Monday, June 30, 2014

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford offers sweeping apology

Mayor Rob Ford rolled out of rehab and back into City Hall Monday promising he’s cleaned up his act and will fight to win this fall’s municipal election.

An apologetic Ford — back from a two-month leave of absence — appeared on the verge of tears at times as he read a 17-minute statement in which he admitted his addiction to drugs.

“My commitment to living clean is now unwavering,” Ford told around 20 members of the media at an invite-only press conference in the mayor’s office. “To the people of this great city, I want to offer a public apology. I used poor judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions.

“When I look back at some of the things I have said and some of the things I did when I was using, I am ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated. I was wrong and I have no one but no one to blame but myself,” he added.

Despite spending almost eight weeks in several hundred hours of “intensive therapy” at the GreeneStone Muskoka rehab, Ford quickly reignited the circus-like atmosphere at City Hall. He dodged questions from reporters throughout the day and surrounded himself with a protective ring of City Hall security guards.

The embattled mayor took a temporary leave on April 30 and fled the city the next day to seek help for a “problem with alcohol.”

That sudden exit came just as news broke about a second video which appeared to show Ford smoking crack cocaine. The Toronto Sun also obtained an audio recording of him making several obscene and racist comments in an Etobicoke bar.

“I decided that enough was enough. I had become my own worst enemy,” Ford said about his decision to enter rehab. “I knew it was time to take action. It was time to get help, professional help.”

Ford said he believes GreeneStone “saved my life.”

“I now realize that I was blind to the dangers of some of the company I kept. And those associations have ended,” he said.

“I can proudly say today that I have begun the process of taking control of my life.”

Although Ford has spent more than a year repeatedly denying he suffered from addiction, the civic leader admitted on Monday that he had a problem with drugs and alcohol.

“I was in complete denial,” Ford said. “I had convinced myself that I did not have a problem.

“It soon became obvious that my alcohol and drug use was having a serious impact on my family, on my health, and on my job as mayor.”

The end of Ford’s speech quickly veered into a list of his administration’s accomplishments over the last three years.

“There’s still much more to accomplish,” Ford said. “I plan to continue fighting for the taxpayers of Toronto.”

Councillor Joe Mihevc suggested Toronto residents are “past their Rob Ford addiction” and doubted people will believe Ford’s speech.

“My sense is his redemption song was written by his political strategist rather than by his personal counsellor who is working on his addiction issues,” Mihevc said. “This is about really getting the mayor back into the swing of the election.

“This is not about addiction, this is about leadership for this city and whether you would want a man with that weak a skill-set to be leading this city and embarrassing us all over again for another four years.”
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Liberal Adam Vaughan wins in Trinity-Spadina

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have grabbed a key Toronto riding from the New Democrats with candidate Adam Vaughan’s decisive win in the Trinity-Spadina byelection.

NDP candidate Joe Cressy was unable to keep orange a riding that former NDP MP Olivia Chow won easily in the 2011 general election.

Conservative candidate Benjamin Sharma was a distant third place, just ahead of Green Party candidate Camille Labchuk.

Vaughan, who resigned his seat on Toronto Council in May shortly after gaining the Liberal nomination in Trinity-Spadina, was ahead all night with more than 50% of the popular vote at deadline.

The Liberal win echoed the results of the general provincial election on June 12 that saw an Ontario NDP incumbent lose to a Liberal competitor, and raises questions about the NDP’s continuing relevance with downtown Torontonians as provincial and federal Liberal Leaders appear to move to the left on the political spectrum.

Over the years, Trinity-Spadina has switched back and forth between the Liberals and the NDP.

Olivia Chow had held the riding since 2006, taking it from the Liberals, but resigned in March to run for the Toronto mayor’s job.

Chow had won the riding with more than double the votes of her nearest competitor, Liberal candidate Christine Innes, in the 2011 general election, capturing almost 55% of the 65,611 ballots cast.

Voter turnout on Monday appeared to be low as predicted.

Byelection day may have come on a quiet Monday squeezed between the weekend and a statutory summer holiday but there was nothing sleepy about a campaign that pitted human rights activist Cressy against high profile former Toronto Councillor Vaughan.

The Liberal campaign got off to a sloppy start when Trudeau blocked Innes’ candidacy and she slapped him with a defamation suit.

The campaign was marred with vandalism of approximately $6,000 worth of Cressy election signs, including one on the candidate’s own front yard.

The pair clashed over the Line 9 pipeline through Toronto with Cressy accusing Vaughan of misleading voters by suggesting Trudeau was opposed to it.

Vaughan emphasized his local roots as a journalist, and the child of one of the city’s leading activist families.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attended a rally in support of Vaughan Saturday, while NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair was in town to back Cressy.
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

2014 CHIN Picnic crowns its bikini winners in Toronto

TORONTO - Pegah Donna remembers attending the annual CHIN Picnic as a teen with her family after they moved to Canada from Iran.

Her favourite part was the Miss CHIN bikini pageant, the picnic’s trademark event.

And now, at the not-so-tender age of 39, Donna took to the stage Saturday afternoon as one of 22 female pageant contestants for this year’s CHIN Picnic, a multicultural outdoor festival now in its 48th year.

“My family, when we came to Canada we always used to go to CHIN, and when they started doing the bikini pageants, I was always the person sitting in the audience and I was cheering everybody on and I thought, you know what, why not be a good example for women, especially from where I come from,” said Donna, who comes from a family of moderate Muslims.

