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Toronto Star

This Syrian refugee is living the classic Canadian dream. ‘We are so proud of Canada and want to make Canada proud of us’

Nov 16, 2018 10:00:00 PM

rpjyasine04 this syrian refugee is living the classic canadian dream we are so proud of canada and want to make canada proud of us 16 11 2018 gta news thestar dam content  https:

Three years after Canada opened its doors — and heart — to almost 60,000 Syrian refugees, Yaseen Alshehadt has a job he loves, his wife is learning English and their children are getting “the world’s best education.”

He’s living the classic immigrant’s dream.

Although settling in a new country can be difficult, Syrian newcomers who were sponsored by the federal government and community groups are slowly setting down roots in their adopted country, according to a new survey by COSTI, the agency tasked by Ottawa to settle government-sponsored Syrians in the GTA. The survey found many are thriving, with a third having found jobs and some 87 per cent reporting they feel happy.

“I can speak English now and have a job. My kids are in school. We feel 80 per cent Canadian,” said Alshehadt, 44, whose family fled Daraa in 2011 when the Syrian civil war broke out. They spent five years in Jordan before coming to Canada in January 2016 under a government sponsorship.

“We are so proud of Canada and want to make Canada proud of us, but we need some time to grow.”

The COSTI survey of government-assisted Syrians in Greater Toronto found they are faring better than immigrant service providers would have expected.

Read more:

Is Canada in the midst of a refugee crisis? Experts say it’s important to keep things in perspective

‘I screamed, but no one came’: The horrifying sexual violence facing Syrians

Canada to resettle dozens of White Helmets and their families from Syria

“As a settlement sector practitioner who has been working at this for 30 years, I believe this particular group, which is (so early) into their settlement, is ahead of the integration process,” said Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI.

“Half have had paid employment and many are still committed to their language training. They have made friends with non-Syrians and are not just retreated to their own community, which slows down their integration. These are all very good signs.”

Millions of Syrians have fled their homeland since the start of the bloody civil war that has left more than 350,000 people dead. Since November 2015, Canada has welcomed 58,650 Syrian refugees, about half sponsored by the Canadian government and others sponsored by community groups who came together in response to the massive humanitarian crisis.

The integration of government-assisted Syrians has always been more difficult because this group faces greater barriers due to lower education, poorer English and larger households. A previous study by the immigration department found a higher proportion of government-assisted refugees relied on food banks and were unemployed compared to their privately-sponsored peers, who have a social support network to ease their integration and settlement.

In the fall, COSTI interviewed 351 families — about 80 per cent of the Syrian refugees it has assisted. They were asked about their language acquisition, employment, housing, health, children’s education and civic engagement. Participants responded to 61 questions in Arabic. The surveyed households represented some 1,755 Syrian adults and children.

Among the findings:

  • 33 per cent of the heads of households are employed, up from 12 per cent in a similar survey done a year after their arrival. Previous research found that six out of 10 government-supported refugees were employed after five years.

  • 63 per cent of adults are enrolled in English classes, down from 86 per cent in the previous survey. Many quit after they felt their language skills had improved and that they were ready to work full-time.

  • 21 per cent have moved from their first homes in Canada, with most wanting to be closer to friends, and others requiring a bigger unit or less expensive housing.

  • 87.3 per cent reported that their family feels happy or very happy in Canada, but 9.4 per cent expressed sadness while 3.4 per cent said they feel depressed, with many citing family separation as the cause.

  • 92 per cent of children participate in sports or after-school activities. About 25 per cent are involved in soccer, 35 per cent in swimming, 10 per cent in hockey, football or gymnastics and 30 per cent in other activities.

  • 100 per cent said they plan to become Canadian citizens in the future.

An experienced chef, Alshehadt, the self-proclaimed “shawarma master,” began working on the serving-line at Adonis, a retail grocery chain, shortly after his family moved to Mississauga in the spring of 2016 from temporary shelter at the Toronto Plaza Hotel. He worked part-time while studying English during the day.

When the one-year government financial support ran out, the family was forced to go on social assistance for about a year while Alshehadt continued to work and improve his English as his wife, Iklhas, stayed home to look after their five kids — a boy and four girls, all under 11.

After the stint at Adonis, Alshehadt worked at two restaurants, including one where he helped develop the menu and train its franchised cooking staff. Earlier this year, he quit his English class and began working full-time, recently landing a job as the manager of a shawarma restaurant in Oakville.

“I finished at level-4 in my English. The classes are good for the grammar and basic, but I needed to go out and practise my English through work,” said Alshehadt, who should make just short of $60,000 a year in his new job.

