Nine protesters were killed in the capital Baghdad and three others in the southern city of Nasiriyah, about 350 km south of Baghdad, according to the statement.
More than 600 people have been killed in anti-government demonstrations that started in October, according to the IHCHR and Amnesty International.
Dozens of Iraqi security forces used live ammunition and tear gas as they worked to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters in al-Khalani Square, Baghdad, on Saturday, according to activists in the area.
Activists said the aggressive move came after Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced in a statement Friday night that he would no longer support anti-government protesters.
Hours later, hundreds of his followers left Tahrir Square in response to his statement.
Activists said security forces clashed with hundreds of protesters in the southern city of Basra after they tore down dozens of their sit-in tents. Hundreds of protesters in both Basra and Baghdad were dispersed on Saturday, and six protesters were wounded in Basra, according to activists there.
Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and Basra did not respond to CNN’s phone calls and requests regarding incidents in Baghdad and Basra.
“Unaccountability and indecisiveness are unworthy of Iraqi hopes, courageously expressed for four months now,” UN Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, tweeted Saturday.
“While death and injury tolls continue to rise, steps taken so far will remain hollow if not completed. The people must be served and protected, not violently oppressed,” she said.
Mohammed Tawfeeq reported from Baghdad, Raja Razek wrote from Atlanta.
Dilly Hussain, the deputy editor of Muslim news website 5 Pillars, was the first speaker of MRU’s weeklong series.
Hussain said he has seen a rise in Islamophobia in Europe and the United States, and hopes more people start having tough conversations about religious differences.
“If there is a growing sentiment among non-Muslims in the Western world that Muslims believe in x, y and z or they find certain rituals or beliefs problematic or in contradiction with secular liberal values, then we need to have that conversation,” said Hussain.
HONG KONG — May peered down into the dark hole. The glow of her friends’ headlamps revealed a hint of filthy gray water, but not all the shit or cockroaches swimming within. Beneath May’s feet was Hong Kong’s labyrinth system of drainage and sewer pipes — and her best chance to escape the university campus where she had been trapped by police.
May is 21 and in college, although her slight frame and wide eyes could make you think she’s still a teen. The battle at the university was the toughest and longest one that May had ever fought, even after spending months on the front lines. At night she could still hear the pop of rubber bullets and the screams of protesters who had been caught by police when she tried to sleep.
Hong Kong has been engulfed in protests for nearly six months — they were at first over a controversial extradition bill that’s since been rescinded, but soon evolved into calls for greater police accountability and full democracy. Over time, the demonstrations have shifted from mass marches to running street battles. But after a strike on November 11 plunged the city into chaos, universities across Hong Kong unexpectedly became the central battleground, ultimately culminating in a 12-day-long police siege on the grounds of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
BuzzFeed News spent two weeks on campuses and in the streets talking to dozens of students, people on the front line, and medics to tell the story of how the battle at the university became one of the darkest chapters in the protracted fight for democracy in Hong Kong. As students used the swimming pool to practice tossing Molotov cocktails or learned to shoot bows and arrows, police surrounded them and threatened to use lethal force — signaling a fight that has only grown more entrenched between pro-democracy protesters and a government that remains loyal to Beijing.
Before the two-week siege was officially over, Hong Kong would vote in a slew of pro-democracy district councilors, widely seen as a referendum in support of the ongoing protests. And US President Donald Trump would sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which allows the US to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials for human rights violations. Beijing was furious and would respond with its own sanctions; but in the meantime, residents drank champagne in the streets to celebrate these rare victories.
But while those events unfolded, some students remained trapped at Polytechnic University, growing increasingly desperate as police officers refused to release their grip on the campus.
Eventually, May and her friends decided they couldn’t wait any longer. Facing a possible 10-year prison sentence for rioting if she were to surrender to the police, she slowly lowered herself into the sewer system. Using a compass and headlamp to guide her, May crawled through the opening on her stomach, wearing a gas mask to filter the smell.
There are more than 150,000 maintenance hole covers across Hong Kong; as she crawled, May realized there were multiple different tunnels she could take.
Even with the aid of maps, she wasn’t sure where she might pop up — or if she would get out of the sewers at all.
It started with the death of a student.
In the early hours of November 4, Alex Chow fell from a parking garage as police were firing tear gas to clear protesters from the area. A few days later, the 22-year-old died from a brain injury sustained in the fall. Across the city, people held vigils to mourn the loss. Protest chants called for revenge.
Over Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, protesters organized a strike that week to shut down the city, voting in polls to decide the day and the time. They asked residents to stay home from school and work, calling it the “dawn action.”
In a residential neighborhood of the city called Sha Tin, 20-year-old Lee woke up around 3 a.m. on the Monday of the strike — one week after Chow’s fall. Dressed in all black, the standard uniform of protesters, she pulled her hair into a low ponytail that revealed a few delicate ear piercings and headed out of her dorm at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). In the dark, she and other students began gathering materials and headed toward the sprawling eight-lane highway that hugs one side of the campus. The rest of the university is carved into the side of a mountain, and the hilly terrain and leafy trails make it a natural fortress.
Together, Lee and her group dragged items like bricks, cardboard boxes, and bikes to block Tolo Highway — a critical thoroughfare that commuters use to travel to Hong Kong Island, where the city’s main business district is located. Others set fire to the tracks at a nearby subway station to stop people commuting to work. It was one of a number of strategic locations where protesters had planned operations to paralyze the city.
“The original aim was to block the road and block the trains, not to fight with police,” said Lee. BuzzFeed News is only identifying protesters by their first names or English nicknames because of widespread fear of arrest.
Across the city, the strike had already led to early morning clashes. Hong Kong was waking up to videos of police officers shooting protesters with live bullets, including one man who was struck in the abdomen around 7 a.m., as well as a police motorcyclist weaving among protesters, trying to hit them.
Police arrived outside CUHK, that morning too, where students were still working on blocking the road. Before 8 a.m., officers started firing pellets filled with pepper spray, or pepper balls, at students on a bridge that crosses the highway. Known simply as “bridge two,” it is one of four main entrances to the university.
Station, where protesters set fires
of Hong Kong
carts of bricks, made
Molotov cocktails, and stacked classroom chairs for barricades here
Tear gas was also fired
onto Sir Philip Haddon-Cave
Where many clashes occurred and tear gas was fired
Where the police vans were parked
BuzzFeed News; Google Earth
Lee was nearby when police officers first fired and threw back some bricks, but she wasn’t prepared for a confrontation with police. There wasn’t a standoff or a large crowd to disperse that typically draws police fire. And universities hadn’t seen any clashes before. Lee had none of her protective gear, such as goggles or a gas mask, with her that morning.
“No one really expected that they would attack the university,” said Jane, a 23-year-old student at CUHK.
About six miles south of CUHK, Polytechnic University students were also trying to block the tunnel that connects the Kowloon side of Hong Kong to Hong Kong Island. Police officers entered the campus and fired tear gas after protesters threw Molotov cocktails. And police officers used tear gas at the University of Hong Kong that morning too, where students were also blocking roads.