When asked why it took her until now to slip into a bikini and flaunt her bod in front of a large, CHIN Picnic crowd, the self-employed event planner said she wanted to wait until her parents and siblings were comfortable enough with the idea.

“I wanted to be sure that my family was OK with it first, and they really were, I just didn’t have the courage to ask ... My family, they are very open minded and they gave me their blessing.”

This year’s picnic is being held at Exhibition Place and featured a Mr. CHIN competition, as well.

Lenny Lombardi took over running the CHIN Picnic — the Toronto Sun is one of the sponsors of the annual Canada event — after his father, broadcaster and CHIN creator Johnny Lombardi, died in 2002.

“The picnic, when it was first initiated back in 1966 ... it was a celebration of (my dad) getting his first license as a multicultural broadcaster,” said Lombardi. “Over the years, CHIN radio has evolved in serving so many more cultural groups ... We’ve evolved in serving the needs of newly emerging communities.”

Lombardi went on to say that the memory of his father lives on through the picnic.

“My dad had a tremendous passion for this picnic because it really was a reflection of his dream,” said Lombardi.

The CHIN Picnic continues Sunday at Bandshell Park and Exhibition Place on Sunday and again on Tuesday, Canada Day. from noon to 11 p.m. Admission is free.

Events and schedules can be found at
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Monday, June 23, 2014

Newborn's remains found in North York park

TORONTO - The “lower half” of a newborn was found in a storm drain in a North York park Monday, according to Toronto Police.

Det. Nick Nei, of 31 Division, said the remains found at Heathrow Park, in the Jane St.-Wilson Ave. area, seem to be that of an infant less than a month old.

City workers dispatched to clean the drain made the grisly discovery just after 9 a.m. Ontario’s coroner had completed an on-scene investigation by late Monday afternoon.

“What I’m hearing is that it is half of a child ... the lower half,” said Const. Victor Kwong, adding that homicide investigators are monitoring the situation closely.

Nei told media gathered at the scene that investigators have little to go on so far and will be looking to the public for help.

“Look around to your friends and neighbours, people you may know, people you may have come across (who) may have been pregnant or had a child and you don’t see that child or you haven’t seen that child yet,” said Nei, adding that the dead baby’s mother may “need some help.”

He urged anyone with information to contact officers at 31 Division.

Nei said the search area will include a creek that runs from Exbury Rd. to Wilson Ave. and all the sewer pipes that feed into the park drain where the child’s remains were found.

Nei acknowledged that the remains could have washed into the park’s drain from another location. He also said the drain was last cleaned two weeks ago, and that it is possible the body part could have been there since then.

Nei could not confirm the gender, ethnicity, or exact age of the child, explaining there was dirt and debris covering the infant’s remains.

These details, he said, will be determined through ongoing forensic investigation.

Kwong said that by late afternoon, York Region Police had lent a hand by bringing in dogs to find a “scent trail to see where it originated.”

According to the City of Toronto, Heathrow Park is a 2.2-hectare park that features two playgrounds, a splash pad, a walking path, and “open green space.”
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Toronto's first 'official' street map

TORONTO - With more than 5,600 km of roads that make up the thousands of different streets scattered throughout our city that covers more than 630 sq-km (much greater if we’re going somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area) getting from here to there can be a monumental task.

In the old days a paper map supplied by the gasoline companies (another thing they don’t provide like clean windshields) would do the trick. Today we have on-line Google maps or even better GPS systems some with add-ons that let people avoid construction or accident locations.

How much easier it was when James Grant Chewett, one of the city’s most prolific citizens (architect, surveyor, contractor and financier) presented Torontonians, of which there were 9,254 (give or take a few) with the community’s first “official” street map.

Some of its features remain obvious. Things like the Don River, the site of Fort York (then known as the Garrison), Toronto Island (although in this map it’s a peninsula connected at the east end with the mainland) and many of the streets that make up the simple, but usually traffic-choked crisscrossing layout in the downtown core (Hospital is now Richmond, Newgate now Adelaide, Peter, John, Duke, Duchess, Princes now Princess, etc., etc.). An easy name to define as to its origin is Front ‘cause that’s just what it was back then, the front street of the town.

Running from west to east (or east to west if you were arriving by stage coach from Kingston) and in places skirting the north side of the marshes (Ashbridges) is what was originally known as Lot St. for the numerous lots or parcels of land fronting on this thoroughfare and running north exactly 1¼ miles (100 of the 66 foot-long surveyor’s chains or 6,600 feet) or one concession to the Second Concession Road, an east-west thoroughfare we now know as Bloor St. although its namesake, a pioneer brewer and land speculator spelled his surname Bloore. Lot is now Queen for the then young Queen Victoria. The other Yonge honours Sir George Yonge, Secretary of War in the Cabinet of King (King St.) George III.

Interestingly, the 1¼ mile x 1¼ mile grid pattern just mentioned is reflected in the layout of today’s major east-west and north-south city streets (Bloor, St. Clair, Eglinton, Lawrence, York Mills-Wilson, Sheppard, Finch and Steeles and Yonge west to Bathurst, Dufferin etc., and Yonge east to Bayview, Leslie, Woodbine, etc.) all 1¼ miles apart.

