National Post

Never reported: Torontonian uses big data and privacy expertise to create anonymous index of sexual assault

Laura Pedersen/National Post

Lauren Reid has a unique contribution to the ongoing conversation about unreported rapes and the climate for addressing sexual assault claims.

Raped three times — once in high school and twice in university — her jaw-dropping experience had never been documented in any official record or police report.

Now, the 30-year-old Toronto resident is using her professional background in big data and privacy to push for a national, anonymous, user-controlled and self-reported database on sexual assault.

It is an ambitious project, unprecedented in its scope, but it comes with its own set of complicated challenges and concerns.

Right now, the best self-reported data on sexual assault comes from Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Victimization, in which a random sample of Canadians are asked, out of the blue and by phone, if they have ever been sexually assaulted. The most recent survey shows 6% of Canadian women self-reported a sexual assault — a number that activists believe is under-representative. An oft-cited statistic that one in four Canadian women have been sexually assaulted is routinely picked apart.

“It took me 15 years to tell my story, so if you are sitting at home watching TV with your family and someone calls you and says ‘So have you been raped?’ who knows what you’re going to be ready to say at that time?” said Ms. Reid, who hopes to launch the database as part of her existing project, When You’re Ready.org — a place where survivors can share their stories in a supportive environment.

“The goal with When You’re Ready is to create a database that allows us insights into ‘Why didn’t you report it?’” among other things, she said.

The intention of this new database being proposed by Ms. Reid is to also try to gauge how many people are sexually assaulted more than once, if people didn’t know it was rape at the time, if they were drinking or drugged and so on. Users would enter their stories and add or change information any time. The database would need to maintain clear definitions of sexual assault, she said, and it would be fully anonymous — no naming of names allowed. Above all, the data would be in the users’ control and “de-identified,” likely using the Privacy by Design framework developed by former Ontario privacy commissioner and world-renowned privacy expert Dr. Ann Cavoukian, who said she applauds Ms. Reid’s vision.

Even those who support the intention of such a database worry about privacy concerns, legal implications and false reports.

“How do you know who’s submitting? How do you know it’s not a men’s rights activist?” said Irene Tsepnopoulos-Elhaimer, executive director of the Women Against Violence Against Women rape crisis centre in Vancouver.

She is skeptical that privacy protections will be sufficient in an era of surveillance and hacking, and she feels that the numbers collected by Statistics Canada and rape crisis centres such as her own, which are shared with government, are enough.

“If this web-based platform seeks to influence the public that sexual assault is indeed an issue because of the numbers, then why is it not enough to know that currently there are approximately 472,000 self-reported sexual assaults in Canada every year?”

Holly Johnson, a criminologist with the University of Ottawa who studies violence against women, says the database could be “one source among others.

A former manager of the Statistics Canada victimization survey, she said those surveyors would build a rapport with the respondents and ask carefully worded questions about sexual assault using specific definitions that align with the Criminal Code of Canada.

Even so, many women did not want to answer the question.

“About 1,000 out of 12,000 called back and wanted to talk about it later,” she said.

Actress Lucy DeCoutere, the first woman to identify herself in connection with the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, said she supports Ms. Reid’s vision.

“It would allow women to feel like they have agency over their experience,” she said. “If people are starting to go through the process of reporting and have to go through the words a few times before they say them, this might be a stepping stone.”

But she also sees the drawbacks: Participants need to be sure they are ready to share their rape experiences before they submit their stories, and ideally there would be a trained team on the receiving end. And there are “humungous legal implications” too, she said, in that defence lawyers may comb a database like this looking for inconsistencies.

But, she said, “the best thing about this is it’s a conversation continue-r.”

Dr. Cavoukian is excited by the prospect of big data helping to drive an issue with such momentum even further ahead. Her Privacy by Design framework is based on the notion of individual consent and control. Casinos in Ontario use its biometric technologies to help problem gamblers stay out — again, with that problem gambler’s consent.

“There have been a lot of critiques about the numbers that have been collected. My guess is that this is highly under-reported,” said Dr. Cavoukian, who is now executive director of Ryerson University’s Privacy and Big Data Institute.

“If people felt confident that they could come forward without fear of reprisal or publicity, that they could just have a dialogue, I think you’ll be much more likely to get some real measures associated with this.”

Ms. Reid admits that this project won’t solve all the problems, but it is certainly better than the status quo.

“The purpose is to generate knowledge about a problem,” Ms. Reid said. “It isn’t to prosecute people.”

National Post

Laura Pedersen/National PostLauren Reid, a rape survivor and organizer of online community “When You’re Ready,” poses for a portrait in her apartment in Toronto, Ontario on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

As economy drops, Calgary police investigate rise in theft of costly sex toys

While designer handbags and expensive cuts of meat remain high on the hit list for Calgary’s organized retail crime rings, sex toys and lingerie are becoming popular items for thieves.

