The 50 most influential Torontonians of 2020

The Influentials 2020

Our annual ranking of the people whose bravery, smarts and clout are changing the world as we know it

By Toronto Life
| November 18, 2020

What counts for influence in a year like 2020? The standard markers of achievement—bills passed, deals closed, market share gained, playoff games won—don’t seem so consequential in a year in which the main preoccupation has been staying alive. It was a year of worst-case scenarios, a time we’ll never forget, try as we might. In a flash, Covid-19 stole some 1,400 of us—our moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, bosses and employees—and infected 20 times that many. It ended jobs and closed businesses. For a while, it threatened to rob our city of what makes it great.

It tried, but it failed. So many Torontonians showed we are at our best when times are toughest. Our elected officials realized that the hyper-partisan schtick was quite unhelpful, thanks, and banded together to help a lot of people in a hurry. A deeply unpopular premier proved he could be sensible, sensitive and open-minded. BIPOC leaders, helped along by some high-profile athletes, rose up to fight for justice and equality and found a broader and more willing audience than ever before—although the work is far, far from done. Above all, we learned that a true hero isn’t always the one with the airtime or the household name. It might be the grocery store worker who clocks in during a pandemic because he knows his neighbours might not eat if he stays home. Or the nurse who volunteers to work at a long-term care facility mid-outbreak because if she doesn’t, who will? Or the Wheel-Trans operator who goes in on his days off to ferry infected citizens to their appointments. In a year of devastation and heartbreak, influence was defined not only by those who hold power in the conventional sense, but also by those who helped others in whatever way they could.


The Front-Line Worker

These Torontonians went far beyond the call, and there are thousands more like them

It used to be that window washers and bomb-sniffing dogs had the highest-risk jobs. Now it’s grocery clerks, sanitation workers, TTC drivers and teachers, and don’t forget anyone who works in a hospital or a clinic, drives an ambulance or runs a Covid-19 testing centre. From the first moments of the pandemic, it was clear there’d be many degrees of personal sacrifice, and that the front-line workers would shoulder the worst. By midsummer, health care workers counted for 20 per cent of Canadian infections and at least 16 deaths. In the fall, as the second wave rose, parents cringed at every report of a new cluster of infections in schools, despite PPE, “pods” of students and hygiene precautions. Now, as we approach a new year with no effective mass vaccinations yet ready, we’ll need to count on our front-line workers even more. We’re in their debt.

Starlet Benyarku

TTC bus driver

Luis Mora

Benyarku drives some of the busiest routes in the city’s east end—not an easy job under normal circumstances, and even harder during Covid, when accounts of overcrowding, anti-masker tantrums and customer brawls on the TTC seem to surface in our social media feeds on an almost-daily basis. As the sentry of a shared, enclosed space, Benyarku reminds riders to wear a mask and physically distance when possible—as much for their benefit as her own. When her bus becomes too full to safely distance, she stops to explain to waiting passengers why she can’t pick them up and that she’ll be back soon—a small gesture, yet one that is touchingly considerate in these harried times.

Travis Mathews


Luis Mora

As a member of the firefighter association’s executive board, Mathews helped create a Covid-19 committee (which he co-chairs) and health and safety teams. They developed safety protocols like social distancing in fire halls, screening firefighters upon arrival for work and ensuring safe shift changeovers. If a firefighter had symptoms and didn’t want to put his or her family at risk, Mathews and his team worked with hotels and Airbnb to secure an affordable place for the firefighter to self-isolate. Those efforts have paid off: remarkably, there isn’t a single documented instance of Covid transmission between a Toronto firefighter and those they serve. On top of helping to keep fire halls Covid-free, Mathews, an acting fire captain, has continued to work his regular shifts as a front-line firefighter throughout the pandemic.

Gillian Gravely


Luis Mora

When the outbreaks in long-term care facilities began, Gravely was among the first to volunteer to help out—the pandemic equivalent to running into a burning building. As an advanced practice nurse educator, Gravely had ample experience as a front-line nurse, manager and instructor. She spent 12 hours a day for eight weeks working at the Rekai long-term care facility at Carlton and Sherbourne, where she worked with leadership to develop protocol for donning and doffing PPE, cleaning of rooms and initial daily safety huddles, as well as supporting UHN staff who had been deployed there—all while helping to care for residents directly.

Andy Xayavong

Manager, Metro

Luis Mora

Back in March, when grocery stores were ground zero for virus-induced panic buying and paranoia, Xayavong helped to bring much-needed order and calm to the Metro at Queen and Dufferin. As head of the store’s health and safety committee, he implemented safety protocols such as masks for employees, hand-washing procedures, sanitizing high-touch surfaces, monitoring physical distancing, and more. His team was also responsible for screening suppliers who entered the store. There was the inevitable pushback from customers who disregarded the rules, but overwhelmingly, the public found a new appreciation for grocery store workers like Andy, the indispensable, unsung heroes of the front line.

Tasleem Nimjee

ER doctor

Luis Mora

Tasleem Nimjee is the physician lead for the Covid emergency response at Humber River Hospital. In the early days of the pandemic, Nimjee and her team quickly mobilized to establish policies around wearing PPE, procuring supplies, holding intubation simulations and developing new ways to provide care for patients who didn’t have Covid. Humber had the highest case numbers of any hospital in the city—a second ICU was created for overflow patients—and Nimjee performed one of the first Covid-related intubations there, keeping the patient’s family updated on his condition over the phone. To help hospital staff feel connected when they can’t physically be together, Nimjee and her colleagues film short videos for one another, in which they share stories and updates on how they’re faring.

