Ontario eyes BC tax

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa says he will be examining British Columbia's new tax aimed at foreign homebuyers "very closely" as he looks for ways to address eroding affordability in Toronto's housing sector.

Sousa spoke enthusiastically about an announcement made Monday by B.C. Premier Christy Clark and B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong to impose a 15 per cent tax on foreign nationals looking to snap up homes in Vancouver's scorching real estate market.

"I welcome what (de Jong) is putting forward, and we're certainly looking at whatever options can be made available," he said following a news conference Tuesday.

But, he added, it's important to consider that any similar policies introduced to cool down Toronto's heated market could have knock-on effects to other parts of Ontario that aren't experiencing the same run-up in house prices.

"So we've got to be cognizant of the impacts of those decisions," said Sousa, who is part of a committee, alongside de Jong and federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, looking for ways to improve housing affordability in Canada's hottest markets.

BMO chief economist Douglas Porter has urged the Ontario government to adopt something like B.C.'s new foreign homebuyer tax, given that single detached houses in the Greater Toronto Area have jumped almost 20 per cent year-over-year.

"The Ontario government should take a long look at a similar move," Porter said in a note to clients.

"Any additional revenue would be a bonus for the debt-heavy province. Even a cautious estimate would peg potential revenues from such a tax well into the hundreds of millions for B.C."

However, Toronto-based realtor Cailey Heaps Estrin of Royal LePage said she didn't want to see Ontario take a page out of B.C.'s book.

"I recognize that we as a country are politically and financially stable and attractive to foreign buyers, both investors and people who will eventually reside here," Heaps Estrin said.

"I think that historically we've had a very favourable relationship with other countries because of our policies that welcome new Canadians and people from other countries, and to tax them feels unfair to me."

She added that while the idea seems attractive in the current market environment, during slower periods it could become a disadvantage.

"Once the hot markets slow down I think these taxes will hurt the cities that are most affected by them," Heaps Estrin said.

On Tuesday, the B.C. government released updated data on foreign home ownership from June 10 until July 14. It showed that one in 10 property sales in Metro Vancouver involved foreign nationals.

In Toronto, data on foreign buyers is more scarce, although a report from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in April pegged the rate of foreign ownership in Toronto's condo market at 3.3 per cent.


Search finds second body

RCMP say they are dealing with a second death as they investigate the disappearance of a young couple in northern Alberta last weekend.

Police say the body of Cory Grey, a 19-year-old woman, was discovered late Tuesday afternoon in a rural area outside High Prairie.

The discovery came after the body of Dylan Laboucan, Grey's 17-year-old boyfriend, was found Monday night when police went to check a report of a sudden death on the Whitefish River First Nation.

Grey was reported missing late Sunday — a day after Laboucan was reported missing from the same general area.

Their bodies were found in different locations and police say Grey's disappearance is linked to that of her boyfriend's.

Mounties also say it's too early to determine if either death was the result of criminal activity, or if they are linked.

Autopsies were scheduled for Wednesday in Edmonton.

Police say they are appealing to the public for information on the deaths.

Muslims want investigation

An Ottawa community is finding itself conflicted over how to respond to the death of a Somali-Canadian man following a physical confrontation with police.

Ray Miron said he has had nightmares about what he saw and heard from the window of his west Ottawa apartment Sunday when 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi was taken down by police officers on a sidewalk across the street.

"It just was not right for the beating that they gave that poor guy when he was down," Miron said in an interview.

The incident, which ended with Abdi being taken to hospital where he was later pronounced dead, has left him angry, Miron added.

"I got to the point, I'm 67 years old and if I'd had been 30 years younger, I would have jumped that cop."

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is probing Abdi's death and was interviewing witnesses inside a truck parked at the scene Tuesday. The SIU investigates whenever there is a death, serious injury or allegation of sexual assault involving police in the province.

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau said officers were responding to multiple 911 calls Sunday regarding "multiple assaults" at a local business, confirmed by other sources to be a cafe. After trying to make an arrest, officers chased Abdi on foot.

Shortly afterward, the SIU said, there was a "confrontation" outside the apartment building down the street, where Abdi lived with his family, and he suffered medical distress.

On Tuesday, people in the community stopped by to visit a collection of flowers laid below a tree on the lawn of the apartment building, the surrounding sidewalks filling up with the now-familiar slogan "Black Lives Matter" written in chalk — a movement that began in the United States in response to police brutality against black people and other forms of racial prejudice and discrimination.