Const. Lara Sampson, of the Calgary Police Service’s retail industry crime initiative, says that in addition to dealing with the “rampant issue” of expensive products being stolen and resold, she’s also seeing more and more cases of thefts from adult stores.

“People do a lot of grab-and-runs on adult sex toys,” Sampson said. “The products they are stealing are quite expensive, over $200 for certain electronic, battery-operated, plug-in items. They’re very costly.”

Sampson said some of the stolen products may be for personal use but she suspects most are being resold either online or back to other adult stores.

Const. Andrew Critchley, also of the retail industry crime initiative, said it may seem unusual for culprits to target adult stores. But thieves will take anything of high value, even low-ticket items, as long as they have good resale potential, Critchley said.

When the economy takes a dip, these crimes tend to go up, he added.

The products they are stealing are quite expensive, over $200 for certain electronic, battery-operated, plug-in items

A Little More Interesting, which has three stores in Calgary, hasn’t been hit hard, just a few “one-offs” here and there, according to manager Danielle Carrington. But other shops haven’t been so lucky.

Carrington said she recently received an email from the manager of another adult store that had experienced a “really huge theft.”

“They reached out to other stores and let us know so we could be on the lookout,” she said.

As for the resale part, Carrington said her staff have been approached by unknown independent sellers offering products for sale.

“We have, in the past, been — this was a couple years ago — contacted by somebody trying to sell us lots of toys. We responded back with, ‘Absolutely no way, you’re not a reputable supplier.’ And just passed that along to the Calgary Police Service,” she said, adding her stores carry only high-end items from registered suppliers or distributors.

“He said he inherited them, which is a bizarre thing to say.”

Saints N Sinners on Centre Street has been the victim of the grab-and-dash and has also been approached by resellers of suspected ill-gotten goods, said an employee, who declined to be named.

“They look for expensive items … they grab as much as they can,” said the worker. “Some people do try to offer [to sell] to us.”

Aura Funk, who manages one of the Love Boutique stores in Calgary, was surprised to hear about so-called grab-and-runs taking place at other adult shops in the city.

“We’ve had a few people trying to steal and whatnot, but it’s not any more than any other retail store,” Funk said. “Maybe we’re just lucky.”

Police say retail crime is a concerning problem, especially with food items, adding restaurants who serve stolen food with unknown origins are putting their clients at risk.

They urge store owners and members of the public to help combat this issue by refraining from purchasing suspected stolen items — being sold online, in back alleys or out of vehicle trunks — and reporting any suspicious activity to police.

Barbara Kay: Quebec’s face-cover Bill is not a return to the ‘Values’ war

Jacques Boissinot/CP

It was with a great sigh of relief that all right-thinking Quebecers saw the PQ crash and burn in last spring’s election. The authors of their own defeat, the PQ’s primary strategy had been, via a “values” charter, to stir up animosity, in the name of nationalism, towards members of religious groups that demonstrated love of their faith through visible accessories, notably the Jewish kippa, the Muslim hijab and the Christian cross.

The proposed charter would have banned such symbolism in public services. But in spite of most Quebecers’ firm commitment to secularism in the public domain, the Charter went too far in the proposed suppression of freedom of expression for popular comfort.

The niqab is not simply #4 on a list of religious symbols.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard campaigned on a far more inclusive platform that reassured targeted minorities of their secure place in Quebec society, which helped to win his party a majority government. But he did not entirely reject the legitimacy of the need for a gesture articulating the line between freedom of expression and behaviour – or to be more precise, what one might call sartorial lamination – that is considered unseemly in a free society. I speak, of course, of the veiled face, or the niqab.

In today’s National Post, the editorial takes M. Couillard to task for moving forward on his promise to regulate against face cover in the giving and receiving of public services. The editorial errs, though, in suggesting that the regulation was prompted by Mme Marois’ Charter, stating that “the only reason ‘values’ were ever in the spotlight was because the PQ spotted a wedge issue.” That is not the case at all where face cover is concerned.

Jacques Boissinot/CPQuebec Premier Philippe Couillard: Reviving a ban on face cover

M. Couillard is merely reviving Bill 94, which was tabled in 2010. Bill 94 proscribed face cover for women in service-providing government institutions, including licence bureaus, hospitals, schools, courts, and other institutions that represent the official face of Quebec. The principle behind Bill 94 was a refusal to endorse the lower status of women that is represented by the veil. As Quebec immigration minister Yolande James forthrightly put it at the time, “if you want to integrate into Quebec society, here are our values. We want to see your face.”