While months of protests had brought clashes to the airport, malls, and subway stations, November 11 was the first time tear gas had been fired at universities — three campuses were hit in one day, and 11 colleges had canceled classes.
Without anything to protect themselves, Lee and her group at CUHK left to gear up. The police, however, didn’t move. They had departed the University of Hong Kong and Polytechnic University that morning, but police vans remained parked at the base of bridge two at CUHK. A row of riot police officers formed a perimeter at the top of the bridge and were positioned firmly at the entrance of the school. The cordon was meant to block students from throwing things onto the highway, they said.
Word spread around campus about the police presence, and students started gathering nearby behind makeshift barriers of umbrellas and track-and-field hurdles.
“It got more and more tense because the police were still there and students kept gathering,” said Lee.
Bricks, Molotovs, and tear gas flew from all angles as students battled with police at the intersection of the CUHK bridge and the main campus road on Tuesday afternoon. Police had continued to occupy the bridge overnight. A university official had tried to persuade students to retreat, but this had only inflamed tensions further.
“Why do we need to retreat? This is still our place, our home,” Lee recalled thinking. Instead, students pushed their barriers forward toward the line of riot police.
After about a half hour, police charged forward through the protesters’ front line and wrestled students to the ground, making several arrests. One student was led away, his hair slick with blood that trickled down his face. Others ran into the athletics stadium, locking the gates to protect themselves. They dragged high jump mats to the gates and set them ablaze. Dozens of police officers, pushing deeper into the campus, continued to pursue the students, arcing their tear gas canisters onto the track and sending students running up the bleachers.
Police eventually retreated back to the bridge while protesters took refuge up the road. But they took little pause and methodically prepared to defend their campus. Some smashed bricks into smaller pieces using shot puts from the athletic field, poured paint thinner into bottles to build a supply of Molotov cocktails, or brought down chairs from classrooms to build bigger barricades.
Jane, the 23-year-old university student, said she tried to help by building other roadblocks nearby with a group of protesters.
“In terms of weapons, we’re never going to win. So the only thing we could think of was to divert or distract them,” she said.
In the afternoon, the head of CUHK, Rocky Tuan, tried to negotiate directly with police officers who remained stationed at the bridge. But when he returned to speak to students, the compromise he offered did little to soothe things. Tuan said the police would retreat to the bottom of the bridge if students stopped throwing things onto the highway.
Many felt betrayed and angry — ultimately police had only agreed to move back about 20 yards.
“Where were you for the last two days?” someone shouted at Tuan as students huddled around him. “Could you promise that no more tear gas or rubber bullets will be fired inside campus?” another asked pointedly. One student hugged his knees to his chest and started heaving with sobs when it was clear that police weren’t leaving campus.
“The police shouldn’t be in the university. They broke into our place and arrested our people,” said one resolute student at the front lines. “If the police don’t leave the bridge, then we are not leaving.”
Fighting broke out once more that night as students spent hours trying to force the police to retreat from the bridge, lighting their way with endless volleys of Molotov cocktails. They blocked the road to the school with dumpsters and plastic barriers, setting them ablaze to keep police from rushing campus as they had earlier. Flames licked tree branches and police shields as students launched more and more Molotovs from behind umbrellas. Even in battle, someone managed to keep a black protest flag flying.
This night was different than the street battles that had become routine in the last five months. While the strategy had long been “be like water” — disappearing and reemerging in different parts of the city to keep police on their toes and avoid arrest — this was now a fixed battle centered on a narrow corridor of the bridge to campus — just the width of a couple of vehicles.
As the crush of bodies pressed forward on the bridge, protesters were also turned into easy targets for the police officers who fired round after round of rubber bullets and bean bags in rapid succession.
“It was so dangerous because it was so packed,” said Samuel, a first aid volunteer and a high school student studying pharmacy who had come to help out. “They’d get hit and then we had to go in and drag them out.”
Police fired more than 2,300 rounds of tear gas that day, according to a government report. This amounted to around a quarter of all the tear gas rounds fired since the protests began in June, and the most tear gas that had been fired in a single day — much of it was on CUHK’s bridge. The clouds of smoke became so thick that protesters used leaf blowers to try to clear the air. First aid volunteers said they had to carry people affected by the smoke as far as a mile away before they could find relief.
“It was obvious there was a very violent and major confrontation going because we were seeing lots of injuries,” said Darren Mann, a surgeon in Hong Kong who showed up to help after a call for doctors went out on Telegram. The school gym turned into a makeshift triage center. Mann quickly listed off the bashes, burns, bruising, and bleeding that he treated throughout the night.
“These are the wounds of war. They’re the same everywhere,” he said.
Dramatic images of smoke and raging fires on the bridge haunted Justin, a high school student and frequent frontliner who was watching the livestream from his phone. When he couldn’t sleep, he showed up at the university around 3 a.m. and headed straight to the bridge to help out. Justin was one of hundreds who started arriving at the campus throughout the day as word of the clashes spread. While it was centered on a campus, it was bigger than just the students.
“It wasn’t about defending the school, it was about defending the fight. If we don’t protect the people who are protesting on campus, it means we don’t care about them,” said Justin.
Police had already retreated by then, but hundreds of protesters didn’t move from the bridge that night. Some nodded off with their cheeks against their knees or against another’s shoulders, while others, like Justin, kept watch for police and remained alert.
No one knew when the police might return.
On Wednesday morning, some students were still curled under silver thermal blankets, sleeping in the gym. Two girls poured hot water at the front desk into cups of instant noodles for people who were hungry. Some showered in the basement locker rooms. There were piles of fresh clothes, organized by size, for people who had grown cold or gotten wet from the water cannon.
Supplies continued to pour into the school. Buses pulled in filled with bags of hot meals, clothes, and more equipment, such as fresh gas mask filters. People across Hong Kong were pitching in to help. More showed up in support — to sweep away debris, pick up garbage from the night before, or just act as an extra body in case police returned.
“The point is we like this area, this place. This is our home. We want to protect our home,” said John, a 22-year-old student who was helping pick up garbage.
The campus was calmer, but everyone was on guard to see if the police would come back. The president of the CUHK student union, Jacky So, filed an injunction with the high court, hoping to keep riot police off the campus permanently. It requested that police not enter the university and refrain from using crowd-control equipment.
Classes were already canceled; but by the end of the day, the rest of the semester would be canceled too, only underscoring how the protests had dismantled some of the routines of normal life. Still, at some moments, Jane and other CUHK students were like any other college kids; they confessed they were happy about having no class as they hung out in the grass outside their dorm on Wednesday. “I was supposed to have a presentation today,” said Jane.
“I had three essays due this week!” her friend broke in. “It’s impossible to concentrate when all of this is going on anyway,” she added.
Hong Kong police condemned protesters’ actions in a press conference, saying the university had become “a breeding ground for rioters and criminals.” Police officers had “strong suspicions that the school was turned into a weapons factory as several hundred petrol bombs were fired in one single day.”
Many protesters are insistent that their actions have become more aggressive only in response to the police, and the government’s inaction on their demands. For months, several of the protesters’ demands have revolved around increased police accountability, calling for dropping riot charges, releasing arrested protesters, as well as an independent inquiry into police violence.