The Canadian Association of Somali Lawyers, a national organization of about 20 Somali-Canadian lawyers from across the country, said the incident is part of a larger pattern.

“Too often, police officers do not de-escalate or take appropriate care when dealing with African-Canadians, let alone African-Canadians with disabilities or in mental distress,” its president, Billeh Hamud, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The group also called on the Ontario government to bring greater transparency to the SIU and to mandate all police officers in the province wear body cameras.

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, also called for a swift and open investigation into whether racism played a role in the death.

"The protection and preservation of human rights and dignity, regardless of skin colour, religious belief, or any other characteristic, are integral to our collective and individual sense of safety and inclusion," Gardee said Tuesday.

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, said it would be "inappropriate" to imply race played a role in the incident.

"In a situation like this, race is simply a fact to the case. I mean, this is no different than gender or height," said Skof, adding that police were responding to an assault-related call from the public as required.

Skof said the suggestion that race was a motivating factor is being fuelled by events in the U.S., which he believes is misplaced.

"Our relationships with the community are very well established and we do not have the same history around racial tensions that the U.S. experiences," he said.

Abdourahman Kahin, who leads a group called Muslim Presence, said it is too early to assume the police were racially motivated.

He said a few hundred members of the Somali community in Ottawa gathered for a private meeting Tuesday evening to discuss how to respond to the issue, including how to ensure witnesses receive counselling and the family gets help with legal representation.

Kahin said he would be urging everyone to avoid jumping to conclusions about racial discrimination, a message he said was well-reflected at the meeting.

"We condemn the brutality of the police — 100 per cent condemn — but don't put the colour of the victim (first)," he said Tuesday.

"Before he was black, he was a human being. He was a human being who was treated inhumanly," said Kahin, who used to live in the same building as the Abdi family, knows one of his brothers and, like others, described the man as having some kind of mental illness or disability.

Miesha-lee Perry, 19, is unconvinced that race should not be part of the conversation.

She works at a restaurant — sometimes frequented by Abdi, who she remembers as "a very sweet guy" — that put out a "Black Lives Matter" sign on the sidewalk to let passersby know what they thought about what happened.

"There is not as much racism in Canada as there is in the States and stuff, but we still get it every day," said Perry, who said she has been treated unfairly by police and others in Ottawa.

Bordeleau hinted at this broader context in a statement delivered to the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday.

"We are well aware of the context within which we police," Bordeleau said in a statement, which was released before he learned Abdi had died.

"Our officers are professional and they are dedicated to protecting the community they serve."


$33M despite promises

Canada has so far forked over more than $311 million to develop the F-35 — without any guarantee it will actually buy the multibillion-dollar stealth fighter.

The most recent instalment was made June 24, when the Liberal government quietly paid $32.9 million to the U.S. program office overseeing development of the warplane, despite having promised during last year's election campaign not to buy the F-35.

The contribution keeps Canada at the table as one of the nine partners in the project for the next year. Partners get a discount when purchasing the stealth fighter, and have access to billions of dollars in contracts associated with producing the plane.

Those potential industrial benefits are a big part of the reason why Canada continues to pay into the program, said Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. The government says Canadian companies have secured US$812 million in contracts since Canada's first F-35 payment in 1997.

"New skills and technologies gained through access to the program have helped position Canadian industry to take advantage of other advanced aerospace and defence projects," Owens added in an email.

Being a partner, however, does not guarantee future work.

U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-35, warned last month that future work would be directed to other countries if Canada chooses not to buy the stealth fighter.

Remaining at the table makes sense if there is a chance Canada will buy the plane, said former Defence Department procurement chief Alan Williams.

"But if they've already made up their mind that they're going to buy something else, then it's a waste of money."

During the campaign, the Liberals promised not to buy the F-35 and to hold a competition to replace the existing fleet of aging CF-18 fighters. Experts say that has put the government in a bind, since there's a real chance the fighter would come out on top in an open and fair competition.

The government recently launched consultations with jet fighter manufacturers to address what Sajjan has described as a shortage of available CF-18s. But some worry the consultations are more about giving the Liberals political cover to buy a plane other than the F-35 without holding a competition.

Owens said no decisions have been made in replacing the CF-18s. The five companies involved in the consultations are to submit details about their aircraft by Friday.