There’s much more to Toronto’s early maps. Check out Nathan Ng’s fascinating website where I have no doubt you’ll be educated and entertained for hours.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Street light art installation nightmare, Weston residents say

TORONTO - Some Weston residents are in the dark over the purpose of a new city art installation.

And a few will be blinded by the lights as the 30 street lights art structure will be shining in their bedroom windows.

The light display — called Nyctophelia, meaning love of darkness — cost $250,000 and was funded through Section 37 of Toronto’s Planning Act, where developers give a percentage of money from their developments for art projects.

The lights are located on Dennis Ave. — a one-way, eastbound residential street — that meets Weston Rd. south of Eglinton.

The permanent installation, which is expected to be completed this summer, isn’t very visible from Weston until one is right on top of it.

Councillor Frances Nunziata says the community was consulted and approved the art and location in 2009.

“It lights up Weston Rd. It was dark and nothing was happening in that section. The area has been an eye-sore and people complained how ugly it was with weeds and trees,” Nunziata said.

“This will be an incentive to redevelop the strip.”

Sarah Todd lives across the street from the new light show and is in no hurry for it to shine.

“They say it is art … I just don’t get it. It is going to be a waste of hydro,” Todd said.

Area resident Daleon Phillip says the installation doesn’t represent art.

“There are too many lights. It’s just confusion. What were they thinking?” Phillip said. “People are going to have to put foil on their windows to sleep.”

Another Weston resident, Anna Fisico, says there are other locations where the lights would be more suitable.

“It could be put on Black Creek (Dr.) or it could have been put on the part of Eglinton (Ave.) that they are rebuilding and it would have been beautiful,” Fisico said.

“It should be on a main intersection.”
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Toronto cop James Forcillo committed to stand trial in TTC shooting

TORONTO - At Old City Hall comes the only decision that could satisfy this city.

Following a preliminary hearing, a judge has committed Const. James Forcillo to stand trial for second-degree murder in the troubling shooting of teen Sammy Yatim last July on an empty Dundas St. streetcar.

The flurry of bullets that struck the knife-wielding 18-year-old still echo to this day.

Bang after bang after bang after bang after bang after bang after bang after bang after bang. Nine shots fired at a skinny kid standing at the streetcar doors with a puny blade that glinted in the headlights of a cavalry of police cars that had arrived on the scene.

His death didn’t make sense. Not then, and not a year later. But our myriad of questions stand a better chance of being answered now with a trial slated to go ahead sometime in 2015.

The officer’s prelim was originally scheduled to continue until Friday, but Justice Richard LeDressay — an Oakville-area judge purposely brought in from outside Toronto to ensure there was no question of bias — had obviously heard enough and ruled Tuesday that there is enough evidence to send Forcillo to trial.

What that evidence is remains sealed under a publication ban. And yet we have seen so much of it already thanks to the horrifying citizen cellphone videos that captured the shooting in the early hours of last July 27.

The streetcar, its passengers having fled minutes earlier, stands stopped near Trinity Bellwoods Park. “Drop the knife, drop the knife,” the officers can be heard demanding as some stand with guns drawn and pointed at the lone man inside.

Yatim can be seen through the streetcar window in a baseball cap, black T-shirt and white pants. Police sirens fill the background. Then just forty-one seconds into the video posted on YouTube, the bullets fly. Three shots at first. A six second pause and then six more shots follow.

The sheer volume of bullets is impossible to comprehend. As is what happens next. Even as the young man lay crumpled on the floor of the streetcar, with little doubt that he must have died in such a hail of bullets, the sound of a Taser can be heard as well.

The shocking video has been seen almost one million times.

And there are still others. In CCTV footage posted online from a nearby convenience store, the teen is seen pacing back and forth inside the streetcar before he stops at the door. As the police shout at Yatim to drop the knife, he responds: “You’re a f---ing p----, you’re a f---ing p----.”

Seconds later, he is dead.

And in yet another disturbing YouTube video, Yatim’s legs can be seen twitching as his prone body is hit by bullet after bullet.

The most staunch police defender could not be anything but troubled by what is depicted on these tapes — there was no apparent effort by the police at de-escalation, no calm effort to talk him down or to attempt any other approach to avert the senseless tragedy that unfolded. Was the Taser on the way? Why didn’t police wait for the sergeant who could operate the stun gun when there didn’t appear to be any immediate threat of danger?

Instead, it looked like an execution.

But these viral videos are not the whole story, of course. There were eyewitnesses on the streetcar who will detail what led up to this deadly encounter. There is critical footage from inside the TTC car itself that we have not seen. There is testimony from Forcillo himself and his fellow officers.

When the preliminary hearing first began in April, Forcillo’s lawyer, Peter Brauti, warned that there is much more to what happened that summer night than we know. He predicted that the “frightening” evidence will eventually change many minds.

Perhaps — but now that will be for a jury of his peers to decide. And for the health of this city, that is a good thing.

Because nothing short of an exhaustive trial on these second-degree murder charges will satisfy a public still sickened and outraged by what happened to a kid on an empty streetcar, surrounded by police, almost one year ago.
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Toronto's building on up

TORONTO - Toronto looks like a city of cranes from 42 storeys above on University Ave.

The south-facing view from the penthouse condo at University and Dundas St. W. shows panoramic vistas of the skyline stretching to the lake.

And speckled around these landmarks are a few dozen construction cranes — the indication the city is growing and continues to build.

“It is Toronto’s new normal,” said Bryan Tuckey, CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD). “When you see what’s happening in the City of Toronto, it’s not a condominium bubble — it’s a very significant, public policy-driven shift to higher density.”