Larry De Sousa

Wheel-Trans operator

Luis Mora

De Sousa is known among colleagues and customers as preternaturally friendly, quick with a smile and a greeting. He was one of the first TTC workers to volunteer as a special transport operator during the pandemic. In addition to his regular duties providing transit and assistance to elderly and disabled riders, De Sousa has provided transportation to the most vulnerable members of society—namely those who are Covid-positive and have no other means of accessing potentially life-saving treatment. Early in the pandemic, De Sousa spent upwards of nine hours a day in full PPE, transporting patients—many of whom were severely ill—to and from the hospital, sometimes on his days off. He saw countless patients through the throes of the virus to the other side, including one 90-something-year-old woman he transported to and from her dialysis appointments, and who eventually beat the virus.

Doug Ford


Markian Lozowchuck

Of the premier’s many, many, many appearances behind the podium over the last eight months, the most memorable was in late April, when Ford came close to tears revealing that his 95-year-old mother-in-law was among the many long-term care residents who had tested positive. In that moment, we didn’t see the bombastic blowhard who hacked up social safety or the Trump-lite figure who had cozied up to the right-wing fringe. Unlike a certain someone south of the border, Ford has responded to unprecedented disaster by rising to the occasion (and wearing a mask!). Witness Ford in shirtsleeves personally picking up boxes of mask donations to be distributed among police and health care workers, Ford making nice with his former enemies in the federal government, Ford calling out greedy landlords and price gougers. He hasn’t been perfect—there was the time he got caught visiting his cottage after telling city folk to stay home. But even in his errors there has been evidence of a previously undisclosed political asset: his humanity. Charity circuit: He supports the Reena Foundation and, in memory of his father, mother and brother Rob, supports a number of local organizations dedicated to fighting cancer.

Team Shopify

Tobias Lütke and others

Their founder may live in Ottawa, but this year Shopify was the difference between life and death for countless Toronto businesses. Tobias Lütke, Satish Kanwar and the rest of the team worked with city hall to help 3,000 endangered retailers enrol in Digital Main Street—a non-profit initiative that sets up brick-and-mortar stores with an online presence and delivery and pickup options. While that was happening, essentially the entire global economy shifted to online, which meant Shopify, a company that helps companies microscopic to mammoth sell their wares online, skyrocketed. In May, it passed RBC to become Canada’s most valuable company with a market cap of $121 billion. That same month, Lütke announced his 5,000-employee company would close its offices until 2021 and work from home, all but daring the rest of Canada to follow their lead. Sure enough, many did. Side gig: A group of Shopify volunteers developed Covid Shield, the open-source software on which Canada developed the contact-tracing Covid Alert app.

Eileen de Villa

Medical officer of health, City of Toronto

Katherine Holland

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment, but somewhere along the line, de Villa—the head of Toronto’s 1,900-employee, $255-million public health apparatus—became Ontario’s most trusted Covid authority. She has appeared at daily briefings like a white knight, displaying composure (and a meme-worthy collection of scarves) and often delivering bad news to terrified, stressed out and fed up Torontonians in clear, direct and sympathetic terms. She’s as tireless as she is indispensable. On an average day, she works 14 hours, which, by our calculation, means she’s clocked in an unholy 2,500 hours (give or take) since the pandemic dropped. Charity circuit: De Villa inspired Serge Ibaka to donate three of his signature scarves to the city, which were auctioned off to support the United Way.

Chrystia Freeland

Minister of finance and deputy prime minister

Markian Lozowchuck

Here’s a pandemic photo op for you: after being sworn in as Canada’s first-ever female finance minister, Freeland celebrated by bumping elbows with Justin Trudeau. A thankless position in a normal year, the finance minister faces the impossible challenge of propping up a country stumbling through mass layoffs and failing pre-pandemic-era business models, not to mention indefinitely closed borders and disrupted global supply chains. Freeland pledged that any recovery would be built on principles of equity, inclusivity and environmentalism, which sounds nice, but what everyone wanted to know was whether the government would extend CERB (she announced another $37 billion in August) and the rent relief program for businesses (which finally happened—along with some improvements—in the fall). Up next: Ending the “she-cession.” Freeland has promised to reveal plans to ensure women, who have been more significantly affected by layoffs and an upended work-life balance than men, aren’t sent back to the 1950s.

Dan Levy

TV actor, showrunner and creator

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Never mind how he single-handedly (okay, with some help from his dad) redeemed the Canadian sitcom with Schitt’s Creek, his unlikely series about a family coping without their fortune. Never mind how the show grew more sublime with each season and cleaned up at this year’s Emmys. And never mind how all this success (almost) made us forget his MTV special, Daniel Levy’s Holi-Do’s and Don’ts. Levy’s real superpower, the reason we hold him in awe, is how he uses his celebrity for good. He’s helped make gay characters more mainstream—for which he was honoured this year, alongside Janelle Monáe, by the Human Rights Campaign. In October, he Twitter-shamed the execs at Comedy Central’s India network when they censored a kiss between two men. His followers hold him in such esteem that roughly 64,000 of them signed up, along with Levy, for an online University of Alberta course on Indigenous history. Up next: He has a three-year development deal with ABC Studios, putting him in the company of TV royalty like Lee Daniels and Kerry Washington. Plus, promoting his glasses line, DL Eyewear.

John Tory


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Toronto’s mayor arrived home from a business trip to London, England, on March 11 and went straight into lockdown. This was before the province had made any official rules around quarantine for travellers, but for our city’s most steadfast and senior public servant, it was a chance to set an example—the first of many. From day one, Tory has been the parent Toronto desperately needs—compassionate and kind, but not afraid to take away our toys (playgrounds, cherry blossoms, the Santa Claus Parade) when necessary. While often stymied by provincial power, Tory has fought hard for Toronto’s best interests. Over the summer, he introduced a series of municipally funded initiatives to help restaurants (CaféTO), small businesses (CurbTO) and stir-crazy citizens (ActiveTO) endure the pandemic. Charity circuit: Tory has teamed up with first responders to participate in Movember—growing moustaches for men’s health causes.