While the PQ’s Charter of Values received but tepid support in Quebec, according to polls of the time, Bill 94 was approved of by more than 90% of Quebecers. Indeed, Bill 94 was approved of by 74% of Canadians. Virtually all Quebecers, and the vast majority of Canadians understand that the niqab is not simply #4 on a list of religious symbols. Face cover is sui generis. It strikes to the heart of social reciprocity, which is the basis of a healthy society.

The niqab is not a religious obligation; it is a cultural custom. It is not “clothing”; it is a mask. It is not politically innocent; it is associated with a form of Islam that endorses the oppression of women. In Europe, moreover, the niqab had also been adopted by extremists as an overt political statement in support of radical Islam, and that was the main, and certainly justifiable, impetus for banning it. The fact that we have not seen mass violence in Canada or that Canada’s immigration situation does not resemble France’s or Belgium’s is irrelevant to the niqab debate. One doesn’t need to suffer violence to feel psychologically intimidated, precisely what the niqab’s effect is on those Canadians who refuse to be dictated to by political correctness.

Nothing reduces a woman’s opportunities to integrate into public life more than a face veil, which advertises her lack of personhood. Many women – we don’t know the numbers, but one is surely too many – are forced to wear the veil. Of those who wear it voluntarily, many if not most have never been exposed to gender equality as a norm, and have no idea what a “human right” is. We do them no favours by endorsing their continued ignorance.

The niqab is not a “values” issue. It is a “principles” issue. Either we believe in gender equality or we do not. Either we believe that in a free society, citizens show their faces to one another in trust, or we do not. Either we are a democratic rather than a tribal society, or we are not. We do not permit public nakedness because we are not animals. We should not permit full cover because we are not things. M. Couillard is fulfilling a principled promise that was made five years ago, and he is right to do so.

National Post

TDSB defies wage freeze to give director a raise after hearing other Ontario school boards did the same

TDSB

TORONTO — At least 21 of Ontario’s 75 school boards ignored the public sector wage freeze in 2013 and gave pay increases to their directors of education, according to figures compiled from the sunshine list of public sector workers paid over $100,000 a year.

The issue came to light after the Toronto District School Board voted Monday night to allow its director of education, Donna Quan, to keep her $289,000 salary even though her predecessor was paid $17,000 less.

TDSBTDSB director Donna Quan

Education Minister Liz Sandals sent the TDSB a letter in December saying Quan’s salary should be $272,000, but trustees voted for the increased rate after hearing that 20 other school boards also gave their directors of education pay hikes despite the wage freeze ordered by the Liberal government.

Most of them received salary increases of less than five per cent, but some of the pay hikes went into double digits.

Sandals’ office said Tuesday that the government was looking to see if all the school boards were in compliance with the rules on executive compensation during the period when wages were supposed to be frozen.

“It is important to note that the locally elected board of trustees are responsible for negotiating contracts with the director of education,” said Sandals’ press secretary Nilani Logeswaran.

The Progressive Conservatives said the Liberal government has never stuck to its vow to impose a real wage freeze, especially in the education sector.

“It’s going to be very difficult for the public to swallow when they see people getting handsome increases when there is still a jobs crisis in the province,” said PC education critic Lisa MacLeod. “It is the wrong signal to Ontarians, who believed the Liberals in the last election when they said they’d meet their deficit reduction targets.”

The Liberals’ attempts to impose a wage freeze on more than one million public sector employees to help eliminate a $12.5-billion deficit ran into strong opposition in the education sector, with teachers withdrawing from extracurricular activities, engaging in work-to-rule campaigns and protesting in the streets.

Premier Kathleen Wynne eventually reopened the contracts for public school teachers, which the auditor general said cost Ontario taxpayers $468 million.

“Kathleen Wynne and Liz Sandals have never demonstrated an ounce of discipline when it comes to deficit-reduction targets within the education envelope or within the broader government,” said MacLeod.

A report from an independent review of the TDSB ordered by the Ontario government after some very public fights between some trustees and Quan is expected to be released within days.

“We are expecting the report later this week from Margaret Wilson that will have examined operational issues, including the director’s contract,” said Logeswaran.

Why this artist will draw Muhammad every day for the next year

One artist is adding a digital pen to the millions who have declared #JeSuisCharlie (#IamCharlie) in the wake of the attacks last week in Paris, France.

Posting under the reddit handle IDrawMuhammad, the cartoonist plans to post one image of the Muslim prophet every day for the next year to a thread of the same name. The first drawing was a simple depiction of the Islamic prophet and thus far the drawings have all be fairly tame — especially when compared to Charlie Hebdo’s incendiary cartoons.