“I do throw cocktails, but the purpose is not to hurt the cops. It’s to stop their attacks. It’s a defensive weapon.” said Justin, the high school student who showed up to CUHK. In the protests, frontliners often divvy up roles. The Molotovs are referred to as “magic,” and people like Justin who throw them are known as “magicians.”
The high court agreed with police that officers had reason to enter the campus by force, considering the violent clashes at the bridge, and rejected the injunction.
Lots of students stuck around campus, preparing for another police advance, but officers didn’t return to CUHK.
By now, though, the entire city was shocked by how authorities had advanced on the university in one of the most brutal nights of the protests so far. There were at least 100 injuries. Other schools, like the University of Hong Kong, Polytechnic University, and Baptist University, began making their own preparations — building barriers and stocking supplies — in case police tried to advance on their campuses as well.
Justin spent a few days at CUHK, mostly keeping watch for police, and then headed to Polytechnic on Friday as the number of protesters there continued to grow. His father had already cut off his monthly allowance and canceled his phone plan because of his participation in the unrest. The 19-year-old is supposed to begin his first year at university next year, but is unsure he’ll do well on his exams after missing so much school due to the protests. Higher education seems less important than continuing his fight at the front lines, anyway.
“Hong Kong is a big deal right now with everything happening,” he said. “I don’t think I should quit yet.”
Inside Polytechnic University, tucked into the dense Kowloon neighborhood, students gathered up bows and arrows they had found among the campus’s archery equipment. Justin learned how to shoot in one of the classrooms that had been converted into a practice range. Protesters began dismantling the spokes inside umbrellas and stockpiling them to use as extra arrows. The school’s drained swimming pool had also become a place to practice tossing Molotov cocktails; the repeated explosions of glass and fire have left black marks on the bottom of the pool. Inside the canteen, a cook prepared meals, and there were piles of dry food and snacks.
“There was gas masks — everything you need. Even Calvin Klein underwear,” said Justin.
Polytechnic University was more vulnerable than CUHK. Students had the cover of the campus’s mountainous terrain at CUHK, which could provide potential escape routes. But Polytechnic was in the middle of a dense urban neighborhood on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. The campus was flat, and its buildings were arranged in rows. There were only a few exits.
When police started firing tear gas early on Sunday, November 17, Justin, who had already been at Polytechnic for a couple of days, was on the ground floor of a school building, tossing Molotov cocktails at authorities just a few yards away.
Protesters at Polytechnic had prepared for this. The street outside the school was filled with nails to puncture the tires of vehicles that got too close. And on the second floor of one of the front buildings, protesters had fashioned makeshift catapults from plastic helmets and thick resistance bands sourced from the university gym to launch bricks and Molotov cocktails over the school’s gates.
Justin had missed the battle on the bridge at CUHK, but after months of working as a frontliner, the unrelenting hourslong clash with police at Polytechnic became the most intense battle he had ever seen.
May, the 21-year-old student, arrived around noon that day and worked as a firefighter on the front lines, grabbing the canisters of tear gas fired by police and throwing them back or dousing them with water.
More continued to join the front lines as clashes continued throughout the day. Isaac, a student at Polytechnic, arrived in the afternoon. Tall and lanky with hair that flopped over the front of his glasses, he had shown up with a friend.
“I had wanted to go to CUHK, but we couldn’t get there,” he said. “So my partner and I, we just went to the front lines and helped defend the school from the police.”
As the night wore on, and there was little sign that either side would stop. Police announced in a message on its Facebook page that anyone leaving the school could face rioting charges, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Police officers said they would use lethal force in response to violence if necessary.
The police warnings ricocheted across social media, though they did little to discourage the protesters. Mann, the doctor who was also at CUHK, and some of his colleagues decided to leave the Polytechnic campus and head to the hospitals where they could still assist with the mounting injuries.
“It was a difficult decision because medics never like to leave,” he said. “But we agreed among ourselves it was pointless in us all getting arrested because that would only impact care.”
Mann passed the police cordon with one group of colleagues around 10 p.m. when he thought it was still safe to leave. But a second group of medical professionals, not far behind him, was detained by police. His phone started ringing. When he walked back to see what happened, he saw his colleagues kneeling on the ground wearing their high-visibility vests marked “doctor” or “nurse,” their hands zip-tied behind their backs.
Officers later said they were justified in making the arrests because they suspected protesters were posing as medical professionals or journalists.
“It is unheard of for them to be arrested while delivering medical care,” said Mann, dismissing the police’s explanation. He wrote for the Lancet in November about how the Hong Kong Police Force had violated international norms.
Inside Polytechnic, as the battles continued, May watched one of her friends get hit in the head with a tear gas canister and fall to the ground. Without thinking, she put her right hand on the canister, burning herself. A first aid responder wrapped it, and she quickly returned to the battle.
Parking gargage from which Isaac escaped through the sewer
First aid, canteen with food, sleeping arrangements
Tunnel Toll Plaza
Protesters set fires at this entrance
Protesters set fires at this entrance and clashed with police
BuzzFeed News; Google Earth
“I could only rest for a few minutes,” she said. “I kept seeing people shot by police. They just fell down. I didn’t know whether they were dead or not.”
After more than 20 hours of battle, police burst onto the campus around 6 a.m. on Monday — now an entire week after police first occupied the bridge at CUHK. They started to grab students from the bottom of the stairs at the main entrance to the school. In an effort to prevent arrests, protesters started tossing yet more Molotov cocktails at the top of the entrance; a massive blaze erupted, crackling and feeding off the chemicals, chairs, metal railings, and pieces of cardboard. Another huge fire raged at the bridge near the front of campus.
As the school was still enveloped by the night’s darkness, there were screams, and the quick slaps of people’s feet running in panic. Some were crying in fear as the blazes created a disorienting, thick black smoke and intense heat without a safe exit on campus. A few protesters screamed at people trying to put out the blazes. It was still a strong defense against police, but now they were all trapped.
Isaac got crushed in a corridor outside one of the front buildings as he and others tried to escape both the fire and police. Even through his mask, his eyes blurred with tears.
“We didn’t know what was happening. The air was so cloudy. We couldn’t see anything,” he said. “I couldn’t even move a little. Everyone was so close to each other.”
He and others finally broke through the glass doors of the building to escape, and ran up to hide on higher floors. May also retreated from the main entrance once the fire broke out, finally falling asleep outside after 18 hours of dousing tear gas canisters. Justin stuck around and continued to shoot arrows and throw Molotovs, charged by adrenaline.
As others were panicking and trying to run off campus or jump from the bridge, Justin said, he tried to remain calm and counsel others to stay since so many police officers were still surrounding the school.
“This is one of the tactics of police. They just want you to lose your mind,” he said.
Just hours after the police stormed Polytechnic on Monday morning, a young woman knelt to the ground blocks away from campus, her hands clasped in prayer.
“I’m so scared and mad,” the 24-year-old said when she stood up, as tears fell down her cheeks onto a face mask. “I am praying to God for our students.”
Crowds had gathered around the school in response to the police siege as images and videos of the surreal scenes on campus spread quickly. Many people were visibly shaken. The police cordon blocked even press and medics from entering initially.