Chris Rickett

Director of Covid-19 business mitigation and recovery

He’s linked to every notable tech leader in the city, including Michael Katchen, Allen Lau and Ray Reddy. Rickett’s connections, plus his boundless energy and sheer force of will, are behind his deserved reputation for getting stuff done. Last spring, Mayor Tory seconded Rickett, who had worked at city hall in various roles, back to the clamshell to ensure the pandemic wouldn’t wipe out any more of the city’s small-to-medium-sized storefronts. In that new role, Rickett brought together Shopify, Google and other tech leaders to launch Digital Main Street, a service that helps small business owners and artists to fast-track the creation of digital e-commerce storefronts. Up next: Leading projects at MPAC, the governmental property assessment agency, where he’s a director.

The Hxouse crew

Abel Tesfaye, La Mar Taylor & Ahmed Ismail

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In February, this trio of childhood friends from Scarborough turned creative collaborators launched Black Hxouse, an offshoot of their two-year-old Toronto-based talent incubator (Hxouse), which will graduate its second cohort of homegrown talent this month. The new initiative—which includes mentors from Twitter Canada and Artscape Daniels Launchpad—got the attention of TD, which came on as a founding sponsor in August. The next day, Tesfaye made an appearance at the VMAs, performing (and scoring two trophies for) “Blinding Lights,” an electro earworm that is easily the best pop song of the year—if you don’t believe us, just ask Elton John, who wrote about Tesfaye in this year’s Time 100. From the acceptance podium, he called for justice for Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor, then donated $500,000 to Black Lives Matter, National Bail Out and Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights campaign, plus an additional $500,000 to Scarborough Heath Network. Friends in high places: The PM announced a $221-million aid program for Black businesses from Hxouse’s Queen’s Quay HQ.

Tiff Macklem

Governor, Bank of Canada

Talk about timing. In May, Macklem, who was widely expected to take the big chair after Mark Carney left in 2013, finally got his shot. That means the job of leading a $1.7-trillion economy out of a once-in-a-generation (here’s hoping) meltdown falls to him. Many would run for the hills, but Macklem was part of the brain trust that led Canada out of the 2008 recession, so he’s battle-tested. One of his first acts was announcing interest rates will stay low until the economy picks up, putting investors, home buyers and other borrowers at ease—as much as that’s possible these days. Up next: As far as economists go, he’s progressive, having led a federal task force on the green economy. Don’t be surprised if the path ahead for Canada’s financial system reflects that experience.

Stephen Lecce

Education minister

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Lesson number one from the pandemic: kids need to be in school, where they can thrive socially, emotionally and intellectually. With the rugrats out of the house, parents can work, which keeps the economy afloat, which means fewer business fail, which means more jobs. In that sense, Lecce was perhaps the most vital decision-maker not named Ford at Queen’s Park this year. Love him (as some do) or loathe him (as many do), there’s no question that his plan got kids back in seats and teachers back in the classroom. He unearthed some $500 million for repairs or upgrades, hired 615 nurses and allotted $100 million for school boards to hire teaching support. So far, so good. Friends in high places: He was Stephen Harper’s golden boy for many years in Ottawa.



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It’s hard to downplay the clout of a guy who can interrupt a global pandemic with a billion-strong virtual dance party. Which is exactly what happened with the early April release of “Toosie Slide,” Drake’s number-one single and video, which he recorded from home. And by home, we mean a newly completed 50,000-square-foot mega-mansion featuring a basketball court, a 20,000-Swarovski chandelier and a bed that cost more than most houses. Charity circuit: In October, he launched a collection of OVO gear to raise funds for the Lebanese Red Cross following the Beirut explosion.

Masai Ujiri

President, Toronto Raptors

Markian Lozowchuk

Of the big-five sports leagues, the NBA was most forceful in its anti-racism initiatives, and of all the NBA teams, the Raptors were far and away the most vocal. The team bus rolled up to Disney World plastered with Black Lives Matter artwork (Ujiri’s idea), and the Raps, led by Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, initiated a playoffs boycott in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Perhaps most resounding of all was the letter Ujiri wrote about his courtside run-in with a police officer last year, in the seconds after the team won the NBA championship: “I was reminded that there are some people,” he wrote, “including those who are supposed to protect us, who will always and only see me as something that is unworthy of respectful engagement…because I am Black.” Up next: A basketball festival in Rwanda, for Ujiri’s wildly successful Giants of Africa charity. It was scheduled for this offseason but was postponed until 2021.

Christine Elliott

Minister of health

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Since mid-March, Elliott has been the premier’s stony sidekick, charged with arguably the least enviable Covid communications duty: relaying the new case count. Off-screen, the Newmarket-Aurora MPP has also run point (and managed the purse strings) on the province’s key pandemic health initiatives: $1.04 billion for a fall preparedness strategy, $741 million to increase hospital capacity, $540 million for the new Keep Ontarians Safe Plan to help seniors living in long-term care facilities, and $176 million to bolster mental health support. Up next: Making sure Ontarians have access to flu shots to avoid a double pandemic.

Margaret Atwood


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When thousands of marchers descended on the White House to protest pro-life Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, you could spot the red robes and white bonnets out front. These Handmaid’s Tale costumes have emerged as a sartorial shorthand for the feminist ideals that are increasingly under attack. Atwood’s 2019 follow-up The Testaments was an NYT bestseller and the co-winner of the Booker Prize—a fitting way to mark her 80th birthday, though definitely not a bookend. Dearly, Atwood’s first poetry collection in a decade, is out this month. Charity circuit: Balzac’s Coffee donates a dollar to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory for every bag of Atwood Blend it sells.

Fred VanVleet

Point guard, Toronto Raptors

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If Lowry is the heart of Raptor nation, VanVleet is its soul. Of the two, steady Freddy is the more soft-spoken, but in late August, after yet another Black man (Jacob Blake) was shot by police in the U.S., he’d had enough. During a press conference, he raised the idea of boycotting that night’s playoff game. Hours later, the team—along with the Bucks, Celtics, Clippers and Lakers—had signed on, and the Bucks held a conference call with the Wisconsin district attorney. Side gig: Branching out his clothing brand, Bet on Yourself—which is aptly named for a guy who turned down a long-term contract two years ago, wagering that he’d be able to sign for much more and longer down the road. He was right.