The American artist tells Canada.com in an email interview he or she was inspired by the attacks in France last week that left 20 dead, including three terrorists, to starting drawing the prophet. The intent isn’t to offend Muslims — for whom depictions of their prophet can be quite offensive — but to make the point “art and speech should not be censored in anyway.”

The anonymous cartoonist (verified through the original reddit account) is keeping his or her identity close, but explained in an interview the gesture isn’t intended to be malicious but an expression of freedom of speech:

What was the moment when you decided you wanted to draw Muhammad every day for a year? Was there a tipping point in the coverage of what happened at Charlie Hebdo?

I just saw the international reaction to the attack through comics, blog and reddit posts which inspired me to start doodling a picture of Muhammad. It wasn’t until I was about to post it did I decide to do it every day for the rest of the year.

Do you make your living as an artist?

I incorporate graphic design in what I do to some extent but I am not a paid artist for anything. I have done some freelance work. It is mostly what I do in my spare time.

Where are you from?

I am from the United States.

Are you being censored by Reddit?

I have not been censored on Reddit nor have I seen any posts censored as of yet. They do place a NSFW tag on pictures of Muhammad out of respect for Muslims. I have not considered posting on any other boards but I do plan to create my own website as a means to post my drawings daily. I have already reserved the domain MyFriendMuhammad.com. It should be up shortly. (Editor’s note: as of posting, the site was not yet live. The artist has since created IDrawMuhammad Twitter and Facebook accounts.)

Have you ever done an online art project like this before?

I have posted goofy images that I made before but none that were significant in any manner except to get a laugh out of people. I am not very political or religious and have never used art for anything outside of personal interests and as part of a hobby.

How do you respond to people who say because cartoons of Muhammad are offensive to Muslims, newspapers and other media shouldn’t print them?

From what I understand, it is offensive for practicing Muslims to depict Muhammad, since they could never be able to depict him accurately. I am not a practicing Muslim and I want to show I can exercise my freedom of expression without being censored by anyone’s beliefs. I respect any media outlet that wishes not to offend Muslims by refraining from showing images that depict him but they should be doing so out of respect and not out of fear.

Why do you think this is an important expression of freedom of speech?

Art and speech should not be censored in any way. Any individual, company or organization has the right to be offended but they do not have the right to try to censor anyone outside of their realm of control. It is my right to create and post whatever images I desire within my own capacity. It is Charlie Hebdo’s right as a satirical publication to publish whatever they wish. Muslims have every right to be offended or to speak out against the publication but for extremists to use violence and death to try to scare the world into abiding by their beliefs is something the world can not and will not stand for.

How do you respond to people who say what you’re doing, or what Charlie Hebdo does, is racist because it attacks a minority in French society (and all of Western society)?

It is not intended to be a prejudiced response against a group of people. It is to show we will not be scared into censoring anything that we wish to say. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical publication. Offending and pushing buttons is what they do. They do not have to answer to anyone or respect anyone’s beliefs. I am sure any religious or political person would be offended by some of their content no matter what they were affiliated with. You have to allow the rest of the world to say and believe what they want. You cannot censor them or retaliate with violence because you disagree with them.

The cartoons so far show Muhammad sort of as an average guy, in funny situations. Do you expect this to be the case for the whole year or will you pursue themes or respond to big news stories?

For now, I am just going to put Muhammad in boring situations as an average guy. I am not a writer or satirist but I may try to inject some humor into it at some point. I may also depict him in different ways using different art styles. I will not always be able to dedicate enough time every day to make it polished, but I will fulfill my promise in drawing him at the very least. Another user photoshopped his face onto Mario’s body, creating Mariomadd, which is pretty funny. My follow-up comic left the caption blank and let users post funny captions, so I may take that route and just let others add the humor for me.

Have room for a rhino? South Africa is selling 200 of them to protect animals from poachers

AP Photo/Denis Farrell, File

South Africa National Parks has issued a tender to sell as many as 200 rhinos to private buyers so that they can be moved to areas where they are safer from poachers who last year killed a record number of the animals.

“A tender process has been put out,” Gerry Swan, a SANParks board member and chairman of its conservation and tourism committee, said in a telephone interview today. The possible destinations of the rhinos are being evaluated and the “movement of rhino will start in March,” he said.

In a bid to protect the species, the South African government has deployed the military in its biggest conservation area, Kruger National Park, has stepped up prosecutions of poachers and has moved 50 rhinos to safer areas within Kruger and other national parks. Israel-sized Kruger borders Mozambique, providing an opportunity for many poachers to enter the park from that country.

The rhino are hunted with automatic rifles, often by the light of the full moon, their horns sawn off and sold to buyers in China and Vietnam where powdered horn is believed to cure cancer among other ailments.

