2 trailers, 1 boat: Docs. reveal ‘very comfortable’ lifestyle of Ont. youth home operator

Three days before his Grade 8 graduation, Liam Smith received devastating news – his mother had died in a car accident.

“To have mom back and be living all the time with my brother … I would do anything to have that,” said Smith, who was just 13 when his mom died.

With his father out of the picture, he attempted to live with his extended family but ran into problems. He said relatives couldn’t or didn’t want to take care of him.

At 15, he entered Ontario’s child welfare system and was eventually placed in a group home run by Connor Homes. The company is owned by a family in eastern Ontario that also operates luxury vacation rentals.

“It felt like you weren’t worth anything when you were in there,” said Smith, who spent two years in its care and is now 22. “They’re making a bunch of money, but we were given $70 a week on groceries per kid.”

An earlier Global and APTN investigation revealed allegations of rundown living conditions that Smith and other kids faced inside some Connor Homes residences, like crumbling homes and limited food or clothing budgets.

It also showed the key players behind the company, Bob Connor and his son Sean, have amassed real estate assets under their own names and through their companies estimated to be in excess of $10 million. Some of these properties are part of a luxury vacation rental business, which includes a private island.

The investigation has now uncovered court documents outlining how one of the principals behind Connor Homes appeared to live “a very comfortable lifestyle” – five international vacations in less than a year, a BMW and a motor boat – while declaring a modest income of $36,000.

Ontario child welfare

Liam Smith, 22, spoke with Global News/APTN about his time in Ontario's child-welfare system.

(Global News)

Former residents and workers say the owners paid more attention to revenue streams than property maintenance or providing adequate resources for its youth.

“You knew that (the owners) had the money but it wasn’t in the home(s),” said a former Connor Homes worker, whom Global News and APTN are not identifying because of fear of reprisal.

“The kids didn’t see that money.”

Smith described living in a residence in need of repairs, little money for food or activities, and punitive rules that exacerbated his mental health issues.  Privacy concerns for the children in care prevent Global News/APTN from identifying the locations of the homes.

He said kids were given a score for completing daily tasks like making their beds: Fail to get enough points and freedoms could be restricted. Often this was caused by having a “bad mental health week,” Smith said.

READ MORE: Inside Ontario group homes where kids were called ‘paychecks’

In one instance, the company prevented him from going on a rare visit with his brother to the zoo because he hadn’t earned enough “points,” Smith said.

But the boredom – no activities or access to WiFi, and few trips outside the home – was the biggest problem, he said.

“While in Connor Homes, I tried to commit suicide three times,” said Smith.

“There was just nothing ever to do. You’re so bored.

“I (didn’t) even want to wait (three years) till I’m out of care. I’d rather just go now, like, screw this. That’s what’s going on in your head.”

The Global News/APTN investigation also uncovered a tangled network of numbered companies the Connor family used to manage its real estate assets and youth homes.

Founded in the 1970s, the company at one time had more than 130 beds across the province in roughly 40 group and foster homes.

It now operates just three group homes with space for up to 20 kids. Connor Homes surrendered its foster-care agency licence on May 5, 2022 after a legal battle with the province.

Global News/APTN obtained divorce documents from 2011-2013 between Sean Connor and his former wife of more than 10 years, which included summaries of his personal and business tax information.

His ex-wife alleged his family earned “significant revenues” from the child welfare business and Sean Connor engaged in “extremely aggressive accounting techniques” and “derives significant undeclared cash payments from it as well.”

In the divorce filings, Connor declared $36,000 in income – half a household income of $72,000 that he income-split with his wife for tax purposes. Yet, the documents show this was inconsistent with an allegedly lavish lifestyle.

The documents also reveal a sophisticated layering of numbered companies that allowed both Bob and Sean Connor to receive payments from the contracts intended to care for kids.

Bob Connor is president and co-owner of 1392644 Ontario Inc., also known as Connor Homes, which provides licensed residential care to kids in the child welfare system.

Ontario group home

Bob Connor (left) and his son Sean (right) are the owners and operators of Connor Homes.

(Facebook/Global News)

A separate company, 511825 Ontario Inc., exists to hold his portfolio of real estate assets, including several residences used as group homes and at least four properties used as luxury vacation rentals or bed and breakfasts near Campbellford, Ont.

His son, Sean, is the president of 1324455 Ontario Inc. With no government licences to operate group homes or a foster care agency himself, Sean Connor had only one client: his father’s company.

Acting as a middle man, 1324455 Ontario Inc. managed some of the foster homes in eastern Ontario for Connor Homes. This subcontracting arrangement was in effect as of 2013, according to the documents, but likely changed as Connor Homes surrendered its foster care licence in 2022.

Corporate financial statements for 1324455 Ontario Inc. show between $516,000 and $770,000 in annual operating expenses from 2007 to 2009 – costs incurred while Sean Connor was acting as a subcontractor for Connor Homes’ foster care agency.

Connor’s ex-wife alleged that in each of those years, around $300,000 of those operating expenses were “inaccurate, created or inflated claims” or “indirect benefits” that he derived from the company.

In “tax summaries” he prepared for his accountant that were also submitted in the divorce proceedings, Sean Connor listed expenses including $20,000 for a boat purchase, over $12,000 in payments for two camping trailers and $67,000 in hotel and entertainment/restaurant costs over three years.