There are 154 building cranes in the air right now in Toronto. That translates to 46,362 units being developed, mainly in highrises, and 89% of those units are sold, according to BILD.

Toronto may be destined to be a land of glass towers, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t willing to throw stones at them.

Condo development has become a contentious issue in recent years between those who say they are creating adequate housing for the future and those who believe too many projects at once is oversaturation.

BILD claims the number of developments is slated to grow steadily in the next 10 years, and future construction follows the requirements for Ontario’s Places to Grow Act, the provincial plan for growth and densification in existing communities.

In the last five years, about 60% of new homes sold have been highrises. New home construction in 2013 created more than 207,400 jobs in the GTA and the City of Toronto generated $11.1 billion in new home construction.

For builders, it’s the challenge of providing housing for 100,000 people coming to the region each year from immigration, migration from other parts of Canada, and people starting families.

According to the builders association, the development industry must build between 35,000 to 40,000 new homes each year to keep up with demand.

“When you look at what Toronto is going to be in 20 or 30 years, Toronto will be the third-largest metropolitan area in North America, with only Los Angeles and New York being larger,” Tuckey said.

But analyst Don Campbell, of the Real Estate Investment Network, warned condo developers and the province to closely monitor the city’s long-term demand for the next decade.

“The trend that we see is the size of the units get smaller, therefore trying to keep the market in an ‘affordable level.’ Our studies are really focused on who’s next rather than who’s now,” Campbell said.

“Developers are developing what is required right now — in essence, a condo factory. The demand right here right now is size for sheer affordability. Take that out 10 years from now, you’re going to see a lot of one-bedroom ghettos. That may be a harsh term, but it’s painting a picture,” he said.

“All these one-bedroom units that we have now are going to become quite useless to Generation Y (families) 10 years from now (who need more space).”

While buying a condo unit is still approximately $230,000 cheaper than purchasing a single-family house, prices are rising.

Condo prices have increased by 6.4% from last year in the GTA and even higher in Toronto at 7.6%, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB).

Compare that with detached homes price increases of 8.3% in the GTA and 9.2% in Toronto.

“The condo market has been quite resilient,” said Jason Mercer, TREB senior manager of market analysis.

“We saw record occupancies last year of new condominium apartments, and over the last few years, we saw a lot of construction and a lot of completion that has led to a lot of supply in the marketplace for condos. Yet, we’ve seen enough demand relative to that supply to continue to see upward pressure on pricing,” Mercer said.

But as more condo towers pop up, so do concerns of residents who are impacted by what they call overdevelopment.

The Toronto Entertainment District Residents Association (TEDRA) notes a large number of condos are slated for their community. The group’s concern is that when they attend meetings and ask for a vision from condo developers, they don’t receive a satisfactory answer.

“As you see already, we have an enormous amount of traffic congestion and when we go to these development meetings, we always ask about infrastructure and we never get an answer. But they keep approving them,” TEDRA executive director Mike Yen said. “If we don’t have an answer, why do they keep approving them?”

“It’s an area where condo developers advertise to come here because it’s eclectic, fun, vibrant — but if they’re tearing all that down, what do we have left? One of our main fights is saving restaurant row (on King St. W.). We’re losing heritage buildings and businesses that are vibrant and successful,” Yen said.

“No one wants to live in a forest of condos with no green space and nothing to do.”

BILD contends the public and the industry need to clearly identify where they want shovels in the ground “so it fits in the community in a sensitive way.”

Builders recognize that areas close to transit are attractive, such as North York Centre, along the waterfront, Liberty Village, downtown and Etobicoke. BILD also examines other cities, such as Calgary and Copenhagen, Denmark, as examples of how they can build more effectively.

Tuckey said he believes there should be a mix of housing options and that the condo market is self-regulating. If units are not sold, they’re not built.

“I think we still should be able to have housing choice for the different phases of people’s lifestyles,” he said. “At this juncture, there just isn’t enough supply of ground-related to meet that market, so people are forced up longer they’d like, out — and we see people moving farther from the city to find places to live, or they move back in with their parents.”

Ute Lehrer, a York University environmental studies associate professor who has studied condo development in the GTA for 15 years, said there needs to be an overall vision for the city when it comes to condo planning.

“It’s not the question of numbers, it’s the question of quality,” she said. “We talk too much about overbuilding in Toronto, but we don’t talk about the form of the building. It’s lacking interest from the builders’ side to build for the long-run. They are thought through for 20 or 30 years, but 10 years in they already start to leak. They need to think about quality over a cheap deal.”

BILD maintains building up is simply an inevitable — and a sustainable and beneficial part of Toronto’s future.

“The residents of Ontario and the GTA spoke very clearly 10 years ago that they wanted to stop the outward expansion — what they perceived as sprawl — of the region,” Tuckey said.

“Change is difficult for all involved. This is a significant change that public policy has decided to implement in Ontario. (Builders) are on the front lines implementing this change.”
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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Toronto's TTC streetcars — then and now

TORONTO - Several weeks ago the suits at the TTC invited a bunch of us media (not medium) types to go for a ride on their new Bombardier modified Flexity model streetcar.