Kyle Lowry

Point guard, Toronto Raptors

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A handful of legends have donned the purple and black—Damon, Vince, Chris, DeMar, Kawhi—but only one is the GROAT. Kyle Lowry further cemented that status in 2020, leading the team to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, and two buckets away from the conference finals. In a city desperately in need of distraction and inspiration, Lowry provided both. He’s low-key in love with the city, and he shows it, singing Toronto’s praises to opponents, U.S. media and anyone else who will listen. This season, he emerged as a powerful leader against anti-Black racism, partnering with Fred VanVleet to prompt positive action. Side gig: Lowry is playing a small role in the upcoming Adam Sandler movie Hustle, which is being shot in Lowry’s hometown of Philadelphia this offseason.

Matthew Pegg

Fire chief

The heroics of front-line workers don’t matter much if they’re not backed by smart and responsive planning. Early on, Pegg was appointed incident commander of the city’s Emergency Operations Centre. While Eileen de Villa ordered Toronto’s medical response, Pegg has been in charge of logistics—including coordinating the response of paramedics, police, fire, public health, emergency social services and utilities, and procuring PPE. Up next: Helping the city coordinate the eventual (fingers crossed it’s soon) rollout of a Covid vaccine to front-line workers the moment it’s available.

Michael Katchen

CEO and co-founder, Wealthsimple

Daniel Ehrenworth

Katchen’s robo-advisory keeps growing, and no financially illiterate millennial is safe. When the pandemic sent the stock market plummeting and DIY trading skyrocketing, Katchen was waiting with open arms. Today, some 1.5 million people use a Wealthsimple product—be it investment, trading or tax software—and in the fall, the company entered the rare air known as unicorn status (a valuation of $1 billion or more). They hired 180 staff, bringing the head count to 400. This August, they introduced crypto trading. Charity circuit: He’s on the board of SickKids, and pledged one per cent of his future wealth to the Upside Foundation.

Joe Cressy

Chair, Toronto board of health

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When he became chair of the country’s largest public health organization in 2018, Joe Cressy assumed his tenure would be dominated by discussions about flu shots and the opioid crisis. The Spadina-Fort York councillor has no problem playing bad cop to the more genial John Tory, coming down hard on Airbnb landlords, canoodling hipsters in Trinity Bellwoods Park and even the premier. Crucially, he fought to change Ford’s mind on collecting race- and income-based data, leading to the revelation that people of colour made up 83 per cent of reported cases. Up next: He’s seen as a likely candidate for mayor, provided Tory opts to call it a career.

Nick Nurse

Head coach, Toronto Raptors

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Nurse finished the regular season with the best all-time win percentage in NBA coaching history, took the Raptors to Game 7 of the conference semifinals and won Coach of the Year. Those accomplishments were more than enough to earn him a contract extension worth $8 million per year. But it was off the court that Nurse was most impressive. He provided his players with Black Lives Matter masks (made by local designer Nadia Lloyd), then spearheaded a team-wide social media campaign to encourage American expats living in Canada to vote. In a year when so many white leaders wondered how they could be allies, Nurse was an exemplar. Charity circuit: In March, he launched the Nick Nurse Foundation, a charity that runs basketball, music and literacy programs for Toronto kids.

David Williams

Ontario’s chief medical officer

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While the grade-school set may forever remember him as the guy who cancelled Halloween, most grownups know him as the regular presence at Doug Ford’s daily news briefings—offering his medical expertise on everything from social bubbling to whether it was safe to drive to the cottage for May 24. The province’s top doc was on his way to retirement when he accepted the then-Liberal government’s offer to lead the provincial health strategy, a complex, political hot potato even before the pandemic. He’s unlikely to score points for charisma—his communication skills lack the sparkle of his B.C. counterpart Bonnie Henry—and has earned criticism both for over- and underreacting to the virus. But he’s ably overseeing the Covid response in 34 disparate regions—a thankless task if ever there was one. Up next: Steering the always fraught process of regional reopening, when the time comes.

Michele Romanow

CEO, Clearbanc

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When the pandemic forced everyone online for their transactions—even recalcitrant boomers who insist on touching fruit pre-purchase—Clearbanc, an e-commerce investor, went nuts. Pre-Covid, they had a client roster of roughly 2,000; now that’s more than 3,300, and the company’s investment exceeds $1 billion. Romanow added 120 staff in 2020, bringing the count to 250. In October, the company launched in the U.K., where they plan to invest half a billion pounds. Friends in high places: She’s chummy with Richard Branson, Charles Barkley and early Facebook senior executive Chamath Palihapitiya.

Cameron Bailey & Joana Vicente

Artistic director and executive director, TIFF

Luis Mora

No one would have faulted Bailey and Vicente had they, like Cannes, decided to nix this year’s film fest. Instead, the TIFF co-heads switched to drive-in theatres and an online screening portal to launch 97 titles. Roughly half of those were directed or created by women and people of colour—an unprecedented feat in a historically white industry. Moviegoers bought almost 50,000 tickets, and by the fest’s end, distributors had already scooped up 10 of the 50 feature films, with Netflix paying more than $60 million for three. Up next: Turning TIFF into a global festival by expanding online screening in 2021 and beyond, allowing anyone anywhere to buy a ticket and join the audience.

Erin O’Toole

Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

Despite a sterling career as an Air Force man, a Bay Street lawyer and a Harper-era MP, O’Toole was a long shot to win the leadership of the federal Conservatives. Too unknown, too random, too ordinary. But sometimes ordinary is exactly right. O’Toole’s dad-at-a-BBQ vibe, centre-right platform and steady-eddy track record was exactly what the post-Scheer Tories sought. His campaign was impressive, boosted by the social media stylings of Ontario Proud’s Jeff Ballingall. After slaying heavy favourite Peter MacKay, O’Toole took a forgivable break while dealing with a case of Covid, but in early October emerged from his basement (really truly) heroic, triumphant and energized. Up next: Felling Trudeau. O’Toole tried to bring an ethics probe on the Liberals for the WE saga, but it failed. He’s not done.