By midday, protesters began digging up bricks and dismantling bamboo scaffolding to build elaborate barricades in the streets. “Save Poly” was scrawled in black spray paint on a street sign near the school. More riot police officers were dispatched to respond to protesters around the school.
“We’re trying to protect the students,” said Robin, a 24-year-old college student, as others worked around him. “If police come to us, then it will take attention away from the students and they can get free.”
Like others, he had remained glued to his phone the night before.
“I couldn’t sleep at all last night, so I just came out, because I couldn’t just sit around anymore,” he said.
Police responded to disperse the crowds and clashes broke out throughout the day on Chatham Road and Nathan Road, two major streets that lead to the school.
Even with a steady supply of Molotovs, the imbalance was obvious as riot police drove an armored car up and down Chatham Road with an officer firing rounds of rubber bullets and tear gas from the top of the vehicle. A water cannon rolled alongside the car, firing heavy blasts of chemical-laced water at the crowd.
By the evening, just a few streets over from the clashes, a couple hundred people tried a different technique, staging a sit-in at the police cordon, hoping for some sign that the students inside were okay. They held signs up that said “save our students” in both English and Cantonese.
A mother and son sat close to the cordon as they waited to hear from Moses, a 16-year-old high school student who had left for Polytechnic University on Saturday. “He had school on Monday, so I told him to bring his homework,” his mother told BuzzFeed News. “He’s not a radical. He’s a kid.”
A pastor also attempted to speak with the riot police officers behind the orange tape and negotiate access to at least check on the humanitarian situation of the students. Later, dozens of social workers held up their registration cards in an attempt to gain access. But police stood stone-faced and didn’t move.
Thousands more continued to fill the streets around Polytechnic University on Monday night. As they marched toward police cordons, they chanted “Save Poly.” Protesters formed long chains to bring supplies to the front lines in an attempt to break the police’s perimeter of the university.
But at every entrance, police beat back the crowds. They fired tear gas, water cannons, and flash grenades, which exploded in large, disorienting bursts of sound and light. On Nathan Road, more live rounds were fired late into the night to warn people away.
Despite the swell of people who filled the streets trying to help, no one made it into the school.
Isaac was still inside Polytechnic on Friday after six days on campus. He made several attempts but was unable to escape. His family had been trying to help too, texting him possible exit routes. “I usually had already tried them though,” he said.
Giving himself up to the police wasn’t an option. “Surrender is the offer that our enemy — the government — provides us. And as a protester, we are fighting against the government, we have no reason to accept their offer,” he said.
Still, by that point, many protesters had already gone. Some had managed to shimmy down a rope that dangled off a footbridge on campus and escape with the help of others on motorbikes.
By Tuesday, Moses managed to escape through the sewers, his brother later texted BuzzFeed News.
The Hospital Authority announced that 300 gravely injured people had been sent to 12 different hospitals across the city on Tuesday. Some had hypothermia after being hit by the heavy blast of a water cannon. Others had burns, bruises, or wounds from projectiles. The number of injuries was so high the Hospital Authority called for residents to avoid emergency care unless absolutely necessary, as facilities were clogged with protesters from Polytechnic University.
May eventually surfaced from the sewers — but after some time crawling, she realized she was still inside the campus.
Her knees were bleeding and bacteria from the sewer water had soaked through the bandages on her hand, which still burned after handling the tear gas canister. She was shivering from the cold water when she finally emerged. First aid workers who remained at the school cleaned her hand but warned her from trying the sewers to escape again. It was too risky with her injury.
Police later allowed ambulances into the campus to transport injured people before investigating them for possible charges. May lasted a couple more days after her sewer escape attempt, but she decided to leave in an ambulance when the group she was with wanted to go. It was still a hard decision, as many inside had built a community — dividing chores like cooking and cleaning, and keeping each other entertained. “We were a family,” she said.
May was not arrested, but police recorded her personal information. “I felt like it was surrendering,” she said. “I don’t know if police will show up and still come for me.”
As the days wore on and the number of protesters dwindled, many people went into hiding. The campus became eerily quiet, and many were fearful of undercover cops and revealing possible escape routes to authorities. It was different from the early days of CUHK, when students had first beat back police and the campus teemed with people preparing for the next battle. Their ranks were now worn down and thinned out.
After the first round of arrests, Justin holed up with a group of people hiding in one classroom. Things became more tribal as the days went on — it was easier to trust fewer people and gather supplies for a small group rather than rely on anyone who was still left on campus.
After a week, there was still food around, but leftovers began to rot and the canteen smelled like sour garbage. Trash piled up. Many of the first aid workers had left by the end of the week, but the medic area was still full of supplies, including inhalers, alcohol wipes, and bandages. The gym, where many people had set up yoga mats and sleeping bags, was mostly abandoned.
Justin also left in an ambulance. He didn’t make it through the sewers either. Like May, he had to give his details to the police, but he wasn’t arrested. At first, he said, he thought of fleeing the country, afraid of facing rioting charges. But now, he too has accepted that police could arrest him at any time.
For now they would take a rest, he said, but soon return to the streets. He added, “It’s not going to be a short fight; it’s going to be a long fight.”
May also seemed more resolute after finally getting home.
“Why do teenagers in Hong Kong have to crawl through the sewer just to escape from the police?” she asked. “What kind of government can allow this?”
But some of the protesters did manage to evade the police altogether.
After nearly a week on the campus, Isaac had lain on the ground of one of the parking complexes with a group of friends. A few feet away, a maintenance hole cover had been removed, revealing a route inside the sewer system. They waited to hear from friends on the outside to confirm that someone could pick them up and it was safe to make the attempt.
After a couple of hours, he and the others in his group pulled on gas masks and goggles. One of the girls tied her hair back, and another pulled on dark waterproof pants over her striped cotton pants. A couple of them dropped their phones in ziplock bags to protect them. The rest of their things were contained in dry bags, slung over their shoulders.
When word came that it was safe to leave, one at a time, they eased themselves down the sewer opening. The water was low, splashing around their ankles as they dropped down. And then each of them crouched, disappearing under the archway inside the sewer, headlamps guiding the way.
A few hours later, Isaac texted BuzzFeed News a string of crying emojis and just a few words to confirm he had made it: “Yes finally left.” ●
Jurgen Klopp insisted Liverpool do not need to use the January transfer window to avert a defensive injury crisis.
Dejan Lovren caused concern over a mounting injury list when he pulled up midway through Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday, with Joel Matip also sidelined.
Matip, normally Klopp’s first choice to partner Virgil van Dijk in the centre of defence, will be out for at least two weeks with a knee injury.
Midfielder Fabinho – who played at centre-half on occasion last season when other players were unavailable – is sidelined until at least the new year with ankle ligament damage.
An injury to Lovren would have left Van Dijk and Joe Gomez as Liverpool’s only fit centre-halves – but Klopp has confirmed that the Croatian will be fit for Tuesday’s final Champions League group game against Red Bull Salzburg.
Asked whether Liverpool’s injury list would force him into the January transfer market, Klopp said: “How can you be short of centre halves when you have four centre halves plus Fabinho?