READ MORE: Kids restrained over 2000 times in one year in Ontario’s child-welfare system

His former wife also alleged that from October 2010 to September 2011, Sean Connor took nine vacations to destinations such as Barbados, Costa Rica and Cuba – as well as two trips to France.

The documents allege Connor owned three homes, two cars – a Jeep Wrangler and BMW Z3 – in addition to the boat and two camping trailers.

Forensic accountants who reviewed the documents say that some of the deductions raise significant red flags and that auditors from the Canada Revenue Agency would disallow a number of these expenses.

“There’s no reason to report a personal boat on a personal tax return,” said Matt McGuire, a forensic accountant and internationally recognized expert in anti-money laundering. “Neither should he have given them the trailer numbers or the like.

“These are all not deductible expenses.”

With two companies taking a cut of the public funding, it raises questions as to whether fewer dollars reached kids in care.

A Global News/APTN analysis of 2018 budget documents showed children’s aid societies spent an average of $173 a day for every child they placed in a foster home operated by a company like Connor Homes – funds meant to cover food, clothing, activities and wages.

READ MORE: A closer look at Ontario’s child-welfare system where kids are ‘commodities’

But a contract from Connor Homes from that year shows foster parents received $58 a day to care for each child.

“You contrast (the Connor family) lifestyle against the amount of money that they’re paying people to actually look after these children; it’s relatively a pittance,” McGuire said.

The tax summaries for Sean Connor indicated he claimed $30,000 on advertising expenses from 2007 to 2009. Over the same period, he claimed another $38,000 on restaurants and hotels despite his father being his only client.

Sean Connor declined repeated requests for an interview and did not respond to a detailed list of questions about his business deductions for this story.

He denied his ex-wife’s allegations that he engaged in “aggressive accounting techniques” to enrich himself, according to one of his own sworn affidavits.

In that document, he said his trips were often based on “last minute deals” or his parents paid for the cost, and several vehicles were used for business purposes.

Connor also said one trailer was sometimes used in place of “hotels” during business trips, with him working and taking conference calls inside it, his affidavit said. The other was rented out to Connor Homes.

He also defended the hotel and entertainment costs, as well as the $30,000 spent on advertising, as being necessary to promote his business to the government and children’s aid societies, the affidavit said.

“I absolutely deny these allegations,” Connor said in the affidavit. “I have a chartered accountant prepare my taxes and I presume that she operates under accepted accounting practices.”

He argued in the affidavit that the list of business and personal tax deductions he submitted in the court documents was in some cases “inaccurate” and not all items listed were declared as personal or business expenses when his accountant actually prepared and filed his tax returns.

Connor also said that if a business expense he attempted to claim was deemed incorrect by his accountant, he would pay that expense back to the company.

“The fact is that expenses incurred are legitimate expenses and my accountant determines which are appropriate business versus personal expenses,” he said in the affidavit.

However, during the divorce proceedings, Sean Connor and his ex-wife ultimately agreed to determine child and spousal support based on an estimated salary of $200,000, not the $36,000 he declared on his taxes after income-splitting with his wife.

Sean Connor denied his ex-wife’s allegation that he “derives significant undeclared cash payments” from his business.

“I am extremely insulted by this statement in (my ex-wife’s) Affidavit, which she makes without any substantive evidence whatsoever.”

The allegations contained in the documents follow previous reporting by Global News and APTN, which highlighted the crumbling conditions at Connor Homes and revelations the same family owns a fleet of vacation property rentals.

Interviews with more than two dozen former workers, images from inside the homes, inspections reports and court filings revealed homes in need of repairs and allegations the company was cutting costs to the detriment of the kids’ needs.

“(Connor Homes tried) saving money wherever they could, even if it was cutting corners,” said a former worker whom Global News has agreed not to identify for fear of reprisal.

“Two of the three homes that I worked at were terrible in terms of living conditions,” the former worker said. “I always thought that there was a good amount of money that was available to these kids, but it just never seemed to really get there.”

Smith said the lack of money for activities often led to kids being bored, which in turn led to problems. He said he was physically restrained by staff more than “50 times.”

Restraints are supposed to be a last resort – used only when children are at imminent risk of injuring themselves or others, according to the province.

“I can’t count how many times just standing in the office ended up, like, in a restraint, just because we were bored,” he said.

“It makes you wonder why (the Connor family) even have group homes in the first place,” Smith said. “What’s the motive behind it? Is it him making money, or does he care and want to create a home for kids?”

Connor Homes

Images are shown from inside youth residences owned by Connor Homes in eastern Ontario.

(Supplied)

When reached by reporters at one of his vacation rental properties in eastern Ontario, Bob Connor refused to come to the door. His son Sean also declined interview requests and would not answer specific questions related to allegations about care inside the company’s homes, citing “confidentiality” concerns.

In a subsequent statement to Global News, Sean Connor said the children in the company’s care are “supported with a treatment plan, weekly check-ins, and wrap-around support from a multidisciplinary team including a social worker, psychotherapist, psychologist, and therapist.”

“Our assessment process was created by Connor Homes and received approval from the Ministry,” he said, adding that their “funding was reviewed and audited annually.”

“Connor Homes’ operations ultimately strive to exceed the legislated minimum regulatory standards,” he said. “For over 40 years, Connor Homes’ Foster Care licence was consistently renewed by the Ministry without any conditions.”