AP Photo/Denis Farrell, FileFILE – In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 file photo a mural painted on a suburban wall in Johannesburg, South Africa calls for the halt to rhino poaching in a bid to save the species from extinction due to killings for the rhinos horn. A U.S. firm recently gave smart phones to some game rangers in South Africa to help them track poachers who kill rhinos for their horns. The rate of poaching in South Africa _ home to most of Africa’s rhinos _ in 2013, is on track to exceed the record number of illegal kills in 2012, conservation officials say.

An annual record of 1,020 rhinos, or about 5 percent of the total population, had been killed in 2014 by Nov. 20, the Department of Environmental Affairs said in a statement. Final figures for last year haven’t been released. A total of 1,004 were slaughtered in 2013.

A company associated with billionaire Christoffel Wiese was among buyers refunded 14 million rand ($1.2 million) in deposits last year after a contract to buy the animals from SANParks was found to be unauthorized.

Wiese is worth $6.1 billion and is South Africa’s fourth- richest man, according to Bloomberg Billionaires. He owns a reserve in South Africa’s remote Northern Cape province.

South Africa is home to both white and black rhinos, with the bigger white variety making up most of the population.

Ottawa man arrested on terrorism charges along with twin was on RCMP radar since 2013

Sketch by Laurie Foster-MacLeod for Postmedia News

OTTAWA — One of the identical twins charged with terrorism-related offences who RCMP say was on their radar for more than a year “drifted in and out” of an Ottawa mosque in recent years.

Abdulhakim Moalimishak, the president of the east-end Assalaam mosque, recalled that Ashton Larmond, 24, attended the mosque during Ramadan in 2013 but was not a member of the congregation.

“I saw him in the crowds. He didn’t come regularly. He drifted in and out,” Mr. Moalimishak said. He said Larmond attended alone and wasn’t with his twin who is co-accused in what police say is a conspiracy to participate in the activities of a terrorist group.

RCMP allege that between the end of August 2013 and up until his arrest on Friday, Ashton Larmond participated in the activity of a terrorist group. Police, however, remain tight-lipped on what exactly they believe Ashton and twin Carlos Larmond participated in and on behalf of which specific terrorist group. The charges relating to their alleged conspiracy to participate in the activity only date back to August, 2014.

News of their arrests Friday night ricocheted through Ottawa’s Muslim community over the weekend, with several of its leaders saying they didn’t know the 24-year-old brothers.

Sketch by Laurie Foster-MacLeod for Postmedia NewsCarlos and Ashton Larmond.

Mr. Moalimishak condemned what he called a disturbing pattern of young Muslim men going overseas to wage a campaign of killing based on a “warped” version of Islam.

The president acknowledged that radicalized Muslims are a pressing concern and will sometimes try to find legitimacy by attending mainstream mosques, and when that happens, he said, RCMP are called.

Police were called in October after Luqman Abdunnur, 39, allegedly tried to assault the imam as the spiritual leader denounced terrorism in his sermon. He said Mr. Abdunnur had to be restrained by members of the congregation as he ranted that terrorist groups were his heroes.

Mr. Abdunnur was arrested days later in an unrelated traffic stop, during which a shot was fired by Ontario Provincial Police, and has been charged with assaulting a police officer. He was under police surveillance as part of a national security investigation.

Mr. Moalimishak said Mr. Abdunnur was not a member of his Sunni congregation, but like Ashton Larmond he had attended the mosque a few times.

Mr. Abdunnur’s mother, Michelle Walrond, believes moderate Muslim voices are being drowned out in Canada and what’s making the most noise is a brand of religion that is dangerous.

“Muslims whose Islam is based on intellect and scholarship, we have no voice; we’re not identified as Muslim,” Ms. Walrond told the Citizen the day after the Larmonds were arrested.

She believes Wahhabism, an ultraconservative brand of Islam, has taken over the dialogue in many mosques through extensive Saudi Arabian funding.

Muslim leaders on the weekend reacted in fear that young people in Ottawa had fallen prey to Islamic extremists.

Neighbours and friends say the Larmond brothers are both recent converts to Islam. The alleged acts of those who are young and new to the faith are troubling mainstream leaders.

“That is a problem and we have to figure out how to address this,” Mr. Moalimishak said. “There are thousands of people who convert to Islam every year and they are perfectly knowledgeable, but there is now a growing subgroup amongst the converts. Not only are they not coming to our mosques for help … but they seem to be under the control of these groups of extreme, radical, self-segregating, almost cult-like groups who are just basically grabbing them, stacking them up, and before you know it, they’re gone.”

He said mosques need to offer young new Muslims support.

“We have to give them guidance. We have to tell them there are groups out there who will prey upon them and they are not the people they want to associate with.”