Galen G. Weston

Executive chairman, Loblaw companies

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He’s not winning any popularity contests after cancelling first-wave pay premiums for his front-line workers, but you can’t argue with his immense clout: a grocery store empire, all the Shoppers locations and a family fortune of $9.2 billion. Revenue at Loblaw alone jumped by 11 per cent in the year’s first quarter—and with a new wave of infections, we’re all stuck at home again, stress baking and counting our Optimum points, which means Weston’s reign continues. Up next: Dominating the virtual health market. PC Health gives customers online access to RNs and dietitians, and Maple does the same, but with doctors.

Mohamad Fakih


Luis Mora

The concept for box’d, the city’s first server-free restaurant, was actually in the works before the pandemic. Opening in June was definitely a risk, but Fakih, an eternal optimist, saw it as a chance to spread some sunshine. By that time, the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods had already donated 2,000 meals to shelters across the GTA and hundreds more to Feed Our Heroes, an initiative to feed front-line workers. In April, he spearheaded an effort that raised more than $840,000 for the city’s food banks. Side gig: Fakih, who grew up in Lebanon, co-founded the Lebanese Canadian Coalition to raise $2.5 million to assist in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion.

Michelle Latimer


CP Images

She didn’t plan to take TIFF by storm—it just kind of happened. Inconvenient Indian, her adaptation of Thomas King’s history of colonial occupation in North America, screened to a standing ovation. Three days later, Trickster, a powerful drama about an Indigenous teen who meets his semi-magical counterpart, screened too (it’s now drawing raves on CBC). The double bill thrust Latimer into the spotlight as a leading voice for Indigenous issues. It wasn’t a role she sought, but she’s been an advocate through word and deed: on Trickster, she hired, as full-time staff or paid trainees, Indigenous crew across the production. Up next: A feature film called Forgotten: The Freedom Project.

Anita Anand

Minister of public services and procurement

Daniel Neuhaus

No one in this country is watching the race for a vaccine quite as closely as Anand. The Oakville MP is in charge of pre-ordering more than $1 billion in vaccine doses from seven companies. It’s no small gamble, since the vaccines are still in trial phases, and if they turn out to be ineffective, there’s no guarantee of a refund. Just about every other country is doing the same thing, but Anand has shown a degree of determination that sets her efforts apart. And in case we seem greedy, Anand has also signed Canada up for the COVAX program, in which wealthier countries support poorer nations in getting vaccines. Side gig: If she tires of the Hill, Anand can return to her position as a U of T law professor, where she specialized in corporate governance, market regulation and investor rights.

Matty Matheson


Jeffrey Chan

Even in a year of living modestly, Matheson found ways to make a big statement. His new takeout barbecue joint, Matty Matheson’s Meat and Three, in Fort Erie, became the culinary destination for cooped-up Torontonians. He also released his second cookbook, Home Style Cookery, a humble-sounding tome that is anything but: lobster thermidor with béarnaise and salt and vinegar chips, anyone? He’s now plotting a return to Toronto’s restaurant scene, opening burger joint Matty’s Patty’s and waiting for the green light to go forward with a new seafood project—as soon as indoor dining makes a meaningful return. His signature cookware, Matheson—a co-pro with Castor Design, launched in October. Up next: A takeout spot focused on birria, the hearty Mexican stew.

Upton Allen

Head of infectious diseases, SickKids

When it came to drafting the back-to-school plan, Premier Ford was bombarded with free advice—from concerned teachers, parents, union leaders, doctors and more. He managed to shut out the noise and zero in on the expert opinions that really count. Among those was Upton Allen, the head of infectious diseases at SickKids. Allen, along with the hospital’s president and CEO, Ronald Cohn, wrangled medical experts from across Ontario to write the guidance paper that became the basis of what kids and teachers are now experiencing. Up next: Allen is leading a study that examines how Covid disproportionately affects Black Canadian communities.

Jamal Murray

Point guard, Denver Nuggets

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When Kawhi left for L.A., it was a foregone conclusion that his new team would dominate the Western Conference. Murray had other plans. The Ontario native took on LeBron and pulled off, among other dazzling feats, an under-and-around layup that had many comparing him to MJ. His emergence as the most exciting young player in the game—he’s just 23—somehow makes his five-year, $170-million contract a bargain. During the playoffs, Murray delivered a powerful off-the-cuff speech on racial injustice that went viral. Up next: Representing Canada at the Olympics, whenever those happen.

Wes Hall


Wade Hudson

In June, Hall, who runs Kingsdale, a shareholder advisory firm, launched the BlackNorth Initiative, which takes a business approach to solving systemic racism on Bay Street: setting targets, tracking progress and holding accountable more than 370 organizations (CIBC, Air Canada, Bombardier, SickKids, Ryerson) that have taken their pledge to hire and promote Black people. After consulting with Hall, the federal government announced a $221-million Black entrepreneurship program. Friends in high places: Hall nudged Seymour Schulich, a long-time friend, to donate $1 million to a cultural centre for Black Canadians.

Jesse Wente

Chair, Canada Council for the Arts

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For over 24 years, Wente has been a sonic staple on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, expertly analyzing, dissecting and championing the latest in films and pop culture. Wente, an Ojibwe member of Serpent River First Nation, has also been an impassioned critic of the lack of Indigenous representation in Canadian arts. In July, he was given a big opportunity to change that, when he was named chair of the Canada Council for the Arts. The council, of which Wente was already a board member, oversees $290 million in federal funds and decides which artists to give it to. Side gig: Wente was a producer on Michelle Latimer’s documentary Inconvenient Indian, which made a splash at TIFF.