READ MORE: Inspection reports reveal disturbing conditions inside Ontario group homes

But Smith and workers at the home said the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) needs to be taking a harder look at what goes on in private group homes.

Minister Merilee Fullerton’s office declined repeated requests for an interview.

A spokesperson for the MCCSS said in a statement the ministry is “enhancing oversight and accountability” in the child welfare system.

The province said it has changed its guidelines to increase the number of youth and staff interviews conducted for foster-care licensing inspections.

Child welfare experts and kids who’ve lived in private group homes, however, say the Ontario government should be looking to change “the entire system” and take profits out of caring for kids.

“It takes a village to raise a child, but I don’t think there was a village there for us,” Smith said.

— with additional files from Elizabeth Sargeant and Rajpreet Sahota

If you would like to share your experience working or living in the child-welfare system, please reach out to us at investigate@globalnews.ca

 

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Think you’re immune to COVID-19 after getting sick? Maybe not, new research shows

WATCH: With summer underway, there are concerns that another COVID-19 wave has begun. As Caryn Lieberman reports, Ontario’s opposition parties are calling for the expansion of fourth doses.

At least 40 per cent of Canadians have been infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to new research compiled by Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

But despite this “Omicron tsunami” in Canada, as task force experts call it, emerging data shows not everyone who gets sick with COVID-19 will develop immunity from the infection.

In fact, one in every eight people who contract the virus do not develop antibodies in their blood from their illness. And children are half as likely to develop immunity from an infection, according to the data released in June.

“So forget going to some kind of ‘COVID party,’” said Dr. Catherine Hankins, a professor at McGill University in the Faculty of Medicine and co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

“Infection is not a viable strategy to achieve or maintain immunity.”

Read more:

Canadians urged to get COVID-19 booster shots ahead of potential fall wave

This is just one of many findings from research studies funded by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force that offer new insights into the virus that has caused a global pandemic, including how the virus is evolving and how this is affecting the immunity provided by vaccines and by infections.

The task force, made up of scientists and experts from universities and hospitals across the country, was created in April 2020 by the federal government. Its mandate is to determine the extent of COVID-19 infection in Canada, to learn about how immunity is affected by infection and to provide information to governments and decision-makers about the virus, based on data and research.

One thing that has become clear in recent months is that Omicron and its offshoot subvariants have developed a formidable ability to evade immunity — whether from vaccinations or previous infections, according to data published by the task force.

Therefore, people who have contracted COVID-19 should not assume they’re now immune.

“We do have one in eight people that don’t show any antibodies in their blood, so they’re not responding to the vaccine. And if they get infected, we’re not seeing evidence of it… So we don’t quite know what’s going on,” Hankins said.

That’s why it’s important for Canadians to understand that COVID-19 hasn’t gone away and that it is mutating and re-infecting people, she added.

There’s also new data showing that people who contracted the virus before they received their first COVID-19 vaccines ended up with the strongest protection against the virus, according to research conducted by a team led by Michael Grant, professor of immunology and associate dean of biomedical sciences at Memorial University. 

This is what is known as “hybrid immunity.”

Read more:

COVID-19 boosters recommended this fall ahead of future pandemic wave: NACI

His study, which began in June 2020, looked at patients who had been infected with the original strain of the virus before they were vaccinated and compared their immune response to those who received the vaccines but did not get sick.

“We saw that people who had previously been infected and then received the vaccine, they had an enormously more powerful immune response to the vaccine,” he said.

“So much so, that after the first shot of the vaccine, they had higher levels of antibodies than the naive people (who had not become ill) had after two shots of the vaccine.”

Grant’s team also found that — among patients who contracted earlier strains of the virus such as the original strain or the Delta variant — the more severe their infection was, the stronger their immune response was and vice versa. This means those who got sicker received greater protection against the virus after they recovered.

Read more:

Moderna seeks Health Canada nod for new double-protection COVID-19 booster

But the same is not holding true for Omicron and its subvariants, Grant said.

If an individual does develop antibodies as a result of an Omicron infection, the levels of immunity provided by that illness are quite low, which leaves them vulnerable to future or repeat infections.

“There’s general consensus that two shots and then infection with Omicron is pretty much as good as having three shots of a vaccine,” Grant said.

“But because it’s a milder infection, either because people have been vaccinated or because the virus is just less virulent, it doesn’t seem to stimulate as strong an immune response as previous infections did.”

Overall, even though the current COVID-19 vaccines are not preventing transmission of the new variants of the virus, there is strong scientific evidence showing the vaccine does prevent severe illness and death.

The challenge for health officials going forward will be to ensure the public is aware of this and that individuals remain up-to-date with their vaccines. The research funded and compiled by the task force to date shows that immunity against COVID-19 wanes over time, Hankins said.

“I think it’s important that people understand that if you’ve had it before, you are still a sitting duck for these new variants, which don’t pay any attention to the fact you’ve had it before, and that if your immunization is lapsing, you don’t have the immunity that you had closer to when you got your vaccine,” she said.

“So it’s really important to get that booster.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

2-year-old boy orphaned after parents died in Highland Park parade shooting

Robert Crimo III, the 22-year-old charged in the deadly shooting rampage at the fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, plotted his attack for months, according to investigators. Jackson Proskow looks at the evidence, and the new details emerging about some of the victims.

