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Toronto Star

Trump and Biden’s final debate is calmer amid the campaign storm

Oct 22, 2020 11:33:00 PM

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WASHINGTON—“His buddy Rudy Giuliani is being used as a Russian pawn,” Joe Biden said about half an hour into Thursday night’s debate with Donald Trump at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Trump recoiled in apparent shock.

He probably wasn’t the only one. If you had a bet on Biden being the first to bring up the Hunter Biden controversy that Trump and Giuliani have been pushing, you probably made plenty.

But given the opportunity to discuss it, Trump didn’t manage to make the convoluted theory understandable to most viewers not already steeped in it.

“With what came out today, it’s even worse. All of the emails, the emails, the horrible emails, of the kind of money that you were raking in, you and your family,” Trump said. “Somebody just had a news conference a little while ago, who was essentially supposed to work with you and your family. What he said was damning. And regardless of me, I think you have to clean it up and talk to the American people. Maybe you can do it right now,” Trump said, referring to a story that appeared in today’s New York Post and a press conference Trump himself had arranged by a man at the centre of that story. To his most loyal followers, it may have sounded scorching. To those not steeped in right-wing media, it was almost incomprehensible.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source in my life. Not a single penny,” Biden said, before turning the accusation about foreign business entanglements on Trump. Biden said 22 years of his tax returns were available for those who want to scrutinize his finances. “Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption,” he told the president.

In advance of the debate, many Republican allies and advisers of the president were saying he needed to appear calm and presidential (after his recent “crazy uncle” appearances at the first debate and his Town Hall), and zoom in like a laser on economic issues that persuadable voters outside his base care about. “None of his advisers expressed any great confidence he would do that,” deadpanned an Axios writer summarizing the insider talk.

Trump did seem to have taken the advice to avoid interruptions, and appeared mostly calmer — scowling and sometimes taking an annoyed tone but never flying off the handle. Biden smiled more while the moderator spoke, but did get worked up at points — peppering his remarks with his trademark “c’mon!” like he was seasoning a soup.

President Trump clearly wanted to bring the complicated allegations about Biden’s son Hunter that he and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani have been pushing for more than a year to the forefront of the race. The allegations have been revived by reporting by the New York Post (based on the allegedly stolen contents of an alleged computer allegedly owned by Hunter Biden) in recent days that other media outlets have found questionable, but Trump and his campaign suggest it’s a smoking gun that should have Biden put in jail.

On a campaign media call before the debate, one of Trump’s advisers refused to discuss any topic other than Hunter Biden with reporters. Trump brought to the debate as his guest Tony Bobulinski, a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s who has endorsed the validity of some emails at the heart of the New York Post reporting, and who was at the press conference Trump referenced. Trump has been crying wolf about Hunter Biden for more than a year — he wants the townsfolk finally come running in the week before the election.

The two men bickered back and forth about it — accusing each other of corruption, with references to Trump’s own foreign businesses and his hotels where foreign governments book stays while lobbying the government — but not a lot of clarity was brought to the question, other than Biden’s firm denials.

Biden obviously wanted to keep the focus on COVID, an area where a strong majority of Americans think Trump’s mismanagement has been significant.

“220,000 dead,” Biden said in his first words of the debate. “If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this ... anybody who’s responsible for that many American deaths should not remain president.”

Trump said that in the face of a “worldwide problem,” he had done well. “It will go away, and as I say, we’re rounding the turn.” 1,208 Americans died of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and more than 64,000 new cases were diagnosed. Trump said a vaccine would be available in “weeks,” but said he could not guarantee it when questioned by moderator NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker. “We have to recover. We can’t close up our nation or we’re not going to have a nation,” Trump said in what might be one of the most straightforward phrasings of his position he has put forward.

Biden was asked about the possibility of more shutdowns, and Americans who fear the effect on the economy. “I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country,” Biden said.

A producer at the debate had a mute button to employ against the candidates if they attempted to interrupt each other, but it appeared to have gone unused in a 90-minute session that, if nothing else, was far more civil and comprehensible than the the candidates’ previous meeting.