Ludwig a robo-chatterbox

A retirement home in north Toronto is preparing to welcome an unusual resident: Ludwig, an artificially intelligent robot.

Adorned with spiky mauve-coloured hair, green-tinged eyes and a few quirky facial expressions to mimic a range of emotions, the two-foot-tall robot is made to look and act like a little boy.

But his job is far from child's play.

By drawing his elderly neighbours into conversation, Ludwig's creators say he can track and monitor signs of Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

He's so good, he can detect subtle changes in speech and vocal patterns that might escape retirement home staff, says Isaac Weinroth, executive director of One Kenton Place, where Ludwig will begin trials next month.

"Even things like the time gap between verbs, or the use of verbs, or lack of verbs, the time gap between sentences, between words in sentences," he says.

"Those are the kind of minute changes that the robot and the technology can pick up as it interacts with an individual, that we as human beings don't necessarily track as well."

And the earlier such changes are caught, the sooner the resident can get help, says Weinroth.

"You might need to adjust medication or even day-to-day activities. If somebody is showing weaknesses in one area you can focus on that area to try and strengthen it."

Ludwig, named after philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, was developed by a research team at the University of Toronto.

Team leader Dr. Frank Rudzicz predicts artificial intelligence "will play a huge role in elderly care going forward," envisioning robots could also monitor seniors in their own homes eventually.

"There's going to be a huge rise of incidence of Alzheimer's disease in the next couple of decades," says Rudzicz, a scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and an assistant computer science professor at the U of T.

"Right now, there's about 600,000 people in Canada with the disease. That will go up to about 1.5 million in the next few decades. And there aren't enough people to look after all of these individuals."

Ludwig is not meant to replace care provided by flesh-and-blood nurses and doctors, adds Rudzicz, describing the technology as more of a "stop-gap."

"It's going to be a way to take away some of the burden for those individuals and current nurses and doctors to focus on what they normally do," he says.

"It's hard to predict the future. I think people are becoming more accepting of technology than they used to be. So I'm hopeful."

During a demonstration at One Kenton Place on Tuesday, Ludwig asked 97-year-old Elizabeth Graner her name and some simple questions, but the conversation would stall whenever the senior failed to hear what the robot was saying.

Graner's daughter, Penny Blake, was skeptical that Ludwig would be able to offer anything more than she or any other human caregiver could.

"It was a good college try, maybe it needs more work or whatever," Blake said after the demonstration, in which Ludwig asked her mother to describe images on a tablet.

"Humans make connections a lot easier than computers," Blake continues.

"I'm not convinced he could (do a better job). Maybe he can aid a human, maybe he can be a good toy for these guys."

Researchers expect Ludwig will be fine-tuned as he's put into practice.

An introductory trial in August will be followed by more rigorous research in October and November. If all goes well, a more sophisticated version of Ludwig could start popping up in retirement homes across the country, says Weinroth.

"This is a multi-year project," adds Rudzicz. "We're at the very beginning of it now."

Social media Olympics

Ready for the Rio Olympics? So are Canada's top summer athletes and, thanks to social media, they can share their experience with fans every step of the way. Here are 10 Canadian Olympians to follow on your favourite social media platform:


Twitter: @RosieMacLennan

Instagram: rosiemaclennan

Canada's flag-bearer for the opening ceremony and the only Canadian to bring home gold from the 2012 London Olympics, Rosie MacLennan is a contender to repeat as trampoline champion and will have a front-row seat for some of the biggest moments of the Games. The Toronto native frequently posts to Instagram as she travels the world and trains for competition.



Instagram: de6rasse

Sprinter Andre De Grasse is already one of the brightest stars on the Canadian Olympic team. He'll be racing some of the biggest names in track and field in the men's 100- and 200-metre events. The Markham, Ont., native spices up his Instagram account with highlight-reel videos of his races.


Twitter: @EllieBlack_

Instagram: ellieblack_

Artistic gymnast Ellie Black was at the 2012 London Olympics but the Halifax native really caught fans attention when she came away with five medals at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Black is a contender to win more medals and posts on Instagram regularly with behind-the-scenes photos of Canada's gymnastics team.



Instagram: curtnet

A member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and the chef de mission for the country's delegation to the Rio Games, Curt Harnett will always be where the action is at these Olympics. Some may remember his cycling medals at the 1984, 1992 and 1996 Olympics — or shampoo commercials featuring his curly blond hair — but its his wicked sense of humour that shines through on social media.