Aiden McCarthy’s photo was shared across Chicago-area social media groups in the hours after the July 4 parade shooting in Highland Park, accompanied by pleas to help identify the 2-year-old who had been found at the scene bloodied and alone and to reunite him with his family.

On Tuesday, friends and authorities confirmed that the boy’s parents, Kevin McCarthy, 37, and Irina McCarthy, 35, were among seven people killed in the tragedy.

“At two years old, Aiden is left in the unthinkable position; to grow up without his parents,” wrote Irina Colon on a GoFundMe account she created for the family and Aiden, who was reunited with his grandparents Monday evening.

Friends of the McCarthys said Irina’s parents would care for the boy going forward.

Read more:

Highland Park shooting: Suspect charged with 7 counts of 1st-degree murder

Four of other others who were killed were identified Tuesday as Katherine Goldstein, 64; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; Stephen Straus, 88; and Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78. Every victim was from Highland Park except for Toledo-Zaragoza, who was visiting family in the city from Morelos, Mexico.

Officials haven’t yet identified the seventh victim.

Portraits of some of those who died began to emerge Tuesday as investigators continued to search for evidence in the shooting that killed at least seven and wounded 30.

Irina McCarthy’s childhood friend, Angela Vella, described McCarthy as fun, personable and “somewhat of a tomboy” who still liked to dress up nicely.

“She definitely had her own style, which I always admired,” Vella said in a short interview.

Straus, a Chicago financial adviser, was one of the first observers at the parade and attended it every year, his grandchildren said.

Brothers Maxwell and Tobias Straus described their grandfather as a kind and active man who loved walking, biking and attending community events.

“The way he lived life, you’d think he was still middle-aged,” Maxwell Straus said in an interview.

The two brothers recalled Sunday night dinners with their grandparents as a favorite tradition. They said they ate with him the night before he was killed.

“America’s gun culture is killing grandparents,” said Maxwell Straus. “It’s very just terrible.”

Sundheim, meanwhile, was regaled as a lifelong congregant and “beloved” staff member at North Shore Congregation Israel, where she had worked for decades, the Reform synagogue said on its website. Sundheim taught at the synagogue’s preschool and coordinated events including bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies.

“Jacki’s work, kindness and warmth touched us all,” synagogue leaders wrote in a message on their website. “There are no words sufficient to express the depth of our grief for Jacki’s death and sympathy for her family and loved ones.”

Toledo-Zaragoza was killed on what his 23-year-old granddaughter, Xochil Toledo, said was supposed to be a “fun family day” that “turned into a horrific nightmare for us all.”

On a GoFundMe page to raise money for Toledo’s funeral expenses, Xochil Toledo said her grandfather was a “loving man, creative, adventurous and funny.”

“As a family we are broken, numb,” she said.

Toledo-Zaragoza had come to Illinois to visit his family about two months ago, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. His family wanted him to stay permanently because of injuries he had suffered after being hit by a car a couple years ago during an earlier visit to Highland Park. The newspaper reported that he was hit by three bullets Monday and died at the scene.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to attend the parade because of the large crowds and his limited mobility, which required him to use a walker, but Xochil Toledo said the family didn’t want to leave him alone.

Katherine Goldstein’s husband described her as an easygoing travel companion who was always game to visit far-flung locales.

“She didn’t complain,” Craig Goldstein told The New York Times. “She was always along for the ride.”

Goldstein was a mother of two daughters in their early 20s, Cassie and Alana. She attended the parade with her older daughter so that Cassie could reunite with friends from high school, Craig Goldstein, a hospital physician, told the newspaper.

Dr. Goldstein said his wife had recently lost her mother and had given thought to what kind of arrangements she might want when she dies.

He recalled that Katherine, an avid bird watcher, said she wanted to be cremated and to have her remains scattered in the Montrose Beach area of Chicago, where there is a bird sanctuary.

 

© 2022 The Canadian Press

Patrick Brown disqualified from Conservative leadership race

WATCH: Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown has officially announced that he will be entering the 2022 Conservative leadership race. Brittany Rosen has more on the uphill battle Brown has faced up to this point in his political career and the controversies that have plagued the party in recent years.

Patrick Brown, a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, has been disqualified, according to a statement released by the party on Tuesday.

Brown currently serves as the mayor of Brampton, Ont.

In the statement, Ian Brodie, chair of the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC), states that Brown was disqualified after the chief returning officer investigated allegations against the Brown campaign of violating the financial provisions of the Canada Elections Act.

Read more:

Patrick Brown not ruling out city politics return if ‘Pierre was going to win’

The chief returning officer asked Brown’s campaign for a written response and withheld the interim membership list from his campaign, according to the statement.

“The information provided to date by the Patrick Brown campaign did not satisfy concerns about their compliance with our Rules and Procedures and/or the Canada Elections Act,” writes Brodie.

“The Chief Returning Officer has therefore recommended to LEOC that LEOC disqualify Patrick Brown and earlier tonight LEOC agreed to do so.”

Brodie added the Conservatives will be sharing the information regarding Brown’s alleged violations with Elections Canada.

“Throughout the investigation into these allegations, the Chief Returning Officer and I have done our best to be fair to the Patrick Brown leadership campaign and provide them with the time they need to substantively refute these allegations,” states Brodie.

“We regret having to take these steps but we have an obligation to ensure that both our Party’s rules and federal law are respected by all candidates and campaign teams. None of these problems has any impact on the integrity of the vote itself.”