The election is less than two weeks away, and more than 47 million people have already voted — more than a third of the total number who voted in total in 2016. Even in the best circumstances, it’s not clear that many minds are changed by debates, and in 2020s odd and crisis-plagued campaign, only a tiny percentage of voters tell pollsters they remain undecided. But for Trump, who trails in polls, it remained his last obvious chance to call voters over to his side.

Trump said Biden would introduce socialized medicine because of the influence of his party and his running mate Kamala Harris.

“He thinks he’s running against somebody else. He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all those other people because I disagreed with them,” Biden said, countering that he wanted only a public option for those without insurance. “The idea that Donald Trump is lecturing me on social security and medicare? C’mon,” Biden said.

Trump repeatedly said that Biden’s economic policies would lead to a disastrous recession. “ If he’s elected, the stock market will crash. Okay. Very quickly,” Trump said.

“The idea that the stock market is booming is the only measure for him of what’s happeing,” Biden responded. “Where I come from, the people of Scranton don’t live on the stock market.”

Trump may have scored points in their exchange on clean energy. While the president scoffed at the cost of environmental controls and dismissed energy sources such as windmills, he accused Biden of being against the oil industy and planning to ban fracking. When Biden flatly denied a plan to ban fracking, Trump had another question. “Would you close down the oil industry?”

“I’d transition from the oil indsutry, yes,” Biden said.

“Oh, transition from the oil industry. That’s a big statement,” Trump said excitedly, clearly picturing clipping the response for ads in states where the oil industry employs a lot of people.

Perhaps the most stark exchange came over the recent news that more than 500 children who were separated from their parents at the border in 2017 by the Trump administration remain orphaned because their deported parents cannot be found by government lawyers. Trump first tried to discuss the “cages” that had existed under Obama, and other prior administration immigration policies. When pushed on the question, Trump tried to suggest some of the children may have been brought in by “coyote” smugglers.

“They didn’t come with coyotes, they came with their parents. They were ripped from their parent’s arms,” Biden said. “It’s a violation of everything we stand for as a country.”

Trump talked of visiting the children in custody. “They are so well taken care of, the facilities are so clean,” he said.

Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: ekeenan@thestar.ca

Toronto police announce ‘neighbourhood teams’ in new gun violence plan, conceding years of major gang sweeps have been ineffective

Oct 22, 2020 6:41:00 PM

1 shooting file toronto police announce neighbourhood teams in new gun violence plan conceding years of major gang sweeps have been ineffective 22 10 2020 gta news thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

Toronto police say they plan to tackle the insidious and growing problem of gun and gang violence with new “neighbourhood teams” that link community members with dedicated officers, and a narrower focus on the worst offenders.

“This is a fundamental change in the way we’re doing policing,” interim chief Jim Ramer told the Toronto Police Services Board meeting Thursday. “We’re not doing things to communities; we’re building relationships with those communities, we’re building trust, we’re building confidence and we’re mobilizing resources.”

On the enforcement side, he said, that means being more precise “to make sure we’re attacking, or enforcing, those small elements that are causing all the problems.”

Within hours of the announcement, that new direction had already received a thumbs-down from two criminologists, who called it a “smokescreen for punitive policing and crime control strategies.”

The blueprint for what the service is calling “Project Engage” is based on input gathered from 30 gang prevention town halls held in Toronto’s “lowest equitable and gang impacted neighbourhoods,” led by Det. Const. Ron Chhinzer of the force’s Integrated Gang Prevention Task Force. The meetings were conducted between September 2019 and March 5 this year, with the final two sessions in Black Creek and Weston—Pellam Park cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A report summarizing the findings was also tabled at Thursday’s virtual board meeting.

During the town halls conducted by Chhinzer, the officer acknowledged that the service’s longtime strategy of conducting major gang projects, often resulting in dozens of arrests in a single day, has done little to curb growing gang violence.

In the past two decades, tens of millions of dollars have been spent on massive gang sweeps with names such as Project Impact, Project Kronic and Project Corral. These investigations have involved wiretapping and surveillance on suspected gang members, and the mass execution of search warrants on highly publicized takedown days.

Over the years, community activists and defence lawyers have criticized these crackdowns for casting too wide a net, scooping up tangential players — or family members — of gang-involved youth, exacerbating community tensions with police and providing only short-term solutions to the violence plaguing neighbourhoods.

