in the process.

“As a result, royal tours with William and Kate are much more micromanaged than those of Charles and Camilla or even the Queen.

“There’s sometimes a sense that the couple would rather be left alone – which would be fine if they were on holiday but not when the taxpayer is footing the bill (first class and charter flights, natch),” Tominey wrote.

They’re also being held to an extremely high standard, when they’re naturally rather reserved people.

“They are actually quite shy,” Tominey writes. “Consequently there isn’t always much to write home about, beyond the obvious picture caption.”

William’s mother, Diana, held the hands of leprosy victims when she toured Mother Teresa’s hospice in Calcutta in 1992.

William and Kate just aren’t so huggy, preferring pats to high fives and avoiding when possible dancing and proffered food and drinks.

That said, Kate did embrace 9-year-old Diamond Marshall during her Calgary visit.

Alberta girl who met Kate Middleton in 2011 dies after battle with cancer

Diamond, who had stage 4 undifferentiated saccoma, had expressed her wish to meet a “real princess.” She died of the disease in December 2014.

William also tries to be chummy, despite his unease with the press.

In the northern part of their first Canadian tour, William said “thank you” in the Na-Dene and Inuvialuktun languages.

He also played street hockey, getting three shots but no goals.

In another tour-related sporting moment, LeBron James breached royal protocol in December 2014 in Brooklyn when he put his arm on Kate’s shoulder.

James also reportedly made Kate giggle with a quip about her husband’s shoe size.

Kate got smiles from Canadian designers on the tour, wearing a blazer from Toronto-based Smythe les Vestes.

News of this fall’s tour comes just days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent an official invitation to the royal couple and their family to visit Canada whenever their schedules permitted.

In a statement, Trudeau said the visit will present a chance for Canadians of all background to meet with the Duke and Duchess “and learn more about our heritage, traditions, and institutions.”

B.C. Premier Christy Clark likened the upcoming visit to other milestone events hosted by the province.

“Like the Olympics, Women's World Cup, Expo 86 and other international events, the royal tour will focus global attention on B.C. and showcase everything British Columbians take pride in, from our unmatched natural beauty to our thriving, diverse communities,” Clark said in a statement.

With files from the Canadian Press

Freddie Gray case comes to an end as prosecutors drop all remaining charges

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 10:40:42 EDT

BALTIMORE—Prosecutors dropped the remaining charges Wednesday against three Baltimore police officers awaiting trial in the death of Freddie Gray, bringing an end to the case without a conviction.

Grey was a black man whose neck was broken while he was handcuffed and shackled but left unrestrained in the back of a police van in April 2015. His death added fuel to the growing Black Lives Matter movement and caused turmoil in Baltimore, including large protests and the worst riots the city had seen in decades.

The decision by prosecutors comes after a judge had already acquitted three of the six officers charged in the case, including the van driver who the state considered the most responsible and another officer who was the highest-ranking of the group.

A fourth officer had his case heard by a jury, who deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial.

A pretrial hearing had been scheduled Wednesday for Officer Garrett Miller, who had faced assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges, but instead Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow told the judge that prosecutors were dropping the charges against Miller and the rest of the officers.

Prosecutors and defence attorneys quickly left the courtroom without commenting, but both sides planned news conferences later Wednesday.

After Gray’s death, the U.S. Justice Department launched a patterns and practice investigation into allegations of widespread abuse and unlawful arrests by the Baltimore Police Department. The results of the probe have not been released.

Prosecutors had said Gray was illegally arrested after he ran away from a bike patrol officer and the officers failed to buckle Gray into a seat belt or call a medic when he indicated he wanted to go to a hospital.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby wasted little time in announcing charges after Gray’s death — one day after receiving the police department’s investigation while a tense city was still under curfew — and she did not shy from the spotlight. She posed for magazine photos, sat for TV interviews and even appeared onstage at a Prince concert in Gray’s honour.

Three of the officers who were charged were black and three were white.