“We are all happy being here. We all feel safe. We come here for our children and we know they will have a future here.”

Alshehadt said his children are enrolled in sports and other after-school programs, interacting with other kids through soccer, dancing and swimming classes. He says the family loves socializing with their non-Syrian neighbours. His wife restarted English classes in September after they found a daycare space for their 18-month-old Canadian-born daughter, Noorseen.

“The Middle East is a very closed society. In Canada, I get to know how big the world is and I love meeting people with different experience. We meet people from other religions and learn from each other. Everyone lives in peace,” explained Alshehadt, whose family attends a mosque in Mississauga.

“This still feels like a dream. I tell my children they have to work hard and give back to Canada. Everything is possible here. Even if they want to become the prime minister, they can.”

While his immediate goal is to help his family and his wife’s family — still living in limbo in the Middle East — be sponsored to Canada, Alshehadt said he hopes to save enough money and one day open a fusion shawarma restaurant as a tribute to Canada.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

Police investigate incidents of alleged assault and sexual assault at St. Michael’s College School

Nov 16, 2018 2:07:25 PM

stmikes st mikes confirms it took a day before contacting police over alleged sex assault video releases timeline of scandal 16 11 2018 gta news thestar dam content  https:

This article contains graphic content.

Officials at St. Michael’s College School took a full day to report a video showing an alleged graphic sexual assault on a student to police, according to a statement and timeline released by the school.

The elite private boys institution on Friday also revealed a “third incident” is being investigated, but did not provide details on what happened. The statement also said eight students have been expelled and one suspended for two separate severe violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

The statement comes after days of confusion about who knew what and when. Late last week, two videos began circulating on social media sites — both of which were viewed by the Star this week.

Police have warned that anyone in possession of the video should delete it immediately because it meets the definition of child pornography.

One 49-second video shows a young boy in his underwear — he appears physically uninjured — placed in a sink by other boys, who splash water on him and slap him. Another 22-second video of a different boy, shows the young teen held down by a group of boys in a locker room while he is sexually assaulted with what appears to be a broomstick.

According to the timeline posted Friday, school officials received the video showing the alleged sexual assault on Monday evening and started their own investigation — but did not notify police, nor hand over the video until Wednesday, after the school completed its internal investigation.

That’s the same day that the allegations about the video went public.

Toronto police say they learned about the video from the media.

In the timeline, school officials say they received the video of the boy in the sink on Monday morning, began an investigation, and notified police the same day.

Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray told the Star Wednesday the local police division was contacted by St. Michael’s College School on Monday about an “incident” — but not one involving the alleged sexual assault video.

Police provided the school with advice on the other incident Monday and “no further information was received.”

“On Wednesday, we were made aware of a completely different incident from the media, and that is the incident we are now investigating,” said Gray, referring to the videotape of the alleged sexual assault, adding no charges have been laid.

The Star reached out to the school’s administration repeatedly for comment on Thursday, but was unsuccessful.

The statement from St Mike’s says the community has been left “shaken and heartbroken” and the primary concern is “the care, safety, and well-being of our students.”

The Grades 7 through 12 school, run by the Basilian Fathers, a Roman Catholic religious order, is famous for its sports programs and prominent alumni including Dave Keon and Tim Horton. Annual tuition costs are about $21,000.

“We are deeply saddened and troubled by the events that have come to light over the past days,” said Father Thomas Rosica, spokesperson for the Basilian Fathers, which runs the prestigious private school.

St. Mike’s timeline of events:

(This timeline has been edited.)

Monday, November 12

• School Administration receives on Monday morning a video of the first incident (boys’ washroom) that severely violates the Student Code of Conduct

• School begins an internal investigation by gathering in information and by interviewing students involved and their parents

• School notifies police about the first incident

• School Administration receives on Monday evening a video of a second incident (locker room) that severely violates the Student Code of Conduct

Tuesday, November 13

• School continues an internal investigation into both incidents, which includes identifying, notifying, and interviewing all students involved and their parents.

• School Administration expels four students related to the first incident (boys’ washroom).

• School Administration informs faculty and staff of both incidents.

Wednesday, November 14

• School Administration continues investigation of the second incident (locker room) by conducting interviews and notifying families involved that police will be contacted by the school.

• School Administration expels four students related to the second incident (locker room).

• School Administration suspends one student related to the first incident.

• Upon completion of its internal investigation, School Administration provides information related to the second incident to police, and gives the second video (locker room) to police.

• School Administration updates faculty, staff, and the student body in an assembly, informing students of police directive to delete related videos in their possession.

• School releases a statement to their community and the media.

• Toronto Police issues a statement announcing that the second incident involves sexual assault allegations.