While most of the ladies and gentlemen on board the new car raved about any number of things, because of my interest in history I couldn’t help but wonder whether the newspaper and broadcasting people (television didn’t come to our city for another 14 years) of 1938, the year the Presidents’ Conference Committee “Streamliner” (PCC) was introduced to Torontonians, recorded a similar “Wow”, “Holy Cow” and “What a vehicle!!”?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any specific comments about the new vehicle in any of the Toronto papers. And who knows what the on-air people might have said.

The closest I could come to statements praising the “state of the art” PCC were contained in an ad placed by the TTC. It trumpeted the numerous improvements the new cars had over the existing Peter Witt and “ancient” wooden vehicles in the fleet.

Everything from “a swift, smooth, noiseless ride, “steps inside the front door spaced for safety and just the right height”, “form-fitting seats”, and “airy in the summer, electrically heated and ventilated in the winter.” The PCC is “designed to give you the best transportation service money can buy.”

And speaking of money, the initial PCC order was for 140 vehicles at a cost of $3 million or $21,500 per car. And the new Bombardier vehicle? Two hundred and four vehicles will cost $1.2 billion or nearly $6 million per vehicle. Impossible to compare costs but just for fun, a bottle of Coca Cola in 1938 was a nickel; a copy of the Telegram newspaper 3 cents.
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York police crack down on street racing

There’s no outrunning a police helicopter, says York Regional Police Const. Ivan Roach.

The air support officer spoke out on Friday as the force launched its annual crackdown on street-racing and stunt-driving.

The campaign — dubbed Project ERASE (Eliminate Racing Activity on Streets Everywhere) — will see York police target illegal street racers.

The effort will include a police helicopter, acting as eyes in the sky for officers on the ground.

While in the air sitting by a helicopter pilot, Roach looks for illegal activity such as racers setting up — and relays it to officers on the ground.

He can usually spot racers setting up from “kilometres away.” Cameras on the helicopter help provide video evidence later of their activities.

“I don’t know why you would bother,” Roach said.

“We can come up and sneak up on people. They’re not going to see us coming and I can see them way off in the distance,” he said.

Since beginning work as an officer in 1999, Roach has witnessed his fair share of deadly collisions.

“I’ve seen some horrendous crashes and some of them have been the result of street-racing,” he said. “I’ve seen bystanders get hit by a street-racer. I’ve seen innocent bystander cars cut in half. I’ve watched young men die as a result of street-racing.”

So far this year, the OPP has laid almost 400 charges related to street-racing, said Insp. Mark Pritchard.

“Those are 400 charges that are far too many,” he said. “It’s totally preventable, people are driving in this manner for their own entertainment and not only risking their lives but your lives and the lives of our families.”

In the past two years, almost 150 people have lost their lives on OPP-patrolled highways in “either aggressive or speed-related” collisions, Pritchard added.
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Toronto voters cling to Liberals

TORONTO - It didn’t matter to entitled Torontonians that she misled the electorate about her ties to the gas plant scandal and about the state of Ontario’s finances or that she’s more left of centre than NDP Leader Andrea Horwath or that with her “safe hands” in charge of this province, we’re closer to Greece or Detroit than the witless in this city ever want to think.

It didn’t matter that her fiscal capabilities seem to begin and end with her ability to buy votes and buy off the powerful unions so they would scratch her back and spend gazillons of dollars on ads that scared voters into thinking Tim Hudak was the devil incarnate.

Toronto’s latte-sipping, mojito-sipping elitists, whiny forever-hard-done-by teachers and assorted other public sector workers were having none of the necessary tough medicine being dished out by the Conservatives. They are entitled to their entitlements, dammit. I actually heard one man on TV Thursday night talking about the people in Toronto not liking “scary,” as in Hudak.

I would beg to differ. They don’t like reality.

Whether wilfully ignorant about the record of Liberal mismanagement and the billions of dollars thrown down the drain on scandals, dollars that could and should have gone to health care, or apathetic about the corruption that has dominated the headlines and the stench of favouritism and nepotism surrounding so many Liberal contracts — or it is simply impossible to break the stranglehold the Liberals have on Toronto — not one PC candidate won in Toronto.

All but three ridings went to Liberals — many of them tired seat warmers and well beyond their best-before date like Monte Kwinter, Mike Colle, Lorenzo Berardinetti and Bas Balkissoon. Two NDP incumbents got tossed — Rosario Marchese and Jonah Schein — no doubt because the downtown elitists couldn’t even stomach Horwath’s talk about reining in spending.

PC MPP Doug Holyday — a decent man with integrity — went down to defeat to his council colleague Peter Milczyn, who has learned the nasty Liberal tricks very well.

I suspected all along that Torontonians were prepared to give Wynne a free pass because she’s openly gay. After all, that would suggest she’s far more hip, progressive and compassionate, fit to run the province because she runs in her Running Room jacket, loaded with integrity and truly interested in helping people. It speaks just as much to the superficiality of the low-information pampered voters in this city as to Wynne’s excellent campaigning skills and the ability of the Liberal machine to control the message.

I can tell you after watching her up close for many months at Queen’s Park, Wynne cares about one thing only: Clinging to Power and keeping her Liberal friends happily rolling in largesse.

I thought Hudak’s campaign was bold and his message of restraint needed to be articulated. Even so, I’ve said this before and will say it again. Since running for Hudak in the St. Paul’s byelection in 2009, he has not evolved as an urban politician. He and his party’s policies were unable to connect with Toronto voters then, and still have not now, despite the fact that the face of the party is changing.