Twitter: @MandyBujold

Instagram: mandybujold

Mandy Bujold has won back-to-back Pan American boxing gold medals in the women's flyweight class. The Coburg, Ont., native tweets her gratitude to supportive fans and often posts videos and photos from her training regime on Instagram.


Twitter: @Tnyhaug49

SnapChat: tnyhaug49

Instagram: tnyhaug49

Tory Nyhaug of New Westminster, B.C., is Canada's best BMX cyclist and is coming off gold at the Pan Am Games in Toronto last summer. He's one of the few athletes to publicize their SnapChat accounts, giving his fans an extra way to follow along with his Olympic journey.


Twitter: @jen_kish

SnapChat: kishtopher

Instagram: jen_kish

Ottawa's Jen Kish is the charismatic face of Canada's women's rugby sevens team as the sport makes its Olympic debut in Rio. She is an avid social media user whose posts are pepered with a lot of humour.


Twitter: @GrahamDeLaet

Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., will try to defend Canada's 112-year old men's Olympic golf title along with David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., when the sport returns to the Games this summer. DeLaet is very vocal on Twitter, posting comments and observations throughout the PGA Tour season, as well as supporting other Canadian athletes.



Instagram: rhianw7

Canada's women's soccer team stole the show at the 2012 London Olympics, with their dramatic semifinal loss to the United States and their bronze-medal win over France. Defender Rhian Wilkinson of Pont-Claire, Que., is just one of the returning names from that medal-winning team and frequently tweets, teasing her teammates online.


Twitter: @weareeaton, @btheiseneaton, @AshtonJEaton

Instagram: @weareeaton, @btheiseneaton, @AshtonJEaton

Saskatoon's Brianne Theisen-Eaton is Canada's top heptahlete and, along with her American decathlete husband Ashton Eaton, she's a prolific social media user. Their personal Twitter and Instagram accounts are always busy, while their joint We Are Eaton accounts follow their travels together.

Shots fired at Poke players

Police have charged a 29-year-old woman they allege shot a pellet gun at a group of people playing Pokemon Go north of Toronto.

York Regional police say they received a call around 10:30 p.m. Saturday that someone was shooting at several people playing the popular smartphone game in Newmarket, Ont.

The game sends players into the real world to search for digital monsters known as Pokemon, who appear on screen when users hold up their devices in various locations at various times.

Police say witnesses saw a woman shooting at the players from a nearby rooftop with a pellet gun that looked like a handgun.

No one was hurt in the incident, but police say at least four shots were fired.

Police charged Patricia Champagne, of Newmarket, with assault with a weapon and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.

Pipeline spill hush, hush

It appears Husky Energy knew something was amiss with one of its oil pipelines about 14 hours before the Saskatchewan government was notified.

An incident report says Husky discovered a pipeline leak on the south shore of the North Saskatchewan River around 8 p.m. last Wednesday.

The provincial government was notified of the spill near Maidstone around 10:30 a.m. the next day.

Husky vice-president Al Pate says pipeline monitoring detected some irregularities Wednesday evening and crews were on site the next morning.

He says there will be an investigation into why it took so long, but the focus now is on cleanup.

Pate says the company is confident in its estimate that 200,000 to 250,000 litres spilled.

A BlackBerry for everyone

In a bid to once again make its struggling hardware business profitable, BlackBerry is launching a new smartphone billed as the most secure Android device available.

The company says the DTEK50 target audience is "everyone" due to the increasing threat that mobile security risks now pose to the public at large.

"We feel that customers today, certainly businesses and consumers, are beginning to understand just how important security is when it comes to their smartphone," said Alex Thurber, senior vice-president of global device sales, during a Tuesday webcast launch from the company's Waterloo, Ont., headquarters.

Everyone should be aware of security and privacy, he noted, whether they're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a parent.

"I certainly want my children to have secure devices. I don't want the world looking at what they take pictures of or their emails or their text messages."

BlackBerry said the DTEK50 has been designed to fend off cyberattacks with features such as built-in malware protection and encryption of all user information. In addition, it provides the ability to see and control which apps are allowed access to features like the phone's camera.

The new product is also BlackBerry's thinnest and has an on-screen keyboard — not its traditional keyboard.