“Only Fabinho is injured, Matip is injured and Dejan Lovren had a problem, yes.
“We will not sign a centre half because of injuries – that is the world outside who thinks we are short and we have to do it – but afterwards we would have six centre halves and that wouldn’t make a lot of sense.
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“And you need quality. You can’t have just somebody [for the sake of it] – I am somebody, I am tall, not quick, but I look like a centre half at least.
“Yes I am absolutely concerned [about injuries], but Lovren is not injured. It was a little bit of cramp, and the right moment to take him off, but it is cool, everybody is fine.”
Liverpool need a draw away to Salzburg to be sure of qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League, while Napoli host Genk in the other game in Group E.
Pete Frates, the former college baseball star whose battle with ALS inspired the Ice Bucket Challenge, has passed away at the age of 34.
Frates, of Massachusetts, was a symbol of hope for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and helped raised awareness and over $200million for research on the neurodegenerative disease that weakens muscles and impacts movement. There is no cure for ALS.
The Frates family confirmed his death on Monday in a heartfelt statement.
‘Today Heaven received our angel: Peter Frates. A husband to Julie, a father to Lucy, a son to John and Nancy, a brother to Andrew and Jennifer, Pete passed away surrounded by his loving family, peacefully at age 34, after a heroic battle with ALS,’ the statement said.
In 2014 he launched the ALS Bucket Challenge, a viral sensation in which people dumped buckets of ice on themselves, donated to ALS research, and nominated friends to do the same.
The challenge, in which more than 17million people participated, raised over a whopping $200million worldwide, according to the ALS Association.
Pete Frates, the former college baseball star whose battle with ALS inspired the Ice Bucket Challenge, has passed away at the age of 34, his family announced Monday
In 2014 he launched the ALS Bucket Challenge, a viral sensation in which people dumped buckets of ice on themselves, donated to ALS research, and nominated friends to do the same. The challenge raised a whopping $200million worldwide. Frates pictured above participating in the challenge surrounded by his family
His alma mater Boston College, where he played baseball and graduated in 2007 and where he went on to become Director of Baseball Operations, shared a tribute for him on Monday
Former Red Sox player David Ortis shared this tribute to Pete on Monday saying: ‘I’m so very proud to have called you my friend. Heart hurts a lot today but ur name and legacy will live on forever. Rest easy my friend – we’ll continue to spread your word’
‘A natural born leader and the ultimate teammate, Pete was a role model for all, especially young athletes, who looked up to him for his bravery and unwavering positive spirit in the face of adversity,’ his family shared in their statement.
‘He was a noble fighter who inspired us all to use our talents and strengths in the service of others.’
His family noted that Frates, from Beverly, never complained about his illness, but dedicated his life to raising awareness about it.
‘Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to give hope to other patients and their families. In his lifetime, he was determined to change the trajectory of a disease that had no treatment or cure. As a result, through his determination—along with his faithful supporters, Team Frate Train—he championed the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,’ the family statement said.
In college Frates played baseball for Boston College and graduated in May 2007.
After graduating he was named the director of baseball operations for Boston College Baseball in 2012. That same year at the age of 27 he was diagnosed with ALS.
Frates pictured above back in 2006 when he played on Boston College’s baseball team, six years before his ALS diagnosis
Pete Frates pictured above with his wife Julie Frates and their daughter Lucy in 2017
Pete and his wife Julie married eight months after he was diagnosed and share a five-year-old daughter named Lucy.
In 2014 he launched the ALS Bucket Challenge, which captured the attention of millions of people worldwide including big celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Will Smith and Lady Gaga.
ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after a baseball player who was diagnosed with it in the 1930s. The progressive condition was first discovered by a French doctor back in 1869.
Frates shared this snap holding his young daughter in September this year
Family first! Pete smiles with his wife and daughter as they sport Boston College gear
Julie and Pete Frates (pictured together in 2014 in New York City) tied the knot in 2013
In October 2014 the New England Council named him the ‘New Englander of the Year for his pioneering work in raising ALS awareness. In December 2014 he was named one of Sports Illustrated’s Inspirations of the Year.
What is ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
The disease affects the nervous system, weakens muscles and impacts physical function.
There is no cure for ALS, however medication and therapy can slow ALS and reduce discomfort.
The 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge raised $200million worldwide towards ALS research in the search for a cure.
Doctor’s don’t usually know why ALS occurs but early warning signs include muscle twitching and slurred speech.
In 2016 it was estimated between 14,000 and 15,000 Americans have ALS.
It is a common neuromuscular disease worldwide.
Source: The Mayo Clinic
He also received the NCAA Inspiration of the Year Award in 2017.
Life was difficult for the Frates family after Pete’s ALS diagnosis. He was hospitalized several times and in order to keep him living at home, the Frates faced daunting medical bills that reached $85,000 to $95,000 a month, as per CBS.
To tackle the costs a friend created a pilot program called the Pete Frates Home Health Initiative in connection with the ALS Association.
Tributes poured in from Boston figures, where Frates was hailed a hero in his home state, on Monday.
Boston College shared a tribute to the late athlete in light of his death on Monday.
‘He accepted his illness and devoted the remaining years of his life to raising awareness of ALS and helping to raise money for a cure. He is a role model for all BC students and a beloved figure on our campus,’ the statement said.
Former Red Sox player David Ortis shared this tribute to Pete on Monday saying: ‘I’m so very proud to have called you my friend. Heart hurts a lot today but ur name and legacy will live on forever. Rest easy my friend – we’ll continue to spread your word.’
Hockey team the Boston Bruins shared a tribute for Frates as well: ‘His courage, determination, and fight made Boston – and the world – proud. The impact he made on all of us will never be forgotten’
Major League Baseball shared this statement announcing Frates’ death saying: ‘All of us at Major League Baseball are proud that Pete and his family are members of the baseball family. we will remember Pete’s example as we continue to support the pursuit of a cure for ALS’
Hockey team the Boston Bruins shared a tribute for Frates as well: ‘His courage, determination, and fight made Boston – and the world – proud. The impact he made on all of us will never be forgotten.’
He is survived by his wife Julie, daughter Lucy, and parents.
The family offered those who would like to extend condolences and sympathy to consider making a donation to the Peter Frates Family Foundation, dedicated to aiding progressed ALS patients who want to stay at home.
A funeral mass will be held at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Chestnut Hill on Friday December 13 at 11am. A celebration of life will take place at a later date.
Mike Kush punches the gas on a golf cart, the wind tousling his grizzled ponytail. “You look hot,” he says, waving a disapproving hand at my trousers. “Feel free to take your clothes off.”
A husky man, Kush takes up most of the seat, leaving only a few hallowed centimeters between me and his naked body. We’re speeding through the residential streets of the Lake Como Family Nudist Resort in Pasco county, Florida. It’s a Saturday morning and families are sunbathing around the community pool and clubhouse. The air is thick with the languid warmth of summer camp.
Lake Como is one of 13 nudist resorts and neighborhoods that pepper a 15-mile stretch of US 41 running through the rural heart of Pasco county, just inland of Tampa Bay, Florida. (Clothing is required by law everywhere outside the confines of each resort or neighborhood.)