At the town halls, Chhinzer noted that gang members have a high recidivism rate, with 68 per cent reoffending after they’ve served their sentences.

On Thursday, Chhinzer appeared at the board meeting with police brass, and in a pre-recorded video outlining the plan’s five “core” strategies of community mobilization, opportunities, social intervention, suppression and organizational change and development.

In a polished presentation, Chhinzer told the board members, including Mayor John Tory, that recruiting is already underway to establish 12 new neighbourhood teams that, according to the www.Engage416.ca website, will each include 10 civilian participants from a variety of backgrounds, along with five police officers.

Non-law-enforcement participants will include outreach workers, representatives from grassroots agencies, social services, schools, faith-based organizations, social housing, local businesses and community members, he said. According to the website, the teams will hold regular meetings and develop “community involvement strategies.”

Chhinzer called it a complete “wraparound approach” that will involve “going right to gang members and their families,” though he provided no specifics on how that would unfold.

“This won’t have a quick fix. This is going to take some time. But we have boots to the ground … now as we speak,” he said.

Also at the town halls, Chhinzer said Project Engage was initiated by Ramer, who, three years ago as deputy chief, came to the Toronto police guns and gangs unit and acknowledged that the major gang projects have been ineffective. “In fact, it’s getting worse,” Chhinzer said at one town hall last year, quoting Ramer. Neither Chhinzer nor Ramer responded to the Star’s interview requests Thursday.

Asked for their assessment, criminologists Adam Ellis and Anthony Gunter wrote in an email that the Toronto police plan appears to be based on a U.S. model that hasn’t proved to be effective.

“The U.S. has used this model for a long time however there continues to be issues with street violence and a breakdown in police/community relations,” they wrote.

A better response would be a strategy that isn’t led by state authorities “who have historically harmed and traumatized these communities,” they added. “Such strategies should be bottom-up and more about developing and transforming communities instead of focusing on group/individual behaviours.”

Ellis is a criminologist at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies; Gunter is a criminologist with the U.K.’s Open University.

Seated at the table with Chhinzer and Ramer at Thursday’s board meeting was American documentary filmmaker Rico King, who described how he helped broker peace among gang members in Baltimore and Houston.

Asked by a board member what advice he has for Toronto, King said he learned a lot “from hardcore individuals — who don’t have a voice (but have) some of the best solutions. Without this point of view, I think it’s going to be hard to tackle this situation.”

Louis March, the founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement, who made a deputation at the board meeting, praised Chhinzer for listening during the town halls, and said he is correct that there has to be a “collaborative” approach focused on “prevention and intervention.”

But he added a note of skepticism, saying that what police have done is “problem assessment,” when the problems have been identified long ago, and have only grown worse today because of the brazenness of gang crime, the young age of shooters, the influence of social media and access to guns.

“What do we do with the information gathered, that he has gathered? Does it become another report? Does it sit down on another shelf?”

Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy

‘It’s a racist system’: Some couples say Canada’s visa system is cruelly extending their COVID-19 separations

Oct 22, 2020 8:27:00 PM

1 kaitlyn hebb alaa ali and enzo its a racist system some couples say canadas visa system is cruelly extending their covid 19 separations 22 10 2020 canada news thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

Still in pain after delivering her first child, Kaitlyn Hebb asked her mother in the birthing room to video-call her husband in Egypt, so he could meet their newborn son.

It’s the closest the new mother from Bridgewater, N.S., could come to sharing the moment with Alaa Ali, who has been kept out of Canada while waiting for his stalled spousal sponsorship application to be processed in the middle of a pandemic.

“Alaa is never going to get this moment back. He’s never going to be in pictures. He couldn’t be here to help me. He couldn’t be here to hold our baby. I felt guilty,” said Hebb, a registered nurse, who married Ali in 2018 after the couple met online two years earlier.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a practice entrenched in Canada’s immigration system that critics say is discriminatory against some travellers — the majority of whom are from the developing world — who need a valid visa to come into this country.

Due to COVID-19, Ottawa has imposed tight border restrictions against foreign nationals. But two weeks ago, it relaxed the measures to let in unmarried but committed partners of Canadians, as well as international students and those with a dying family member here.