There were some really smart hip PC candidates who ran in this election: Justine Deluce in my own riding of St. Paul’s; Kevin Gaudet in Pickering-Scarborough East; openly gay Jamie Ellerton in Parkdale-High Park. They couldn’t break through the city’s fixation with all things Liberal.

I find it difficult to believe Hudak and his handlers did not anticipate the huge backlash they’d get from the entitled unions about paring down 100,000 jobs. But they seem ill-prepared and unable to counter the lies, the scare tactics, the constant attempts at indoctrinating low-information voters. They needed to use simple sound bites that told voters, day after day after day, that they would NOT touch the front lines. They needed to reiterate repeatedly that instead they intended to get rid of the bloated fat cat middle managers and the Liberal friends at agencies that operated under the radar and not rehire middle managers when they retired.

Dare I say Hudak and his handlers would have far better off taking a page from Rob Ford’s successful “Stop the Gravy Train” message.

I predicted last August that Hudak wouldn’t have what it takes to win the next election and that he would not be able to connect with Toronto voters — even though it should have been his to lose. Regrettably, I’ve been proven right. His decision to step down after the vote was one election too late.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Council urges province to give illegal immigrants welfare

City councillors urged the province to provide welfare to “undocumented Torontonians.”

After another heated debate around providing city services to illegal immigrants, council voted 29 - 8 in favour of pushing ahead with “Sanctuary City” policies. Those include directing staff to only collect immigration and citizenship information when required by provincial or federal legislation, urging all city agencies and other bodies funded by the city to ensure they are offering services to everyone regardless of their immigration status and requesting the Toronto Police Services Board to review its policies to ensure cops comply with the city’s “Access without Fear” directives.

Council also voted to have staff look at developing a City of Toronto municipal identification card and to request the provincial government review Ontario Works legislation to ensure access to social services of “undocumented Torontonians.”

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong came out firmly against providing services to “illegal immigrants.”

“We all should be opposed to it. We should be in favour of playing by the rules,” Minnan-Wong told council.

Minnan-Wong argued the city was encouraging illegal immigration by offering services to everyone.

“Why have any immigration law at all?” he asked.

“To allow illegal immigrants here is an insult to all those people that played by the rules.”

“When we tell illegal immigrants that it’s OK, we’re sending a message around the world that, “Come on in, break our laws and we’re going to give you all sorts of things.’”

Councillor Gord Perks claimed councillors against providing services to everyone were engaging in “jealous guarding” of Canadian social services.

“I don’t believe for a moment that you should only have access to those (services) because you chose your country of birth wisely,” Perks said.

Last year, council voted to reaffirm the city’s commitment to offering services “without fear” to undocumented residents.

Councillor Joe Mihevc said Tuesday’s vote shows council is “supportive of making sure that everyone in this city, regardless of status, is a welcomed Torontonian.”

“What this does is it trains frontline staff and it also says to agencies that receive monies from the city that they also have to have that as part of their policy,” Mihevc said.

“Whatever services are out there they have to provide them free of asking that question (for status documentation).”

He argued the changes will “bring people out of the shadows.”

“If they know now that this city is trying to open things up they might feel more comfortable accessing the services that they want and need,” Mihevc said.

Councillor David Shiner lost a bid to get council to scuttle the proposals.

“If you’re not here legally you should not be getting the services that taxpayers get,” Shiner said.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby echoed Shiner’s stance.

“If I tried to go to some of these other countries what would I get there? Bupkis,” she said.
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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Looking back at Toronto's fireboat — the William Lyon Mackenzie

For years the idea of making major improvements to the St. Lawrence River that would allow ocean-going ships access to and from the Great Lakes had been floated, but the governments of both Canada and the United States just couldn’t get their acts together.

It wasn’t until the Canadians decided to go it alone that an agreement to have both sides jointly build the St. Lawrence Seaway was finally signed. The new waterway was officially opened by U.S. President Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth on June 26, 1959.

With an increased number of large cargo ships coming into Toronto Harbour one obvious result of a new seaway city officials began to realize the need for improved safety equipment.

One thing high on the list of many was a new fireboat as was proved by the lack of a modern vessel to help fight the disastrous Noronic fire in September 1949. But as usually happens financing of a new vessel was a key concern.

In fact, some suggested that the oil companies that occupied much of the industrial area along Cherry and Commissioners streets should provide, at their cost, the necessary vessel.

The discussions dragged on with some senior politicians call the proposed fireboat nothing more than a “toy for the harbour of this (Toronto’s) size.”

Nevertheless, agreement was reached and $600,000 set aside in the estimates for a new fireboat that would sail into Toronto Harbour on May15, 1963, nearly four years after the new Seaway opened its massive locks and the Great Lakes to the world’s shipping.


Wednesday, July 21, 1965 was hot in Toronto and down on the waterfront things were about to get hotter. It was almost 2 in the afternoon and Captain Markos Lyras’ Greek freighter Orient Trader was about to depart Toronto having unloaded part of her cargo that among other things consisted of tons of raw rubber.

Still deep in the cargo holds were piles of rubber destined for several other ports located along the shores of the upper Great Lakes. The 20-year-old vessel had been built in a Baltimore shipyard right after the war and launched as the Stamford Victory, a name that was changed to one that would become part of Toronto Harbour history, Orient Trader, in 1960.

As the 7,700 ton freighter backed away from the dock wall near the foot of Yonge St. suddenly one of her crew members began shouting “FIRE, FIRE."