Imtiaz Ahmed, a local Ahmadiyya imam who helped launch the anti-radicalization speaking series Stop the CrISIS, said leaders “need to act fast and act jointly to stop so many Canadians getting radicalized.”

Postmedia News

Freedom sliders defy tobogganing bans in defence of Canadians’ right to slide down hills

Winnie Dismatsek

On a brisk weekend morning, a handful of hearty Canadians gathered atop Murray’s Mountain in Orangeville, Ont., to defend their right to hurtle face-first down an icy slope on a wooden sled.

“Tobogganing is as Canadian as maple syrup, and it’s a thing that pretty much every kid I know who could do, did,” said Rob Stewart, who organized a protest “Sled In” on Sunday. “It’s a fun, clean, healthy activity. You get out, do your tobogganing and then have a bit of hot chocolate to warm up.”

Winnie DismatsekLaura Cole, a “tobogganing activist” from Hamilton, Ont.

But it was not just fun and games: this was an act of defiance.

Mr. Stewart was among a small but growing cadre of freedom sliders, who insist on the right to participate in this long-loved Canadian pastime.

As more cities in Canada and the U.S. become concerned with liability costs and catastrophic injuries, they are passing by-laws, posting signs, restricting access and even outright banning tobogganing. The crackdown has inspired pro-sledding protests, music videos and petitions.

Tobogganing has been banned on Murray’s Mountain, which was moulded into an irresistibly slippery set of curves from a pile of waste material decades ago.

“It’s silly. It’s one of those absurd things that often happens in the modern world we live in,” said Orangeville Mayor Jeremy Williams.

The city banned tobogganing on the hill shortly after it purchased the land in 2009 due to insurance issues. But when residents caught wind of a newly replaced sign about four weeks ago, they decided to gather in defiance of the end of winter fun.

“I was quite surprised and I was quite upset at the fact that somebody would post a ‘No Toboggan’ sign on a toboggan hill. It just doesn’t make any sense,” Mr. Stewart said.

“The south side of the hill is actually fairly gentle; the slope is great for smaller kids.”

The mayor concurs, noting that the town council met on Monday evening to discuss obtaining insurance clauses so kids would be able to continue enjoying a toboggan hill that had been in use for generations.

“The hill was built as a toboggan hill. It was designed as a toboggan hill. It will be used as a toboggan hill, and just putting a sign up … tobogganing is going to be something people are still going to do, short of putting up a concrete barrier.”

Mr. Stewart said about 50 people showed up for the Sled In on Sunday. No one was chastised or fined; in fact, the mayor himself attended with a thermos of hot chocolate.

In Hamilton, Ont., meanwhile, musician Laura Cole is fighting the power of city council with a petition and a music video, which features her singing and defiantly slipping down a hill — despite the fact that the city has implemented an all out sledding ban on most of its hills.

“It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s a law against one of our national pastimes!” she said. “Especially in Hamilton it should still be part of our culture. This is a working class town and not everyone can afford to go skiing or snowboarding or pay for figure skating or hockey lessons,” she said, noting that at 25 years old she still maintains a preference for the classic wooden toboggan.

She purchased hers at Canadian Tire. In Hamilton. Despite the fact that sledding is not permitted there.

“The by-law has never been enforced. So do you support tobogganing or do you not support tobogganing? Why make it seem like it’s OK for kids to disobey a by-law?” she asked. “It doesn’t make sense. There has got to be some kind of middle ground so that as a city we don’t lose a national pastime and the taxpayers can keep their dollars.”

AP Photo/Telegraph Herald, Jessica Reilly

AP Photo/Telegraph Herald, Jessica ReillyA pro-tobogganing protest in Iowa. Some cities in Canada and the U.S. are cracking down on the activity over liability concerns.

Hamilton has been the site of one of the country’s largest toboggan-related lawsuits.

In 2013, after a protracted legal dispute, courts ordered Hamilton to pay a local lawyer $900,000 to compensate for a 2004 sledding injury.

Although many municipalities across Canada, including Ottawa and Calgary, maintain official tobogganing hills, Mr. Williams fears carefree sledding days of yore may be under threat unless the province changes legislation to ensure municipalities aren’t on the hook for huge liability payments.

Still, on Sunday Mr. Williams said he gave away 42 cups of hot chocolate to sledders who wore helmets. He also kept his first aid kit, and a representative from St. John’s Ambulance on hand. Just in case.

Mr. Stewart acknowledges tobogganing can present a serious risk. When he was 14, he broke his arm in a sledding mishap.

But that hasn’t prevented him from taking his three children to Murray’s Mountain.

“Most reasonable people would expect a sign saying ‘toboggan at your own risk,’” he said.