It appears the company has learned from the sales flop of its first Android-powered phone, the Priv. At a cost of $899, it was released late last year at the company's Canadian webstore without a carrier contract. At the time, it was the most expensive Android phone on the market.

While BlackBerry hasn't disclosed Priv phone sales, its most recent quarterly results released a month ago showed the company sold 500,000 smartphones in total (including the Priv). That's a drop of 100,000 over the previous quarter and 200,000 fewer than two quarters earlier.

Thurber said the DTEK50 is priced to be a very broadly-adopted product and will retail for $429.

The company says the new phone is currently available for pre-order online, with plans to start shipping Aug. 8.

"We're very confident that from a product perspective this will sell very well," Thurber said.

BlackBerry has faced calls to stop making smartphones because of disappointing sales and instead focus solely on its growing software and security business.

CEO John Chen has so far shown no inclination to get out of the hardware business, having promised earlier this year to release two mid-range, Android-powered phones before the company's fiscal year ends Feb. 28, 2017.

Thurber reiterated that commitment, saying BlackBerry will continue to develop and release Android phones, including one in the near future that will have a physical keyboard.

"Yes, one of them will be the iconic physical-keyboard-based device," he said. "So stay tuned, that will be coming shortly."

The company says it remains committed to supporting its BlackBerry 10 operating system with software updates.

Bail for boozy pilots

Two airline pilots charged with being drunk as they prepared to fly a passenger jet on a trans-Atlantic route to Toronto have been granted bail on condition they surrender their passports.

Jean-Francois Perreault, who is 39, and 37-year-old Imran Zafar Syed were arrested at Glasgow Airport on July 18, shortly before they were due to fly an Air Transat jet to Toronto.

They have been charged with being impaired through alcohol and with threatening and abusive behaviour.

The two men had been held in custody since their arrested but were granted bail after a hearing Tuesday at Paisley Sheriff Court in western Scotland. The allegations against them have not been proven in court.

Air Transat runs charter and scheduled flights between Canada and several European and Caribbean destinations. The airline says the pilots have been suspended.

Canadian aviation regulations prohibit aircraft crew members from working while intoxicated or within eight hours after having an alcoholic drink.

Air Transat is a subsidiary of Transat A.T. Inc.

BC home tax may catch on

Ontario's finance minister says he will be looking "very closely" at British Columbia's tax aimed at foreign homebuyers as he looks for ways to address eroding affordability in Toronto's housing market.

Charles Sousa says he welcomes the 15 per cent tax that the B.C. government will charge foreign nationals looking to snap up homes in Vancouver's scorching real estate market.

Sousa says he is part of a committee, alongside Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong, that's looking for ways to improve housing affordability in Canada's hottest markets.

He says it's important to consider that any policies introduced to cool down Toronto's hot real estate sector could have effects on other parts of the province that aren't seeing the same problem.

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

Taxing foreign home buyers

Foreign nationals who buy real estate in Metro Vancouver would pay an additional property transfer tax of 15 per cent under legislation introduced Monday by the British Columbia government.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong unveiled the tax as part of legislation aimed at addressing low vacancy rates and high real estate prices in southern B.C.

"For example, the additional tax on the purchase of a home selling for $2 million to a foreign national will amount to an additional $300,000," de Jong told members of the legislature.

The additional tax will take effect Aug. 2 and apply to foreign buyers registering the purchase of residential homes in Metro Vancouver, excluding treaty lands in the Tsawwassen First Nation.

All purchasers in the province currently pay a one per cent tax on the first $200,000 of their purchase, two per cent on the remaining value up to $2 million and three per cent on the portion above that.

"The amendments include anti-avoidance rules designed to capture transactions that are structured specifically to avoid the additional tax," de Jong said.

The money from the additional tax would be used to fund housing, rental and support programs, the minister said.

De Jong said recent government housing data indicate foreign nationals spent more than $1 billion on B.C. property between June 10 and July 14, with 86 per cent on purchases in the Lower Mainland area.

After the bill was introduced, Premier Christy Clark said her government is focused on increasing the housing supply, protecting buyers and sellers and boosting the rental market.

"Today we are taking measures to ensure home ownership remains within reach of the middle class," she said.

The legislation would also enable the City of Vancouver to amend its community charter in order to levy a vacancy tax.

In May, de Jong said he wasn't in favour of a tax on foreign investment, saying he worried it would send the wrong message to Asia-Pacific investors.

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