Within seconds plumes of heavy black smoke began pouring out of one of the holds. Alarms were rung in and only minutes passed before city fire trucks were on the scene. However, with the ship moored lengthwise against the dock the firemen could only attack from the city side what had now become a roaring inferno deep within the ship.

The steel hull plates had turned white as a result of the internal heat and began to buckle.

Rumours began to spread that the ship would explode and when it did much of the east end of the waterfront (that in the sixties still consisted of sprawling product-filled warehouses, numerous small commercial businesses and several industries including Victory Soya Mills and part of the Gooderham and Worts complex) would be destroyed.

To the rescue came Toronto’s year-old fireboat, the one that many of the city’s long-time politicians said we didn’t need nor could afford.

The first thing the William Lyon Mackenzie (so named in honour of our first mayor) did was to assist pulling the burning ship away from the city and out into the relative safety of the east end of the harbour.

For the next 24 hours Mackenzie continued to pour thousands of gallons of water on the blaze through her 12 hoses.

Thanks to the gallant firefighters and the fireboat many didn’t want the city was saved from what might have become the worst waterfront disaster since the destruction of the SS Noronic and the loss of 119 lives when the popular passenger cruise ship caught fire while moored at her Bay St. passenger terminal in September of 1949.

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Cyclists raise over $20 million at seventh annual Ride to Conquer Cancer

Carley Allison could barely speak following her tracheotomy a year ago.

Now, she’s reverberating her voice to thousands.

Allison, 18, was diagnosed in February 2013 with a rare case of malignant melanoma outside her trachea. With a one in a billion chance of a tumour growing next to her trachea, she was the seventh person in the world to fall prey to such a cancer.

But now, she’s cancer-free.

“Today was all about giving inspiration to riders before they go,” Allison said Saturday after singing the Canadian national anthem to launch the seventh annual Ride to Conquer Cancer at Ontario Place.

This year’s ride by 5,212 cyclists will raise $20 million to fund research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Since its inception the event has raised more than $119 million.

“For me to go up there, just currently out of treatment, it was empowering,” Allison said. “I’m getting my voice back. It’s not perfect yet, but I could sing for everyone else.”

A month after she was diagnosed, Toronto surgeon Dr. Patrick Gullane removed the five-centimetre golf ball-sized tumour and also stretched out her trachea and sewed the ends together. This allowed the reversal of a previous tracheostomy (where a tube had been inserted in her throat to allow her to breathe easier).

The only physical reminder she bares of being a cancer survivor is the scar where the device was once installed.

“Some people have to have it for life and it was very high risk I would have it for life, but my surgeon was amazing and I’ll never have to have it again,” she said. “I was so happy. It added an extra stress to everything – like, I couldn’t throw up properly, for example.”

Allison’s parents, Mark and May, are participating in this year’s ride from Ontario Place to Niagara Falls.

The Queen’s University-bound student feels she has a new lease on life. She is pursuing arts at university, figure skates and, throughout the summer, she will have a couple of fundraisers to support Princess Margaret Hospital and the Hospital For Sick Children.

She will also sing the national anthem at a Leafs game in October at Air Canada Centre during cancer awareness month.

“Once you hear those words – ‘You have cancer’ – it hits so close to home that it’s immediate waterworks,” she said. “When you see all those yellow flags (on the backs of the bikes), it means they are survivors. Having cancer is a horrible thing – but there’s good in it. You can find good in the time you have.”


Katie McWhirther and Kathryn Randle realize pedalling 200 kilometres to Niagara Falls is gruelling – but it’s a no-brainer when it comes to the reason inspiring the journey.

Their high-school friend Robyn Pascaris died of Angiosarcoma – a rare and aggressive form of cancer of the inner lining of blood vessels in the breasts – in October at the age of 26 after battling the disease for five years. They are among 5,212 riders cycling the distance in the seventh annual Ride to Conquer Cancer to support efforts to find a cure.

“We want to raise money and we know how important the research is that the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre does,” said McWhirther, 26. “She was very young. Her mom also died from cancer two years before that.”

The women, along with eight other close friends of Pascaris, hopped on their bikes Saturday to make the two-day trek from Ontario Place to Niagara Falls. They raised $24,000 for Angiosarcoma research.

“She never complained when she was sick,” Randle, 27, said. “I remember hanging out up at her cottage on Balsam Lake. Her family was so excited we were doing this.”

McWhirther remembered receiving the devastating news while she was in England. Pascaris had been travelling in California and was forced to end her trip early and come back to Toronto.

“At that point, we thought she would get over it,” McWhirther said. “She had a lumpectomy and reconstructive surgery and it seemed the cancer was gone. They never had to do any radiation and then it came back in her spine two years later (in 2012) and it spread all over her spine. It was very painful, but she was always more positive than the rest of us.”

Both women remembered their friend as kind-hearted and artistic.

“I think she’d be happy,” McWhirther said when asked what Pascaris would have thought of their quest. “I think she’d also probably laugh at how long we’re going to be on a bike. She’d definitely laugh at our sore bums.”
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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Rob Ford's sister, Kathy, interviewed by cops investigating the mayor

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford may not have granted requests to talk with Toronto Police detectives but his sister has been interviewed by them.

Sources say Kathy Ford agreed to talk with members of Det.-Sgt. Gary Giroux’s team investigating the mayor, following a frame-grab picture from a video which has been reportedly offered for sale and witnessed by reporters at the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.