National Post

• Email: jgerson@nationalpost.com | Twitter: jengerson

John Ivison: Returning to work after health scare just Lisa Raitt’s latest comeback

Lisa Raitt may be the best leader the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party will never have.

The 46-year-old federal transport minister is back at work for the first full week since undergoing surgery to remove tumours on her ovary, uterus and cervix in early November. All proved to be benign.

But the health scare throughout last fall frustrated her ambition to run for the leadership of the Ontario PCs, vacant since Tim Hudak’s crushing electoral defeat in June. “There was no way I could deal with my health issues and run for the leadership,” she said in an interview.

She said she had not definitively decided to run, even though she was encouraged to do so, with some enthusiasm, by many senior Ontario Tories. “But I knew in August I had a health issue.”

That she would have been a serious contender is clear from her adept handling of Monday’s announcement that the federal government is providing a $50-million loan to auto-parts maker Linamar Corp. to create 1,200 new jobs at its operations in Guelph, Ont. The Ontario government is injecting a further $50-million grant toward the $500-million expansion.

These kind of job-creation subsidies have been criticized as corporate welfare, lacking any kind of transparency when it comes to payback periods or return on investment estimates.

Ms. Raitt herself has said growing up in Cape Breton convinced her government interventions rarely work out.

Yet the MP for Halton, which neighbours Guelph, offered a spirited defence of this particular subsidy: it’s an investment in research and development that will increase the intellectual capacity of the company; the auto industry is critical to the Canadian economy; it’s a repayable loan (unlike Ontario’s grant); all the jobs will be full-time; and it will increase the number of skilled trades workers in the region, she said.

“Where I came from, I hated seeing government bailouts, which were often band-aid solutions. But this is not that. It makes a lot of sense,” she said. “My kids play hockey with kids whose parents work in the auto industry. I know how important it is for our communities.”

This is Ms. Raitt’s first week back at work since the operation. She said she still gets tired easily but is “at full steam” again.

Last August, it was far from certain she’d still be sitting at the Cabinet table. She says she’d been dealing with the side-effects of perimenopause for three years, but was told the symptoms were normal for a woman in her 40s.

It was only when a tumour was discovered on her ovary in September that concern grew. “For two weeks I was in a bit of limbo because I didn’t have the results from the biopsy and blood test,” she said. When they came in at the end of September, they suggested the lump was benign, but the only way to confirm that diagnosis was to remove it. It was at that point that she told her sons, Billy, 10, and John Colin, 13, what she was going through. “I used the ‘tumour’ word but in a positive way, to say ‘let’s not worry because I’m confident it’s not cancer’.”

She said the experience has taught her to listen to her own body and push healthcare professionals. “When people have an issue and they’re told it’s nothing, if they feel they need a second opinion or a referral, they should do it.

“My situation could have been dealt with more effectively three years ago. But what happened was that everyone treated the symptoms — I had an iron deficiency and anemia, so I was given iron pills. I felt guilty for complaining about the same symptoms time and again.”

But Ms. Raitt has grit borne from adversity, which drove her to insist on further inquiry.

She was raised by her grandparents in a blue collar Catholic family on Cape Breton Island, the youngest of seven children. She later discovered her biological mother was one of the girls she thought was her older sister.

She suffered post-partum depression after the birth of her second son in 2004 and says she was concerned that she might slide into a dark place after her operation.

“I went to the Mental Health Commission and asked for tips to avoid the possibility of depression. I know the perils from my past history of post-partum depression, so I made sure I was ready and rested, and I sailed through. But, going in, I knew I had to look out for not just my physical health but my mental health too.”

Ms. Raitt’s return to health and work is another comeback from a woman who is making rather a habit of them.

She was first elected as MP for Halton in 2008 and immediately found herself in Cabinet as natural resources minister. She was demoted to labour minister after an aide mislaid a recording on which Ms. Raitt could be heard referring to medical isotopes for cancer treatment as a “sexy” issue. At labour, though, she won the respect of friends and nominal foes with her handling of strikes at Air Canada and Canada Post. After being promoted to transport, she also received good reviews for the way she dealt with the aftermath of the Lac Mégantic rail disaster.

Her cancer scare stymied her shot at leadership in provincial politics. But one day the federal job will open up and there are many Conservatives who believe a female Toronto-area MP with years of senior Cabinet experience will make a formidable candidate.

National Post

Charlie Hebdo heroes were Muslims themselves: ‘Madness has neither colour nor religion’

AP photo

As Parisians gathered in solidarity against the deliberate terrorist targeting of cartoonists, editors and Jews, details started to emerge of acts of heroism amid the carnage.