Brodie concluded that the Conservative Party “will not be speaking further on the subject” as the issue is “subject to further investigation.”

The current Conservative leadership race comes after former leader Erin O’Toole stepped down on Feb. 2 after the majority of the caucus voted for his removal.

Early Wednesday morning, Brown’s campaign released a statement through spokesperson Chisholm Pothier on Twitter.

The campaign said they had just learned about the LEOC’s “secret meeting” and their decision to disqualify Brown through the media.

“We were not present at the meeting, nor were given an opportunity to defend ourselves before the LEOC,” it reads. “This decision is based on anonymous allegations. Our campaign was never provided with the full details or evidence of these allegations, failing an even basic requirement of due process.”

The statement further alleges that the Conservative Party is “expecting a coronation for Pierre Poilievre.”

Poilievre is one of the five remaining candidates in the leadership race, who was a senior cabinet minister in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government and has served as a Member of Parliament for seven terms.

“When the final membership numbers came in, it became clear Poilievre did not have the points to win this race,” Brown’s campaign alleged. “The attempt to silence Canadians and skirt democratic values through this unfounded disqualification is the only way to ensure his victory is secured.”

Brown’s campaign said it is consulting their legal team at this time.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Concerns raised about Edmonton Police Service's response to racist, hateful message

WATCH ABOVE: Members of the Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton are upset after receiving a hateful and racist message the night before Canada Day. But as Sarah Komadina explains, they are also upset with how police responded.

Members of the Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton were getting ready for a Canada Day event Thursday night when a voicemail left them feeling rattled.

President Jibril Ibrahim said a man called at around 6:15 p.m. He used a real trackable number. The man on the 15-second voicemail started off by saying, “Hi, I was wondering if the Somalians was going to celebrate Canada Day celebrations tomorrow?” The man then proceeded to say racist and hateful comments.

“It’s not right, it’s not acceptable at all,” Ibrahim said.

Read more:

Edmonton police lay charges in 6 assaults believed to be motivated by hate

He said the organization reached out to police through outreach emails, but also took it a step further and called 911. The organization also requested safety support for the Canada Day celebrations. As of Tuesday morning, Ibrahim said they haven’t seen or heard from any police officers after their call.

“We don’t want to be intimidated by anyone, so we decided to go ahead (with the event). We were expecting 300 people — only about 100 people showed up because maybe they were afraid something might happen. So it’s not good to have that kind of feeling.

“We were celebrating Canada Day because we are Canadian, right? Imagine that, going to an event and thinking in the back of your head, ‘What is going to happen?'”

Ibrahim said they kept the doors locked to monitor who was coming in. He said he feels police are not taking their complaint seriously.

“They are not taking any meaningful actions to stem out hate in the city. We should not be feeling this way.”

University of Alberta criminology professor Temitope Oriola said the voicemail that was left doesn’t have a direct threat, but it needs to be considered in the context of the vulnerabilities the Somali community has faced in Edmonton.

There have been several hate-motivated attacks on Muslim women wearing hijabs in the city in recent months.

Read more:

Edmonton rally demanding increased protection for Muslim women amidst latest attack

“Several Muslim hijab-wearing Somali women have been attacked on the streets of Edmonton while going about their lawful duties,” Oriola said. “These were unprovoked attacks, and, therefore, you can understand that concern of this community when they got that kind of voice message.

“People do not make reports of hate messages for fun. They don’t make these messages because they wish to. Often times it’s a result of a very serious and egregious situation and therefore it is important that, as a society, we will respond as swiftly as we can.”

Oriola said he believes police didn’t think this was a serious threat, and didn’t make this report a priority.

“The police should not ignore those kinds of messages. The police should not ignore those kinds of calls.”

After Global News reached out to the Edmonton Police Service, the inspector in charge of its downtown division connected with Ibrahim.

In a statement, police said EPS dispatch received a call on the night of June 30.

“The call was evaluated and placed in a queue for response that unfortunately was not considered until later in the evening, at which point, given the late hour, it was deferred. On July 2, for reasons yet to be determined, the call was not responded to,” police said.

Other employees of the EPS only became aware of the original complaint following receipt of an e-mail from Mr. Ibrahim to various government, police and other contacts.

“While policing a large metropolitan centre requires the prioritization of many calls for service, particularly on holidays and major events, we recognize that this delayed response was not acceptable or helpful.

Since becoming aware of this error, the inspector in charge of downtown division has connected personally with Mr. Ibrahim, offered an apology and explanation on behalf of the EPS and has identified the next steps in the investigation of this event.”

Ibrahim said he welcomes the call, but it’s not enough and work needs to be done.

“What is going to be done to prevent this from happening again?” he said. “This could have been worse and shouldn’t have been taken lightly.”

The society also reached out the province asking for the government to do something meaningful to stop hateful acts. Ibrahim said they had also not received a response.

In a email to Global News, the province said “the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General received a voicemail about the incident from the Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton over the long weekend and is currently working to respond to the organization.”

“All Albertans deserve to feel safe and secure in their communities, regardless of where they are from or how they worship,” the statement reads. “All threatening behaviours, including suspected hate-motivated crimes and incidents, should be reported to local police services.