Some “resorts” are nothing more than a cluster of trailer parks, others are primly landscaped and lined with stucco mansions. “But Lake Como was the original,” Kush says.
In 1941, Ava Weaver Brubaker, a tax lawyer from Tampa, bought this plot of land, then a 350-acre orange grove, after his doctor had prescribed nude sunbathing to treat a rare skin disease. He and his wife, Dorothy, grew fond of the practice and started inviting their friends. Within a few years they were taking out classified ads in nudist journals and selling memberships.
Pasco county is now considered to be the nudist capital of the world – nowhere else has a larger year-round population of nudists (or “naturists”, the preferred term). They have played an integral role in the local economy for decades. The bed and sales tax revenue generated from the 10,000 permanent residents and nearly 1 million annual tourists helps fund everything from school districts to law enforcement.
There’s a neighborhood or resort for every flavor: couples, singles, swingers, multigenerational families, LGBTQ people, retirees. But as different varieties of nudists decamped to Pasco county over the years, an ideological gulf has formed. On one side there’s Lake Como, the oldest and surely the most staid, which upholds traditional nudist values (no PDA, no sexual overtones) and where children are welcome.
Then there’s the Caliente Club and Resort, a natural adversary just up the road, known for its wild swinger parties and bawdy social media campaigns. Both represent the profile of naturism in America today. Both struggle with being misunderstood by the outside world and share the common goal of normalizing naturism, but they spend a considerable amount of time grappling with each other.
“It’s sad how the outside world looks down on us,” Karyn McMullen, president of the Lake Como co-op, tells me inside a screened-in porch bar called the Butt Hutt. She has a helmet of lank, straw-colored hair, its tone enhanced by the contrast of her chestnutty brown skin.
The greatest misconception about their lifestyle, McMullen says, is that it’s sexual in nature. “It has absolutely nothing to do with sex,” she says. “It’s much deeper than that.”
Whether they were raised in nudist families or introduced to it as adults, Pasco county is filled with people who have eschewed conventional lives in favor of this enclave. They say stripping one’s clothes leads to an immediate dissolution of ego – once they are no longer obscured, bodies and any perceived differences, are rendered invisible. It’s the only way to achieve authentic social parity.
“We took off our fears and inhibitions when we got here,” McMullen, who’s lived at the resort since 2012, says. “We just trust one another.”
Contemporary naturism began in Germany in the early 20th century as a folk medicine panacea, and then transformed during the postwar years into a manner of dissent from the authoritarian rule of the German Democratic Republic. Conversely, the origins of American naturism are socialistic. Lee Baxandall, a prominent figure of the new left, dedicated the second act of his life to nudist advocacy in America. (A nude statue of Karl Marx stands in the lobby of the American Nudist Research Library in nearby Kissimmee.)
The fact that Lake Como is a co-op is further reification. All the money from daily passes for tourists or annual membership dues from residents is cycled back into property maintenance and improvements. Roughly half of the resorts in the area function as not-for-profits. If the principle stands that gender, race and sexuality are immaterial, then wealth and class are too.
These are reasons why nude recreation is gaining popularity in America and abroad, particularly with demographics other than white people of a certain vintage. According to the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) – the oldest naturist advocacy group in North America, which offers legal counseling and a lobbying arm – the Black Naturists Association (BNA) is the fastest growing nudist organization in the country. Membership skews younger, and has increased tenfold in the last year.
Conversations I overhear among residents at Lake Como recall those halcyon days of childhood, before we found significance in skin color, or sneakers or the type of car our parents drove. That return to innocence is the argument for Pasco county being a utopian experiment worth preserving, though they feel it’s undermined by Caliente. Residents of Lake Como and other traditional resorts where children are raised and recreate have spent decades trying to divorce the association of nudism with sexual deviancy, whereas Caliente wholly embraces it.
As I make my way to leave the Butt Hutt, a man with mussed white hair, an imposing frame and an all-over tan corners me. He introduces himself as Rich Pasco. “I was hoping I’d get a chance to talk to you about Caliente,” he says, peering down from double-bridge eyeglasses. “I live there.”
We arrange to meet later at Caliente, a few miles north on Highway 41. In parting, he reaches out for a handshake and I have an instant flash of all the moments throughout the afternoon I’d seen him use that hand to gather his inert scrotum and clear a space so he could cross his legs.
Royal palms and a high wall of mildewed sandstone conceal Caliente’s thousands of members from the highway. At the entrance to the palatial country club, I’m made to empty my pockets and walk through a metal detector. The resort felt it had to ratchet up security since the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, being that it hosts large queer crowds.
I hear this is the most “upscale” nudist resort in the world, with it’s full-service spa, fitness center, thatched chickee huts, five pools, eight bars, restaurants and on-site sex shop. The grand lobby bar is furnished with ersatz-gold accents and plaster replicas of Renaissance statues. I follow a stream of foot traffic out the back door and find dozens if not hundreds, of nudists luxuriating below – a field of bare buttocks slathered with coconut tanning oil and spread across neat rows of lounge chairs, like country hams basting under heat lamps. Though Caliente has hundreds of permanent residents, it’s equally popular (as are all resorts in the area) for selling day passes, weekend memberships and vacation rentals.
A part-time employee and air force veteran named Kevin greets me. He asks that his last name be withheld, reminding me that outsiders often take a dim view of his lifestyle choice. He says that Caliente is “lifestyle friendly”, a euphemism for sexually open and experimental. “The line between nudity and sex is very thin,” he says. “We don’t allow anyone under 21 because we feel that nudity, booze and children don’t really mix.”
As we round a tiki bar, he launches into a soliloquy about Caliente’s openness to all comers, its popularity with LGTBQ and younger crowds. “Tell me who’s gay and who isn’t,” he says, pointing at the “conversation pool”, naked bodies poking out, aged 21 to 81, various shapes and shades, drowning in Malibu rum and growing tender as the afternoon wanes.
Eventually, I find Rich Pasco on the balcony of a sports bar. He orders a pitcher full of Diet Coke and tells me about how he sees himself as a global ambassador of nudism – with multiple advocacy groups and a political action committee dedicated to destigmatizing nude recreation. As a kind of stump speech, he offers the quixotic story of his first experience with public nudity. At a New Jersey YMCA, a lifeguard told a group of preteen boys that they had to get naked before jumping in the pool. “We all dropped our trunks right there and jumped in,” he says. “We swam all afternoon.”
I have an internal reaction: the thought of stripping naked at a public pool is a boyhood trauma that would be difficult for me to survive without permanent psychological damage, but Pasco says he’s been hooked ever since.
He explains that when he bought his house in Caliente – one of the first built in 2004 – the place still welcomed families, and held the same rules as Lake Como. “Adults and children were naked in the pool, and there’s nothing untoward going on.”
That changed when the resort started losing money. A steep overhead made it incapable of surviving on a lean diet of membership dues. New management started selling sex instead of naked family outings to attract outsiders.