Paul Taylor

Executive director, FoodShare

Daniel Neuhaus

A pre-pandemic study sponsored by FoodShare estimated that one in eight Canadian households is food insecure. And despite CERB and other government programs, that ratio has grown grimmer as each wave of the virus has yielded more layoffs, closures and desperation. As executive director at FoodShare, Taylor leads a national platform for advancing equality. As he frequently and urgently points out, going hungry is also a story about structural racism: FoodShare’s study also found that Black Canadians are 3.6 times more likely to be food insecure. Up next: The moment Trudeau’s minority government is over, Taylor will be running for the NDP in Parkdale-High Park.

Claudette McGowan

Global executive officer, TD

Kayla Rocca

This spring, the former BMO exec started as the global executive officer for cybersecurity at TD Bank, a new gig that could not possibly be more timely given the almost overnight shift to remote and digital-first workplaces. So far, her focus has been on applying predictive analytics to cybersecurity to stop problems before they happen, as well as ensuring that these transformations lead to more diverse and equitable workplaces. In June, she was elected to the new Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism, a who’s who of tech honchos who nominated McGowan as their chair. She was also instrumental in facilitating TD’s sponsorship deal with Black Hxouse, an arts initiative (fronted by the Weeknd) that aims to open doors for BIPOC creatives in Canada. Side gig: She’s working on her fifth children’s book, this one about the power of resilience.

Kent Monkman


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Not since the National Gallery spent $1.8 million on three stripes of paint (Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire) has a painting earned as much notoriety as Hanky Panky, Monkman’s depiction of Justin Trudeau on all fours, pants down and surrounded by a laughing circle of Indigenous women. Hanky Panky just sold for six figures to the lawyer Howard Levitt, who wrote about how he’ll always support artists who “turn the world on its head and make us think of life in new ways.” Up next: Exhibits in New York, San Diego and Auckland, plus a starring show at the ROM.

Desmond Cole

Activist, author

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For anyone who thought of police brutality and anti-Black racism as largely American problems, this summer brought a necessary awakening. Cole has been calling out Canada’s way-too-white power structures for years, blowing the whistle on carding practices and protesting police participation in Pride. He gave a TED Talk about the need for police reform way back in 2017, the same year in which much of his new memoir The Skin We’re In takes place. The book—an Indigo “Best of 2020” pick—debuted on the bestseller list last January and has been there ever since. Up next: The Skin We’re In is on the shortlist for the Toronto Book Award.

Aurora James

Fashion designer

After Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the summer of protests, James was growing tired of hearing white people ask what they could do. So she came up with an answer. On Instagram, James laid out the Fifteen Percent Pledge, a model for a non-profit that asks businesses to devote 15 per cent of shelf space to Black-owned businesses. Within a week, the movement had scored its first major sign-on, from the global makeup giant Sephora, then West Elm came aboard. Then Vogue magazine tapped James for the cover of their September issue (the big one). James, who grew up in Mississauga and attended Ryerson, brought the initiative north of the border in June and recently scored a major victory when Indigo became the first big Canadian business to commit. Up next: James recently signed with Crown Publishing Group and will release a memoir next year.

Dirk Huyer

Chief coroner

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It was a brutal job—enacting a policy that gave grieving families only one hour to decide on a funeral home for a loved one who died in hospital. But the chief coroner knew it was the best and safest decision, however unpopular. The man Doug Ford calls “Dr. Dirk” or just “the doc” has seen his job expand over the course of the pandemic. He oversaw a crucial pivot to testing asymptomatic people in high-risk groups and was key in containing the outbreak among agriculture workers in Windsor-Essex county. In August, Huyer assumed the role of coordinator of the Covid response for agriculture, health care and education. Up next: Launching DASH (death analytics for safety and health), a team that will aggregate data from opioid deaths (up 35 per cent during the pandemic) to inform future interventions and policy development.

Jeff Ballingall

CEO, Mobilize Media Group

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Six months ago, Peter MacKay was a shoo-in for the federal Conservative party leadership, and Erin O’Toole was “...Erin who?” That all changed thanks to Ballingall. He’s the founder of the right-wing political advocacy group Ontario Proud and the head of Mobilize Media, a right-leaning, social-media-savvy public affairs group. As the campaign’s digital director, he raised O’Toole’s profile online, getting his messaging out the instant a topic became hot—CERB, illegal blockades, the WE Charity scandal—and it worked. Up next: Putting his expertise toward real estate and tech—and getting policymakers to listen up.

Dean Stoneley

President, Ford Canada

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Even in a normal year, it’s hard to overstate Stoneley’s importance to the economy. He’s in charge of 7,000 employees and is a key cog in the country’s automotive sector. Recently, amid the ongoing fears of plant closures, he ran into Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of innovation, science and industry, at an auto show, and as Bains told the Star, the pair got to chatting. In October, a deal was reached: the provincial and federal government would each invest $295 million to support a $1.8-billion investment to repurpose the Oakville assembly plant in order to manufacture electric vehicles. Side gig: Ford Canada has produced more than 2.75 million face shields.

Tanya Talaga

Columnist, Globe and Mail

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In a recent column, Talaga bluntly referred to the attacks on Mi’kmaq lobster fishermen and women as domestic terrorism (“whether the RCMP calls it that or not”). This was barely two weeks after the death of Joyce Echaquan, a tragedy Talaga called proof that “Indigenous people face racism every day, even when they’re just trying to access basic services.” As our nation continues to fall short on reconciliation, the Anishinaabe journalist has emerged as the voice for maximum impact (and zero BS). Following her 2017 bestseller Seven Fallen Feathers (still making the rounds on the awards circuit) comes her new podcast, Seven Truths, a look at contemporary Indigenous stories, part of Audible’s first slate of original Canadian audio series. Charity circuit: Talaga was the keynote at this year’s biannual Institute for International Women’s Rights fundraiser.