“Alberta takes hate-motivated crimes and incidents very seriously and has been active in working to eliminate hateful acts while supporting those who are targeted. The hate crimes co-ordination unit was established at the start of the year to help organize the many resources and law enforcement supports we offer across the province. This includes initiatives such as the Alberta Security Infrastructure Program that provides grants for security improvements and training for organizations targeted by hate crimes, as well as the hate crimes community liaisons, who are beginning to work directly with the cultural communities most targeted by hate and bias-motivated crimes. The liaisons will make recommendations to government on how to better prevent hate crimes and support victims.”

 

 

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Friend of Amanda Todd testifies he reported explicit photo on Facebook to police

WATCH: Amanda Todd trial hears from friend who reported graphic images

Warning: This story contains details that may disturb readers. Discretion is advised. 

A friend of Amanda Todd testified at the trial of her accused online tormenter Tuesday that she called police after finding a topless photo of the teenage girl online.

Aydin Coban, a citizen of the Netherlands, is accused of harassing and extorting Todd before she took her own life in 2012, using nearly two dozen online accounts. He has pleaded not guilty.

Crown has said it will prove Coban was the mastermind behind the various social media profiles using a combination of technical information and the content of the messages themselves.

Read more:

Trial hears of digital links behind Facebook accounts used to ‘sextort’ Amanda Todd

Prosecutors called six witnesses to the stand Tuesday, including 24-year-old James Bennett, who testified that he was 13 when the topless photo of Todd appeared on various Facebook profiles, including his.

Bennett told the court he deleted the photo from his Facebook page and called police. He said he then made a post asking others to delete the photo and report it as well.

According to his testimony, the photo was posted by a Facebook user by the name of Austin Collins.

When Crown asked Bennett if he knew anyone by that name, he said he didn’t personally, but said they were friends on Facebook. He explained he wasn’t particularly selective about who he was Facebook friends with at the time.

Crown alleges Coban was behind the Austin Collins account and 21 others that he used to sexually blackmail Todd and send explicit images of the teen to her friends and family between 2009 and 2012.

The defence did not cross-examine Bennett.

Asked outside B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver after his testimony why he felt compelled to report the image, Bennett said he didn’t want to see it online.

“It felt like the right thing to do,” he told Global News. “It was child pornography, it was disturbing. I didn’t want those images to be shared with my friend.”

Bennett added it was “infuriating” to find out at the trial that he was the only one who reported the image to police at the time.

“I was expecting there to be a group of us in there,” he said.

Read more:

Amanda Todd trial: Witness describes renting Dutch bungalow to accused

Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother, praised Bennett’s actions outside the court after meeting him for the first time Tuesday.

“For a 13-year-old to be so wise and to do that … it warms my heart that he did this,” she said.

“We have to talk to our kids about what is right, and it was the right thing to do to have it taken down.”

The trial on Tuesday also heard from three RCMP officers who were called to investigate the online harassment complaint back in 2011, as well as a former vice-principal at the school Amanda attended who told the court she helped to support the 15-year-old.

Coban has pleaded not guilty to five charges, including possession of child pornography, extortion, criminal harassment and communication with a young person to commit a sexual offence.

Defence has yet to give its opening argument. Coban’s lawyer, Joseph Saulnier, has previously said that while there is no question Todd was the victim of crimes, the matter at trial is who was responsible for the messages.

Defence maintains there is no link between Coban and the online extortionist, and that Crown needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt who actually sent the messages Todd received.

Not long before her death in 2012, she posted a video to YouTube chronicling her ordeal, which gained worldwide attention and became a rallying cry against cyberbullying.

In the video, Todd silently held up a series of flashcards describing the torment she endured.

The trial is expected to last three more weeks.

— with files from Simon Little

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Alberta government to extend $50 electricity rebate for 3 more months: Kenney

Albertans are getting a bit more relief on soaring electricity costs.

Premier Jason Kenney says the province will extend its previously announced $50 electricity bill rebates for an additional three months.

“We know Albertans are struggling with the rising cost of living, especially energy inflation that’s driving so much of that,” Kenney said in an interview with Global News on Tuesday, prior to publicly announcing the rebate extension on Wednesday.

“We’re hearing from Albertans that more has to be done to help them cope with this cost-of-living crisis. So we’re extending by another three months, the $50-a-month rebate that people will be getting on their electricity bill.

“This will go to nearly two-million households.”

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Alberta electricity rebates to start in July

The province announced earlier this year that more than 1.9 million Alberta homes, farms and small businesses will receive monthly credits of $50 on their July, August and September electricity bills — for a total of $150.

Now, eligible Albertans will also see that $50 rebate for a total of six months.

“That’s $300 in relief for 1.9 million households, on top of the 13 cents abatement on the fuel gasoline tax and the natural gas rebate,” the premier said.

“The bottom line… is that people are getting real hard cash back.”

On Tuesday, Alberta NDP Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley said the $50 rebate amount is far too small at a time when Albertans are facing “a cost-of-living crisis like never before.”

“Some bills are hundreds of dollars a month higher than they were at this time last year,” Ganley said. “This amount is far too small, and by October, higher bills will probably be back.

“It’s still our position that the $50 is insufficient. We still think there is a lot more that the government should be doing.”

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Surging commodity prices lead to spike in Alberta utility bills

Ganley called on the government to extend the rebate program through the winter.

“Because of repeated delays in getting these rebates out the doors, Albertans are going to see these rebates stop — likely in November or December — when prices are likely to be spiking again,” she said.

“Albertans deserve to know that they have a government that has their backs… we’re asking them to do just a little bit more than they’ve done.”