Rich is surprisingly gentle in his criticism of the resort, considering he’s spent most of his life trying to convince the world that nudity is not inherently sexual, and now he has to walk by flyers for the “naughty schoolgirl party” in the Caliente clubhouse. But most classic naturists are less tolerant of Caliente. Five years ago, the resort was dismissed from the AANR for damaging the reputation of “social family nudism”.
With all the fuss surrounding Caliente, I ask why he doesn’t just move to another neighborhood.
“Look at this place.” He unfolds his arms to the lavish playground below, as if to say, How could Peter Pan yield his dominion? For now, he balances, or perhaps tempers, his enchantment in Caliente with the homely environs of Como, keeping a bare foot in both worlds.
Sunday morning back at Lake Como bears a steady breeze and mild humidity: naturist’s delight, by the looks of it. They are mooning about, in smocks or muumuus, but the majority wear only Birkenstocks. Seeing them walk around this thinly forested area, unhurried, a bit lost and listless – there’s something prehistoric, evolutionarily backwards in it.
Rich Pasco unfolds himself from his Prius, steps out of his ratty cargo shorts and walks bare-assed into the Garden of Eden church, a squat asylum-white building next to a cypress grove. Inside, Pastor Norm arranges Bibles on the plastic tables. He has spiky, salt-and-pepper hair. Instead of vestments he wears rubber-toe shoes and a T-shirt that reads “Free Hugs”, his wattle and business end poking out from under the hem. Jayson McMullen, Karyn’s husband, strums a few chords on his acoustic guitar as 15 or so parishioners file in.
Garden of Eden is nondenominational. A small but faithful bunch, most live at Como, or in the area, but some drive from hours away to make the Sunday service. There’s no communion, no theatrics, just fellowshipping that connects them to the biblically tinged, living-as-God-intended ethos which fed early strains of nudism.
We open with a hymn, Lord I Lift Your Name on High, and Pastor Norm drums softly on the table. His following sermon is a paean for positive body image, “To affirm the goodness of our bodies exactly how God created them,” he says, “that’s what naturism is all about.” The group nods serenely; the appeal was universal.
Jayson gently massages his wife’s shoulders. Karyn closes her eyes and lolls her head. I felt like I was watching a scene from the early days, before the community grew big enough that the clothed world stepped in to admonish, and before a title like “nudist capital” preceded them. Back when it was just a few guys and girls hanging out with their clothes off, with nothing to fight about.
First Test, Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, day four of five:
England 353 & 55-3: Santner 3-6
New Zealand 615-9dec: Watling 205, Santner 126, De Grandhomme 65
England trail by 207 runs
England face a tough battle to save the first Test against New Zealand after BJ Watling scored a superb double century on day four in Mount Maunganui.
Watling made 205 and Mitchell Santner hit 123 for his maiden Test century in a stand of 261 for the seventh wicket.
A dominant New Zealand declared on 615-9 just after tea, leading by 262.
England slipped to 55-3 at the close, trailing by 207, meaning they will have to bat out an entire day with just seven wickets in hand to force a draw.
Santner took all three wickets for just six runs, removing both England openers Dom Sibley and Rory Burns before dismissing nightwatchman Jack Leach with the last ball of the day.
Replays suggested Leach had not nicked the ball to short leg, but he and Joe Denly opted against a review, summing up a chastening day for the tourists.
With Santner extracting turn on an otherwise docile pitch and England jaded after being kept in the field for 201 overs, New Zealand will be confident of securing a 1-0 lead in the two-match series on day five.
Tired England falter late on
Facing 28 tricky overs until the close, Burns and Sibley negotiated the first hour with relative ease, seeing off opening bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee and not falling for Neil Wagner’s short-ball trap.
But just as England seemed on course to get through unscathed, Santner produced a canny spell that could prove decisive in securing a New Zealand win.
Testing the batsmen with drift and bounce, he saw Sibley dropped via an inside edge by Watling and a diving Southee put down Burns but neither England opener could add to their total before they were dismissed.
Sibley pushed at a wide one to be caught behind for 12 before a bogged down Burns miscued a sweep shot trying to rotate the strike and was caught by Colin de Grandhomme for 31.
Tom Latham then took a one-handed diving catch as Leach prodded uncertainly and was given out despite the ball appearing to only deflect off the pad, leaving England to rue not using a review.
That England’s concentration faltered late on was perhaps not surprising given they had been worn down in the field.
Despite an improved bowling performance, the damage had been done on day three as a tired attack could only muster one wicket in the first two sessions, with this now the sixth time in England’s last 24 overseas Tests that they have conceded 600 or more.
Watling and Santner give England masterclass
England have struggled to make imposing totals on overseas tours in recent years and here Watling and Santner showed them exactly how to, with an immaculate approach to batting on a flat, slow pitch.
Both continued to eschew flamboyant shots in the morning session as they ground out singles to establish a healthy lead of 99 at lunch and only then did they start to attack.
Where England thought they had earned the right to play more expansively at 277-4 and slipped to a disappointing 353 all out, Watling and Santner showed the virtue of doing so when the bowlers have been totally ground down as they added another 138 runs by tea.
Watling tapped his way to 150 before ramping a Jofra Archer short ball over third man for six, while Santner targeted fellow slow left-armer Jack Leach, using his feet superbly to loft several sixes down the ground
Santner scampered two to fine leg to bring up a fine century off 252 balls – his retrained celebration reflecting his admirable discipline after struggling early in his innings.
He finally miscued a lofted drive to long-on but Watling carried on, reaching his double century off 460 balls before nicking Archer behind shortly after the tea break, ending a masterful knock that took New Zealand from a tricky position to one of complete control.
Kane Williamson allowed his tailenders to tee off and punish England a while longer before calling them in on 615-9 – New Zealand’s highest score against England in Tests, surpassing the 551-9 at Lord’s in 1973.
‘We need to show a lot of character’ – reaction
Ex-England batsman Mark Ramprakash on Test Match Special: “It was always going to be a tough ask for England, given the fatigue factor. The two openers seemed to negotiate the opening burst pretty well, they looked very calm.
“But it was the introduction of Mitchell Santner that made the difference. He’s not a big spinner of the ball but he’s tall and gets extra bounce. I think that bounce troubled Rory Burns and led to his dismissal.
“England have to be able to rotate the strike but also back their defence for long periods of time. Burns was trying to rotate the strike but he got a top edge.”
Former England bowler Steven Finn: “This is an opportunity for England’s batsmen to keep their side in the series tomorrow.”
England batsman Jos Buttler: “The pitch is starting to create rough. There’s a few cracks but I still think it’s a pretty good wicket. If you can get through the odd ball that does something, it’s still a decent wicket.
“I’m sure the Kiwi seamers will try to get extra bounce out of the wicket. We need high skill levels and a lot of character and this side has got that in abundance.”
Two years after city council approved restrictions for Airbnb-style rentals, a provincial tribunal has finally cleared the way for Toronto to enforce limits on landlords using their houses and apartments to accommodate tourists rather than residents.
But until the 30-day appeal period for Monday’s decision ends, it’s not certain that the new rules will necessarily go ahead, said Thorben Wieditz, of Fairbnb, a pro-regulation coalition that had standing at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) that heard landlords’ arguments against the city’s short-term rental bylaw.