However, one is out of luck if the foreign partner, even married, as Ali is to Hebb, is from a country that needs a visa — a barrier that travellers from visa-exempted countries don’t face.

“Alaa is being discriminated against because of the country he’s from,” said Hebb, whose husband was refused a visitor visa and has yet to hold their now-six-month-old son, Enzo.

“People are saying, ‘It’s like that for everyone. It’s the pandemic. Wait your turn and we need to keep people safe.’ But they don’t realize it has been that way before the pandemic.”

Advocates say couples’ married status can actually work against their chances of getting a visitor visa.

Chantal Dube is a spokesperson for Spousal Sponsorship Advocates, a 5,000-member advocacy group that has been lobbying for family reunifications during COVID-19. She said officials almost always refuse to grant a visitor’s visa if they don’t believe that the applicant’s stay in Canada will be temporary. Those being sponsored by their Canadian spouses are viewed to have the intent to overstay, she said.

The majority of the advocacy group’s members have a spouse from a visa-required country. A survey it conducted in September found only five per cent — or 29 of the 553 respondents — have had their foreign spouses’ visitor visas approved.

“As we are watching all these other spouses and partners and extended family members being granted permission to come to Canada, we have members of our group who can’t even come for the birth of their children. It’s very difficult to wrap our head around it,” said Dube.

“How’s that fair and compassionate? That’s a misstep for our government. It’s important to investigate a possibility of systemic discrimination going on.”

Dube is from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and her husband, Arvind Singh Grewal, is from India. With their spousal sponsorship application in the system since last October, he has not applied for a visitor visa, for just this reason.

“Why would we put our spousal sponsorship applications at risk by overstepping the boundaries of the time limit put on the temporary visas?” asked Dube, whose members will stage a national virtual protest Saturday.

Opposition NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said officials often “robotically” refuse applicants, citing their lack of travel history and assets in their home country.

“We have dealt with cases where people are still rejected on this ground even if they have had travel history without incident,” Kwan said.

“It’s as if the travel history for individuals in developing countries is somehow less valid than those in developed countries. It is as if there is some unspoken rule that the standards to obtain a travel visa for those from developing countries are much higher.”

Deanna McConnell of Perth, Ont., said her Haitian husband, Jean Bernard Valeus, has had his visitor visa applications refused twice because immigration officials were not convinced he would leave Canada after his stay.

That was on top of a refusal of their first spousal sponsorship in 2018 because officials didn’t believe it was a genuine marriage. A new sponsorship application was submitted in February 2019 and a decision is pending.

“Our lives are on hold with no recourse. On Feb. 14, 2021, we will be married for four years. That is less than three months away. We are at the mercy of the system,” said McConnell, who met Valeus while visiting her cousin in Haiti in 2011.

“Why is this so difficult?”

Joelle Bruneau of Val-David, Que., was so sick and tired of the separation from her husband, Erick Pineda in Honduras, that she and their 20-month-old daughter, Estrella, flew down to see him as soon as his country’s border reopened in August.

He has twice been refused a visitor visa during Bruneau’s pregnancy and twice after the girl’s birth. Meanwhile, Bruneau said the parents of her friend were allowed to visit Canada from France during the pandemic.

“This is totally unfair. It’s a racist system we live in. All the people from privileged systems can come and enjoy their time with their families. Erick is from a developing country. The process is so much harder for him,” said Bruneau, who met Pineda while vacationing in 2018.

“All the moments Canada Immigration has stolen from us, we will never have it back,” added Bruneau, whose spousal sponsorship has been in the queue since January 2019.

In response to a growing immigration backlog, the federal government in September announced a plan to assign 66 per cent more staff to process spousal sponsorship applications. It aims to accelerate, prioritize and finalize some 6,000 applications each month from October until December.

“We understand that the last few months have not been easy for those who are far from their loved ones in these difficult times. This is why we are accelerating the approval of spousal applications as much as possible,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

Spousal Sponsorship Advocates says it’s great to see the government invest in addressing the backlog but what their members immediately need is a visitor visa for their loved ones to be with them in Canada now.

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

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