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Kenney said Tuesday that the province is looking at other measures to help Albertans with the cost of living, but added the government needs to be prudent.

“It was not that long ago — just a few months ago — that we were still in a deficit as a province. One thing we know about oil and gas prices in this province is that they fluctuate. What goes up will come down. So before we consider any other options, we need to make sure that we are on solid fiscal ground, that we’ve got durable surpluses.”

The province previously said Albertans who are currently connected to the system that have consumed electricity in the past calendar year — up to a maximum of 250 megawatt hours per year — are automatically eligible for the rebates.

The government said the $50 rebates will be automatic on eligible people’s bills; Albertans do not need to apply to receive a rebate.

The rebate will be listed on each bill as a line item titled “GOA Utility Commodity Rebate.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Highland Park shooting suspect bought 5 weapons legally despite threats

Robert Crimo III, the 22-year-old charged in the deadly shooting rampage at the fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, plotted his attack for months, according to investigators. Jackson Proskow looks at the evidence, and the new details emerging about some of the victims.

A man charged Tuesday with seven counts of murder after firing off more than 70 rounds at an Independence Day parade in suburban Chicago legally bought five weapons, including the high-powered rifle used in the shooting, despite authorities being called to his home twice in 2019 for threats of violence and suicide, police said.

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said the suspect, if convicted of the first-degree murder charges, would receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. He promised that dozens more charges would be sought.

A spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force said the suspected shooter, who was arrested late Monday, used a rifle “similar to an AR-15” to spray more than 70 rounds from atop a commercial building into a crowd that had gathered for the parade in Highland Park, an affluent community of about 30,000 on the Lake Michigan shore.

Read more:

Highland Park shooting: Death toll rises to 7 as police continue probe

A seventh victim died of their injuries Tuesday. More than three dozen other people were wounded in the attack, which Task force spokesman Christopher Covelli said the suspect had planned for several weeks.

The assault happened less than three years after police went to the suspect’s home following a call from a family member who said he was threatening “to kill everyone” there. Covelli said police confiscated 16 knives, a dagger and a sword, but said there was no sign he had any guns at the time, in September 2019.

Police in April 2019 also responded to a reported suicide attempt by the suspect, Covelli said.

The suspect legally purchased the rifle used in the attack in Illinois within the past year, Covelli said. In all, police said, he purchased five firearms, which were recovered by officers at his father’s home.

The revelation about his gun purchases is just the latest example of young men who were able to obtain guns and carry out massacres in recent months despite glaring warning signs about their mental health and inclination to violence.

Illinois state police, who issue gun owners’ licenses, said the gunman applied for a license in December 2019, when he was 19. His father sponsored his application.

At the time “there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger” and deny the application, state police said in a statement.

Investigators who have interrogated the suspect and reviewed his social media posts have not determined a motive or found any indication that he targeted victims by race, religion or other protected status, Covelli said.

Earlier in the day, FBI agents peeked into trash cans and under picnic blankets as they searched for more evidence at the scene. The shots were initially mistaken for fireworks before hundreds of revelers fled in terror.

A day later, baby strollers, lawn chairs and other items left behind by panicked parade goers remained inside a wide police perimeter. Outside the police tape, some residents drove up to collect blankets and chairs they abandoned.

David Shapiro, 47, said the gunfire quickly turned the parade into “chaos.”

“People didn’t know right away where the gunfire was coming from, whether the gunman was in front or behind you chasing you,” he said Tuesday as he retrieved a stroller and lawn chairs.

The gunman initially evaded capture by dressing as a woman and blending into the fleeing crowd, Covelli said.

Read more:

Highland Park shooting: Grandfather, ‘tireless’ synagogue teacher among victims

The shooting was just the latest to shatter the rituals of American life. Schools, churches, grocery stores and now community parades have all become killing grounds in recent months. This time, the bloodshed came as the nation tried to celebrate its founding and the bonds that still hold it together.

A police officer pulled over 21-year-old Robert E. Crimo III north of the shooting scene several hours after police released his photo and warned that he was likely armed and dangerous, Highland Park Police Chief Lou Jogmen said.

His father, Bob, a longtime deli owner, ran for mayor in 2019. The candidate who won that race, current Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, said she knew Crimo as a boy in Cub Scouts.

“And it’s one of those things where you step back and you say, ‘What happened?” Rotering told NBC’s “Today” show. “How did somebody become this angry, this hateful, to then take it out on innocent people who literally were just having a family day out?”

Crimo’s attorney, Thomas A. Durkin, a prominent Chicago-based lawyer, said he intends to enter a not guilty plea to all charges.

Asked about his client’s emotional state, Durkin said he has spoken to Crimo only once — for 10 minutes by phone. He declined to comment further.

Steve Greenberg, the lawyer for the parents, told The Associated Press Tuesday evening the parents aren’t concerned about being charged with anything related to their son’s case.

“There is zero chance they will be charged with anything criminal,” he said. “They didn’t do anything wrong. They are as stunned and shocked as anyone.”

The shooting occurred at a spot on the parade route where many residents had staked out prime viewing points early in the day.

Among them was Nicolas Toledo, who was visiting his family in Illinois from Mexico, and Jacki Sundheim, a lifelong congregant and staff member at nearby North Shore Congregation Israel. The Lake County coroner released the names of four other victims.