Conor Joerin

Marinara Boys

Daniel Neuhaus

In March, when indoor dining was nixed, Joerin, the chef-owner of Sugo, wondered what to do with all the food in his fridges. He sent his staff home but stayed to cook for shelters, food banks and churches. His actions caught the attention of SickKids and St. Joseph’s Health Centre, which also requested hot meals. Joerin called on fellow restaurant leaders Leo Baldassare and James Carnevale for help. They quickly raised $10,000 on GoFundMe to feed front-line workers, under the name Marinara Boys, after a group chat the friends belonged to. For Joerin, a special delivery was 200 meals to CAMH, an institution he credits with helping him through a difficult period as a teen. Side gig: Sugo sponsors amateur and professional athletes, including a number of its own staff. Lululemon has pitched in to help.

Jesse Brown

Publisher, Canadaland

Debra Friedman

Brown’s upstart operation has tackled all manner of hot topics since its inception in 2013. Along the way, he’s earned plenty of fans (roughly 7,000 readers support the company through Patreon) and plenty of enemies (far-right blogger Ezra Levant; ex-Walrus editor Jon Kay). But Brown doesn’t set his sights solely on the right. He and his team ignited a firestorm with their long-term reporting on the WE Charity and its cozy relationship with the Liberals. When the dust settled, a finance minister was gone, $30 million in funding was withdrawn, WE’s Canadian operation was wrapped up and Trudeau’s eternal sheen was tarnished. Up next: Producing a new series on Thunder Bay, and crowdfunding to add French and Indigenous beats and more correspondents.

Sally Catto

General manager, entertainment, factual and sports, CBC

CBC gets lots of love these days as a comedy goldmine—you’re welcome, Netflix, Hulu, Crave, Prime and streamophiles the world over—but credit goes to Catto, CBC’s general-manager-of-all-content-that’s-not-journalism. Catto is the unsung executive who turned a pitch about a ladies-only sketch-comedy group into the powerhouse lol-maker Baroness von Sketch Show, and a campy premise about a family of suddenly broke one-percenters stuffed in a rundown motel into the star of this year’s Emmys. Up next: Lady Dicks, a buddy-cop comedy, and Sort Of, a funny, touching show about a gender-fluid nanny.

Kamran Khan

CEO, BlueDot

When it comes to Covid-19, Khan is the ultimate triple threat: as a U of T infectious diseases prof, he’s spent his career studying outbreaks; as a front-line clinician at St. Mike’s, he’s been treating the virus up close; and as the brain behind BlueDot, he’s developed game-changing technology that acts as a smoke detector, fire alarm and fire extinguisher for putting out a pandemic. A full week before the WHO released its first notification about a suspicious flu in Wuhan, BlueDot had already sounded the alarm—one of the first sources to do so. Air Canada and Pearson Airport have recently partnered with BlueDot to mitigate health and economic risk associated with travel. Friends in high places: California Governor Gavin Newsom has gushed about how BlueDot was a Covid crystal ball for his state.

Matt Galloway

Radio host, CBC

You could feel the difference the moment Galloway took over the prime national slot from the much-revered Anna Maria Tremonti, a former foreign correspondent known for an interview style that’s more like an interrogation. He’s no less incisive and driven, but as any of his long-time hometown fans know, he’s also warm, genuine and reflexively empathetic. Few journalists can match him at getting to the raw emotion of a story, which has been especially impressive in a year of charged politics, racial conflict and grief. Friends in high places: He’s pals with Cameron Bailey, Masai Ujiri and Margaret Atwood.

Prabmeet Sarkaria

Minister of small business and red tape reduction

If you want someone to toast for the new booze-to-go policy at restaurants, Sarkaria is your man. He trimmed reams of red tape to help 4,000-plus mom-and-pops survive the wallop that is Covid. After hosting more than 100 roundtables, he introduced the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act (68 changes across multiple industries) and the Main Street Recovery Act ($60 million for small businesses to, among other things, help defray the cost of PPE). Up next: Streamlining the approvals process for the industrial sector—rezoning, site expansion and so on—to bring Ontario up to par with the other provinces.

James & Louise Temerty


In April, amid provincewide anxiety about the shortage of masks, ventilators and other PPE, the Temertys—who made their fortune in computer tech then founded Northland Power Inc., an independent green energy company—opened their chequebook and handed over $10 million to U of T. Those funds went directly to supply health care workers in the U of T network with PPE, and to support Covid-related initiatives. As if that weren’t generous enough, in September, the duo handed over a further $240 million to U of T’s medical school, the largest single donation to a Canadian university ever. Side gig: He’s a director of the Royal Conservatory of Music.

PLUS… The New Arrivals

Five new or returning Torontonians who make the city great

Kunal Gupta

CEO, Polar Mobile

Gupta, a University of Waterloo grad, relocated from New York City and has implemented a four-day workweek for his staff, recognizing the mental-health challenges posed by the pandemic.

Deborah Flint

CEO, Greater Toronto Airports Authority

Zanetti Photography

Flint, the head of Pearson, came from Los Angeles and quickly implemented innovative health and safety measures designed to get us all airborne again. She sees the pandemic as an opportunity for renewal in terms of equity and inclusion.

Ismaila Alfa

Host, Metro Morning

Alfa, the former host of Winnipeg’s afternoon radio show, evinces a Gallowayesque charm (see his interview with kid scientists), can handle big names (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, of Never Have I Ever) and can lob hardballs, too (Eileen de Villa).

Donna Young

Dean, Ryerson faculty of law

Mitch Wojnarowicz

She is only the second woman of colour to be the dean of a Canadian law school. Young, who came home from Albany, aims to build the brand-new Ryerson Law around social justice and inclusion and to implement a more holistic admissions process.

Lola Kassim

GM, Uber Eats Canada

Uber took a hit this year, but Uber Eats has gone gangbusters. That puts Kassim, who just returned from working in West Africa, in the spotlight. She is committed to diversity hiring and helped with a fund to establish a Black-owned digital business directory.