• School Administration continues to reach out to victims to provide support

Thursday, November 15

• Police inform the school about a security threat and provide uniformed and plainclothes officers as extra security on campus.

• Police respond with standard personnel required for a reported school threat.

• In concert with police, School Administration determines the school is safe for all students.

• Additional crisis counsellors brought in to provide counselling to students, faculty, and staff.

• School Administration and faculty initiate homeroom visits to provide support.

• School Administration continues to reach out to victims to provide support.

• School Administration is made aware of a third incident and notifies police.

• School updates its parent community.

Friday, November 16

• Crisis counsellors and security remain on campus.

• Security presence at the school continues for a second day.

• School Administration to hold two information meetings for parents at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

Ontario Tories open campaign finance loophole that could be exploited

Nov 16, 2018 11:43:20 AM

fedeli ontario tories open back door to union and corporate donations to political parties 16 11 2018 provincial politics thestar dam content  https:

The Progressive Conservatives appear to have flung open a backdoor way for unions and corporation to bankroll political parties with a loosening of campaign finance laws.

In the government’s fall economic statement, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli unveiled changes to election fundraising laws that the previous Liberal government had tightened after a Star probe in 2016.

“There will still be no corporate donations, there will still be no union donations,” Fedeli maintained Thursday.

However, buried deep in the 176-page Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, some loopholes have been reopened — perhaps inadvertently — just two years after they were closed.

Fedeli has repealed a key section of the electoral finance reform bill that forced donors to “certify, in a form approved by the Chief Electoral Officer, that the person has not acted contrary” to the ban on unions or corporations making donations in the name of members or employees.

“It’s a loophole you could drive a Brink’s truck through,” said one veteran Conservative fundraiser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his standing in the party.

A Liberal fundraising expert agreed Friday the change is something that all political parties could exploit.

“If you don’t fill out a disclosure form, then what’s to stop a corporation donating on your behalf?” the Liberal said.

“It was the only thing in the act that required any threshold of activity on behalf of a donor to prove that a corporation wasn’t funnelling money through the backdoor,” the Grit added.

“I honestly don’t believe it was inadvertent — they just thought nobody would notice. What’s the public policy rationale for getting rid of the declaration?”

Premier Doug Ford’s office emphasized that “accepting money from a corporation or union and donating it as an individual would still be illegal,” but filling out the disclosure form was a nuisance.

“We think this requirement creates a barrier to lawful donations by placing an undue burden on contributors. But, it is important to understand that it would remain unlawful to donate funds that are not your own,” said Ford’s office.

“We would merely no longer require people to certify they are acting lawfully.”

The Tories’ changes match existing federal campaign laws.

But in the 2016 legislation, the Liberal government decreed donors would have to certify in writing that they did not donate “funds that do not actually belong to the person; or any funds that have been given or furnished by any person or group of persons or by a corporation or trade union for the purpose of making a contribution.”

Once the changes pass, a union or company could theoretically skirt the ban on making direct contributions by illegally giving members or employees cash that could then be donated.

Fedeli’s reforms will also end the public $2.71 per-vote subsidies for political parties in time for the 2022 election.

The governing Tories currently receive $6.3 million annually while the NDP gets $5.2 million, the Liberals about $3 million and the Greens around $700,000.

“It shouldn’t be a burden on the taxpayer,” the treasurer said Thursday when he also announced donation limits would rise to $1,600 from $1,200 within two years.

As well, all MPPs and staff will again be allowed to attend political fundraising events.

Privately, some Liberals, who had opposed Wynne’s reforms, are delighted that Fedeli is liberalizing campaign-finance laws.

By retaining the annual public subsidy until the next election, the finance minister has given the decimated Grits, who have a $10 million campaign debt, a chance to rebuild.

“The subsidy staying in place is huge for us,” said a senior Liberal, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal party matters.

Fedeli’s bill also raised the threshold of “recognized party” in the legislature to 12 MPPs from the current eight.

The Liberals were reduced to just seven seats — one shy of official party status in the house — in the June 7 election after almost 15 years in power.

Because raising the bar to 12 makes it unlikely the party can qualify for the additional funding and staff before the 2022 election, the Tories have inadvertently made it easier for Wynne, still the MPP for Don Valley West, to step down.

“We hadn’t really thought of that,” confided one senior adviser to Ford, insisting the Tories would prefer the former premier stick around as a living reminder of the previous administration.

Wynne is showing no signs of departing. She is in the house most days and this week introduced her first private member’s bill, on making seatbelts mandatory in school buses.

Robert Benzie is the Star's Queen's Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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St. Michael's reported sexual assault to police on Wednesday, expelled 8 students

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