Nine people, ranging from 14 to 70, remained hospitalized Tuesday, hospital officials said.

Since the start of the year, the U.S. has seen 15 shootings where four or more people were killed, including the one in Highland Park, according to The Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University mass killing database.

Scores of smaller-scale shootings in nearby Chicago also left eight people dead and 60 others wounded over the July 4 weekend.

In 2013, Highland Park officials approved a ban on semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. A local doctor and the Illinois State Rifle Association quickly challenged the liberal suburb’s stance. The legal fight ended at the U.S. Supreme Court’s doorstep in 2015 when justices declined to hear the case and let the suburb’s restrictions remain in place.

Under Illinois law, gun purchases can be denied to people convicted of felonies, addicted to narcotics or those who are termed “mental defectives” and capable of harming themselves or others. That might have stopped a suicidal Crimo from getting a weapon.

But under the law, just who is a “mental defective” must be decided by “a court, board, commission or other legal authority.”

The state has a so-called red flag law designed to stop dangerous people before they kill, but it requires family members, relatives, roommates or police to ask a judge to order guns seized.

Crimo, who goes by the name Bobby, was an aspiring rapper with the stage name Awake the Rapper, posting on social media dozens videos and songs, some ominous and violent.

In one animated video since taken down by YouTube, Crimo raps about armies “walking in darkness” as a drawing appears of a man pointing a rifle, a body on the ground and another figure with hands up in the distance.

Federal agents were reviewing Crimo’s online profiles, and a preliminary examination of his internet history indicated that he had researched mass killings and had downloaded multiple photos depicting violent acts, including a beheading, a law enforcement official said.

The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who had been in Chicago to address the National Education Association’s annual meeting Tuesday, visited the site of the shooting to offer condolences to first responders and local officials.

“The whole nation should understand and have a level of empathy, to understand that this can happen anywhere, in any peace loving community,” Harris said in brief comments to reporters in Highland Park. “And we should stand together and speak out about why it’s got to stop.”

Shapiro, the Highland Park resident who fled the parade with his family, said his 2-year-old son woke up screaming later that night.

“He is too young to understand what happened,” Shapiro said. “But he knows something bad happened.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

A new entertainment district in Regina could be on the horizon

The future of Regina arenas may look very different over the next few years.

On Wednesday, a detailed report will be presented to the city’s executive committee, outlining what could be next for the Brandt Centre and what options might be available if the city wants to replace the arena with a new facility.

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The Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) is exploring a new 10,000-seat event centre in Regina.

“There’s a real opportunity for growth and a real opportunity to revitalize downtown with any type of new structure that goes downtown, whether it be a new aquatic centre, library or arena,” Tony Playter, the CEO of the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce, said.

The proposed centre would cost upwards of $100 million to build.

This concept image shows a potential layout for the proposed REAL entertainment district

This concept image shows a potential layout for the proposed REAL entertainment district

Five locations were explored for a new multi-purpose event centre including three downtown sites, the REAL district and the railyards on Dewdney Ave.

This image shows five potential locations for the proposed Regina Entertainment District plans.

This image shows five potential locations for the proposed Regina Entertainment District plans.

The committee determined one of those downtown locations holds the greatest potential, but it has not yet been revealed.

“We believe it’s likely the location where we have best ability to build a true entertainment district in the heart of our city,” REAL president and CEO Tim Reid said.

The plans for use of the new facility also consider new sports teams in Regina such as the addition of National Lacrosse League (NLL) and Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) teams.

The report estimates the new facilities would be in use around 100 days annually, between the Regina Pats, an NLL and CEBL team as well as concerts and events.

As for the Brandt Centre, the report suggests it should be repurposed for other uses, primarily in the agriculture industry for showcasing equipment or working on startups.

The centre could also be used for recreation as well, with Reid saying sports like basketball and volleyball could be great additions to the facility.

The plan will be presented to the executive council Wednesday morning.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Shuswap Llama Sanctuary raises funds to buy forever home

The llamas, alpacas, one guanaco and the two humans who care for them at the Llama Sanctuary in Chase, B.C. are calling for help.

They have been served an eviction notice and need to raise $40,000 in two weeks to secure a forever home.

“We find forever homes for llamas and now it’s time to find a forever home for the sanctuary,” said David Chapman, manager at The Llama Sanctuary.

“We have located somewhere where someone who is willing to work with us and assist us on it. But, obviously, they want the money for the land. We don’t have the ability to get the loan to buy land and obviously the real estate prices are astronomical.”

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They will need to move all the buildings they have built on the property as well as the 39 camelids that call this 50-acre farm on Chase-Falkland Road home.

Chapman alongside Lynne Milsom has been rehabilitating and caring for their four-legged friends in Chase since 2017, all while showcasing the operation with tours and educating the public.

“A great many of alpacas and llamas that we have in the sanctuary are the elderly, sick or injured or have behavioural issues that we are working with,” said Chapman.

“We keep the ones that need the care and we rehome the ones that are in top health.”

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To the animal lovers, the hard work is worth it, as long as they are able to give the llamas and alpacas in their care a better life.

“When we met llamas it was instant love and we have put everything that we own into trust for the llamas. It’s our passion,” said Chapman.

“People misunderstand them. People think really cuddly woolly llama but turns out llamas are pretty much like cats — they will cuddle you if they want.”

To donate to The Llama Sanctuary fundraiser, visit www.llamasanctuary.com

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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