The Medical Marvels

Five physicians doing inspiring work

Paul Caulford

Medical director, Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care

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Caulford has provided care to uninsured patients for nearly three decades. His organization has grown to include 25 volunteer doctors, 10 dentists, four nurse practitioners, 12 nurses and various others.

Patricia O’Campo & Janet Smylie

Baby Bundle Project

O’Campo and Smylie, both professors at U of T, launched their initiative last spring. It provides culturally sensitive holistic support to Indigenous mothers during pregnancy and birth, and for the six months following.

Barbara Yaffe

Associate chief medical officer of health, Ontario

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As the right hand of David Williams, Yaffe has become a familiar face throughout the pandemic, and an integral part of the team that has overseen most of the Covid guidelines for business and customers.

Brett Belchetz

CEO, Maple

If the future of medicine is digital, what better person to lead the revolution than a physician (still practising) who’s a former McKinsey consultant. Loblaw Co. saw enough promise in Belchetz and his virtual medicine app to hand over $75 million for a minority stake.

Internet Famous

Six homegrown social media superstars

Boman Martinez-Reid

TikTok star

More than 13 million people have viewed his “When One of Your Friends Has a Cough Except It’s Reality TV.” This summer, he was featured in a Netflix Pride video and, oh right, he recently signed with the talent agency that reps Beyoncé.

Sasha Exeter

Instagram icon

Vanessa Heins

Over the years, Exeter has cultivated a lively and inspirational social media brand, but she had her biggest moment in the summer, when she called out Jessica Mulroney for bully behaviour and found a wellspring of support for her bravery.

Donté Colley

Dance phenom

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The New York Times called him the “hope we need” before the pandemic. These days, he’s more of an essential service. His groove-filled dance clips have won him hundreds of thousands of fans. Now he’s the face of Diesel denim. Neon jeans, anyone?

Lewis George Hilsenteger

Tech reviewer

With more than 17.5 million subscribers, this guy is to tech gadgets what Reese Witherspoon is to women’s lit: a good review on his YouTube channel Unboxed Therapy can spell the difference between must-have and major flop.

Greg & Mitch

Science guys

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The boyfriend duo behind ASAPScience (and its 9.45 million YouTube subscribers) make science relevant and digestible. They recently put mask wearing under the microscope to show that—yes—masking up is a scientifically sound proposition.

Rising Stars

Four ascendant names to watch

Leen Li

CEO, Wealthsimple Foundation

She’s the low-key brainiac who, after serving for three years as Wealthsimple’s CFO, just switched to become CEO of the company’s foundation, which aims to help children from marginalized families access funding for post-secondary education.

Gave Lindo

Director of content programming, TikTok Canada

A lawyer by training and most recently CBC’s executive in charge of Gem, Lindo is heading up the programming for the Canadian arm of TikTok. He’ll go on a hiring blitz, boost the user base and cultivate homegrown influencer talent.

Alex Norman

Partner, N49P Ventures

At $15 million, his fund is small but mighty. In 2020, he invested in 16 companies—$3 million all told—two with extreme 2020 timeliness: Sherpa helps users navigate travel restrictions; Crescendo helps companies address racial and cultural equality.

Celeste Yim

Staff writer, SNL

Yim did the Toronto comedy-stop tour (Second City, Follies) before graduating as a dean’s fellow from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and catching the eye of Lorne Michaels at SNL. The recent sketch “Canadian News Show” was Yim’s doing.

The Innovators

The brainiacs behind the coolest new apps, platforms and gizmos

Ignacio Tartavull

CEO, Tiny Mile

Daniel Neuhaus

Formerly of Uber’s self-driving cars division, Tartavull was working on “Geoffrey,” his cotton-candy-pink, adorably cute delivery robot, long before the pandemic. It just happened to be ready right when we needed no-contact delivery like never before.

Anshul Ruparell

Co-founder and CEO, Properly

The brokerage platform aims to snag a piece of the Toronto real estate trade. Properly provides a financial guarantee (based on a home’s equity) to homeowners so they can buy a new home before having to list the original home on the market.

Marie Chevrier Schwartz

CEO, Sampler

Ordering everything from home is fun! It’s less fun when those things don’t remotely resemble what you were expecting. Sampler ships its clients free samples of just about anything before they take the full-purchase plunge.

Brad Ford

General manager, RC Coffee

Ford and the team at RC Coffee (which owns Automat, the company behind those tap-to-pay widgets you see everywhere) are betting that contactless everything is here to stay. Their new streetside java operation launched at Dark Horse in the fall.

The TV Stars

Hollywood North’s finest

Iman Vellani

Actor, Ms. Marvel

Scoring the lead role in the forthcoming Disney Plus Ms. Marvel series would be a big deal for any actor, but when it’s your first ever IMDb credit, that is something to marvel over. Vellani will play the first-ever Muslim superhero to headline her own comic book.

Dahvi Waller

Creator, Mrs. America

Long before the hype started for Waller’s hit series about the fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, the Canadian director had secured the year’s most star-studded cast, including Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Sarah Paulson and Uzo Aduba.

Brooke Lynn Hytes

Host, Drag Race Canada

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The host of Drag Race’s north-of-the-border iteration was the first Canadian to compete (and slay!) on the original show. Now the Queen of the North has achieved what no previous contestant has done before her: become a judge.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

Actor, Never Have I Ever

Ilya Slastinikov

The Mississauga teenager beat out 15,000 hopefuls to star in Mindy Kaling’s Netflix series Never Have I Ever. The high school drama came at the right time for escapist bingers, earning a 96 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Nathan Mitchell

Actor, The Boys

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It takes a certain kind of magnetism to earn fan-favourite status while mute and acting behind a mask, but Mitchell, a Ryerson grad, has done exactly that as Black Noir on Amazon’s madcap superhero series The Boys, which has become a pandemic must-watch.


This package appears in the December 2020 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.

November 29, 2020

A previous version of this story stated that Jacob Blake was killed by police. He was seriously injured but survived. Toronto Life regrets the error.


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