Landlords, who have invested heavily in profiting by renting out their properties on the short-term market, were carefully considering their options in the wake of this past Monday’s tribunal decision.
Jason Cherniak, a lawyer who represented seven multi-unit landlords at the LPAT, said his clients are disappointed the tribunal upheld the city’s plan to prohibit short-term rentals in units that are not the landlords’ principal residence. Their appeal will be based on legal errors in the decision, said Cherniak on Twitter.
Alexis Leino, the East York landlord whose legal fees were covered by Airbnb, says the decision to disallow short-term rentals in basement suites is “unfair.” He wants to use his apartment for rentals sometimes but also maintain the flexibility to host friends and family there too. He and other landlords told the tribunal that, because they live on-site, they are available to closely supervise their guests and ensure that parking, noise and garbage aren’t a problem for the neighbours.
The tribunal heard the suggestion from landlords that the inclusion of secondary suites in the city bylaw was politically motivated because that restriction wasn’t among city staff’s initially recommended policy but added following a discussion at council.
But senior city planner Caroline Samuel testified — and LPAT chair Scott Tousaw agreed — that it was the right decision to include secondary suites because provincial policy encourages them to increase the supply of available rentals in an environment where the vacancy rate hovers around 1 per cent.
How the decision plays out remains unclear in many respects. What we do know is companies are already bidding to aid enforcement of Toronto’s new rules; how other cities have used software-based monitoring and tip lines to roll out regulations; the avenues and likely arguments for landlords to appeal; and the expected impact on the condo market.
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Here’s a breakdown of what we do and don’t know about how Toronto’s short-term rental rules will move ahead:
When will the regulations take effect?
The city says it will know more in December about when it will be ready to start licensing short-term rental operators and then monitoring their compliance. Council approved the zoning bylaw in December 2017. At the time the rules were supposed to take effect six months later, in June 2018.
But it is already evaluating two requests for proposals from suppliers: one to audit compliance to its short-term rental and ride-hailing rules; one to perform “data discovery services.”
The latter service, which involves monitoring every short-term rental in the city on an ongoing basis and setting up a complaints response system, could be up and running in as little as a month, said Ulrik Binzer, the founder and CEO of Host Compliance in Seattle.
His company provides the service to about 300 North American cities including Vancouver and Victoria, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Minneapolis.
It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and a staff of about 250 analysts to monitor and enforce short-term rental rules. (Its bid on the Toronto contract involves a partnership with another company that would monitor compliance of Uber and Lyft.)
The cost of the software-based monitoring is about $500,000 but Binzer did not say what Host Compliance bid on the Toronto contract.
How does a city make sure landlords follow the rules?
Binzer says his company takes a screen shot of every single short-term rental in the city and time stamps it so the city has evidence of who is advertising. That is the foundation for a giant database. Short-term rental sites such as Airbnb and Expedia are scanned on an ongoing basis to add new rentals to the database. It then determines the addresses of each online ad to make sure they are in compliance with the bylaw.
The addresses are cross-referenced with permit holders. The landlord of a listing that doesn’t have a permit gets a letter on city letterhead ordering them to comply with the bylaw. It includes a screenshot of their online posting so they can’t deny they’re running a rental.
“If someone got a letter and the call to action was to get a permit or stop advertising, we’ll check to see if they did one of those things. We can even issue an administrative citation,” said Binzer.
In Los Angeles, they issue a fine.
Host Compliance also runs 24-7 call centres in 100 cities. It’s a local number residents can use to complain of rule-breaking landlords. The hotline can look up the landlord about the concern.
Complainants are asked to provide photos, videos and audio recordings to share with the city to substantiate their allegations.
“In real time, the hotline can look up the party so they can call the person,” he said.
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The city’s search for a data company is encouraging, Wieditz said.
“If the city has tools in place people will come forward to make sure these places get shut down in these condo buildings and residential neighbourhoods,” he said.
What are the landlords’ avenues of appeal?
The landlords, who went to the tribunal to appeal the city’s bylaw, can ask it to review the decision or they can ask a Divisional Court to give it leave to appeal. Cherniak expects his clients — seven commercial short-term rental operators — will go to court.
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He said there is room to appeal for the grandparenting of landlords who have been running their rentals in the absence of the bylaw. Whether short-term rentals, a term that will be limited to 27 nights under the new bylaw, were permitted previously in Toronto, has been something of a grey area. The city argued they weren’t a permitted use but, in the absence of a bylaw, it also didn’t actively prohibit their operation.
Appeals are likely to be based on the idea that some short-term rental operators, currently renting properties that aren’t their principal residence — something that isn’t allowed under the new bylaw — were actually operating within the law prior to the new bylaw.
Those landlords could have a case for a legal nonconforming use, say lawyers, at the tribunal.
Cherniak said the idea needs to be tested in court. Once a landlord is charged with violating the bylaw, they could use it as a defence.
But then there’s the problem, he said, that “the city’s licensing rules do not allow you to register for a licence unless it’s your principal residence.
“That means even people who are grandparented wouldn’t be able to get a licence and operate legally. If I have a legal nonconforming use and the city doesn’t allow me to be licensed, can the city then charge me with not having a licence or am I allowed to continue operating without a licence?”
Cherniak said the city should allow for legal nonconforming short-term rentals to be registered so that those landlords can be licensed.
Lawyer Eric Gillespie, who represented Fairbnb at the tribunal, said that might be a viable argument even though the city argues that short-term rentals were never legal.
“In our legal system if the law changes for the land use but the person is already doing it, it seems rather unfair to leave the person with no ability to continue,” he said.
Applications for legal nonconforming use are generally made to the city’s committee of adjustment on an individual basis. It takes some time and money to do it and not all applications succeed, Gillespie said.
“The evidence of the city at the hearing was that a number of these properties do not appear to be legally operating. They would not be able to apply for legal nonconforming status,” he said.
Of an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 secondary suites in Toronto — most of them basement apartments — the city only has records of 2,138 that are considered legal — that is they comply with building and fire codes.
Will restrictions on short-term rentals discourage investors from buying condos as rentals?
It’s not clear how many investors buy condos to rent them on short-term platforms such as Airbnb. But Urbanation will be closely monitoring presale activity in the coming quarter to see if there is a change in investor sentiment, said Shaun Hildebrand, president of the market research firm.
Condos that are reaching completion now are making money on the long-term rental market but those units were pre-sold at much lower prices. Substantial rent increases in recent years have helped those condos to have a positive cash flow for landlords, he said.
But investors in projects slated for completion around 2023 will need to see long-term rents rise by about 60 per cent to about $4,000 a month to cover the owners’ carrying costs.
That’s not likely to happen even though the strongest growth in the rental market is in tenants with incomes of more than $100,000 a year, Hildebrand said.
“So, investors are either overly optimistic on rents, not too concerned with positive cash flow as long as the unit continues to appreciate, willing to put down a larger down payment to make the unit cash flow, or are intending to flip the unit or rent it out in the short-term market,” he said.
But despite not being able to rent on short-term platforms such as Airbnb,the recent elimination of rent controls on new units will encourage investors to keep them on the long-term market because they can make up any initial losses in time.
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