Two of those heroes especially put the lie to the terrorist notion that last week’s attacks represented vengeance for insulted Muslims, because two of the most inspiring characters — the police officer who first confronted the Kouachi brothers at the Charlie Hebdo office, and the grocery clerk who sheltered Jewish shoppers at the grocery — were themselves Muslim.

That fact appears to have at least partly inspired some of the most unusual condemnation of the terror rampage, from leaders of terrorist groups.

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, for example, said that takfiri — Muslims who accuse others of apostasy — “have distorted Islam, the Koran and the Muslim nation more than Islam’s enemies… who insulted the Prophet in films… or drew cartoons of the Prophet.”

The comment fits with his recent denunciation of ISIS as a threat to Islam, but stands in contrast to his chilling remarks during the 2006 Danish cartoons controversy, which he said would not have happened if someone had carried out the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.
Hamas, likewise, released a statement in French saying “Differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.”

“Madness has neither colour nor religion,” said Malek Merabet, brother of Ahmed Merabet, the police officer, at a moving press conference after his funeral, in remarks he addressed to the “racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites.”

He denounced reprisal attacks on all sides as an insult to the memory of victims. “You are attacking people. It won’t bring back our dead, and it won’t appease our families,” he said.
“My brother was a Muslim, and he was killed by people who pretend to be Muslims,” Mr. Merabet said. “They are terrorists, that’s it.”

The death of Mr. Merabet inspired declarations of “Je suis Ahmed” to parallel the popular statement of defiance and grief, “Je suis Charlie.” He was killed like the staff of Charlie Hebdo, execution style at point-blank range, by one of the Kouachi brothers, although which one is not clear.

One of the attackers fired several times at him on the street outside the magazine offices, hitting him in the leg or groin, and causing him to fall. As one of the attackers approached, he said, “Did you want to kill us?” Mr. Merabet replied with his hand raised, as if for mercy, “No, it’s OK friend,” he said. He was shot in the head the next second.

In the panic that followed, as a manhunt spread across Paris, Amedy Coulibaly, 32, carried out a rampage of his own, killing a policewoman before attacking a kosher supermarkert, Hyper Cacher, near the Porte de Vincennes in the east of Paris.

AP photoThis image made from a video posted online by militants on Sunday shows slain hostage-taker Amedy Coulibaly, who shot a policewoman and four hostages at a kosher grocery in Paris, with a gun in front of an Islamic State emblem as he defends the Paris attacks. At one point in the video, Coulibaly says Charlie Hebdo will be attacked “tomorrow” and that he and the (Said and Cherif Kouachi) brothers were coordinating.

As shoppers gathered their final supplied before sundown, he stormed in shooting, prompting a Muslim employee, Lassana Bathily, 24, an immigrant from Mali, to hustle patrons downstairs to a walk-in freezer.

“I told them to calm down, not to make a sound, because if they heard us they could come and take us,” Mr. Bathily said. He then turned off the lights and fridges.

“I was heading for the check-out with the goods in my hand when I heard a bang — very loud. I thought it was a firecracker at first. But turning I saw a black man armed with two Kalashnikov rifles and I knew something bad was happening,” French media reported, quoting a hostage who gave his name as Mickael B.

“I grabbed my son by the collar and fled to the back of the store. There, with other customers, we ran down a spiral staircase into the basement. We all piled into one of two cold rooms — our door wouldn’t close. We were terrified.”

“You stay quiet there, I’m going back out,” Mr. Bathily said, according to the videotaped interview.

He then snuck out through a freight elevator and fire escape and approached police, who first thought he was the attacker and forced him to the ground and handcuffed him. After they realized their mistake, he gave them the key to the supermarket’s metal grill, which allowed police to make their final assault without forcing through it, freeing the surviving hostages.
Police thanked him. “C’est la vie,” Mr. Bathily said in the interview.

Screengrab

ScreengrabMany outlets called Lassana Bathily a hero for his actions

Another man, as yet unidentified, showed similar bravery that cost him his life.

Quoting Mickael B, French media reported Coulibaly set a gun on the counter as he made a sandwich, and a customer grabbed it, not knowing Coulibaly had left it there because it malfunctioned. The man tried to shoot Coulibaly, but the gun jammed again. Coulibaly “turned and shot at the customer, who died on the spot,” Mickael B said.

The dead at the supermarket were named as Yoav Hattab, 21, Yohan Cohen, 22, Philippe Braham, 40, and François-Michel Saada, 60.

Two of the rescued shoppers, Sarah Bitton and her one-year-old son, are close relatives of Albert Guigui, chief rabbi of Brussels, who said, “They were saved thanks to the Muslim employee of the supermarket. He pushed them towards the back of the shop and down to the cellar. It’s thanks to him that they were saved.”