The video reportedly depicts a gathering of the mayor, Kathy, friend Sandro Lisi and an alleged drug dealer in Kathy’s basement in north Etobicoke.

It has been reported by the Star the video shows the mayor inhaling a substance from a pipe that resembles an apparatus consistent with something used to smoke crack cocaine.

Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack cocaine in the past, adding he was not an addict, but he did not discuss the latest video.

However, on the day it was brought to his attention that a video was secretly being shopped around, he announced his intention to go to rehab. He remains in rehab where he says he is doing well.

Sources close to Kathy Ford said she felt it important to co-operate with police but was adamant she did not incriminate her brother during her interview.

Police say the investigation is continuing.

From rehab, Ford claimed he is aware “they are taping everything I say.” His brother Councillor Doug Ford has also said he believes his conversations have been recorded by police.

Giroux would not comment on the interview with Kathy Ford or allegations by the Ford brothers that they’re being surveilled. He referred the request to Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash, who e-mailed “we can’t comment on ongoing criminal investigations. I’m sure you can understand.”

Court documents have revealed Ford and Lisi were under surveillance last summer — as were other residents of a Dixon Rd. apartment complex — as part of the Project Brazen 2 probe.

In the past, concerning the whereabouts of the original “crack” video which has not been seen by the general public and was recorded at 15 Windsor Dr., police have spoken with people close to the mayor including staff and residents of the home. This video, captured on a cellphone, was the subject of months of intrigue. It was also viewed by Star reporters and American Gawker website editor John Cook. It was also later viewed by Chief Bill Blair and became the centrepiece of the Brazen 2 investigation.

With the newer video shot in Kathy Ford’s basement, the Globe and Mail has reported police have also spoken with a 20-year-old who was in the basement and who may have recorded the encounter which now, sources say, Kathy Ford agreed to sit down with police recently concerning the events of the day depicted in the latest video.

What was said in Kathy Ford’s interview with police is not yet public information — nor is the exact date or location it was granted.

A person close to Kathy Ford said she presented her version of events from the evening in April in her basement to police to co-operate with police and did not reveal personal information about her brother.

Kathy Ford and her lawyer Dennis Morris declined comment.

What the Kathy Ford meeting with police means to the case is up for conjecture.

Asked whether Kathy Ford meeting with officers could lead to criminal charges, former Toronto cop and crime specialist Ross McLean said “police are investigating to see if anything criminal occurred and if they deem there was, and have credible evidence to present it to the court, they would proceed.”

McLean believes it could become a “significant development” in the case.

“But police would always weigh the credibility of any witnesses or evidence they come across since those who speak to police have varying motivations,” he added.

McLean said investigators would “present evidence to the crown to determine whether or not there is a case or reasonable probability of a conviction” and “based on their agreement with the OPP for oversight, they may discuss with OPP Insp. Chris Nicholas and his investigators.”

The Star also reported the man believed to have shot the video in Kathy Ford’s home was called by her and invited to come over and “meet the mayor.” They claimed he walked down to the basement to find Rob Ford already impaired and that Kathy and friend Sandro Lisi were in the room.

The paper also reported the man said Rob Ford “beat” Lisi, who was “crying like a baby,” and that Kathy Ford “intervened.”

Kathy Ford was in court last week to set a trial date for missing a court date in relation to a 2012 toothbrush shoplifting incident.

She had been ordered to complete 25 hours of community service by May 2013 — which she claims she served, but police say she did not. She also skipped out on a court date on Feb. 13 when she was to provide proof of the community service. A bench warrant was subsequently issued.

She was arrested on Feb. 23 and released the following day on $500 bail. She will be back in court June 23 to deal with the missed court date and the matter of her completing the community service.

She refused to answer questions as she left the courthouse about whether the mayor smoked drugs in her basement last month, or about the mayor’s ongoing progress in rehab.

“Just leave me alone,” she said, as she kept her head down and jumped into a waiting cab.

Also this year, her convicted drug-dealing ex-boyfriend Scott MacIntyre alleged in a lawsuit that Rob Ford utilized his contacts to arrange for a jailhouse beating. MacIntyre was attacked in a Toronto jail in 2012 – leaving him with a broken leg, broken teeth and other injuries – after he was sent there in relation to an incident in January 2012 where he burst into the mayor’s home and later threatened to kill the mayor. He was sentenced to 10 months behind bars.

Sources say police are also interested to help connect the dots on the relationship between members of the Ford family and Lee Anne McRobb, the Muskoka woman who was given permission to borrow the mayor’s Cadillac Escalade and then was charged with impaired driving while operating the vehicle.

On May 21, McRobb was spotted at Gravenhurst’s Northland Towing and Recovery, the day she was charged, and two local radio staffers filmed her and put the video up on YouTube.

In the footage, she remarks she likes the towing worker’s watch and that she left hers at GreeneStone rehab facility “in Rob Ford’s room.”

She immediately said, “Oh, whatever, don’t worry about it. Just, just kidding.”

From rehab, Ford refused to comment on McRobb, the Escalade and the watch.
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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bikinis and more at CHIN Picnic for 2014 in Toronto

TORONTO - It’s more than bikinis.

There will be something for everyone at the 48th annual Scotiabank CHIN International Picnic held June 29-July 1 at Exhibition Place. The free multicultural festival — Canada’s largest — held its official launch on Tuesday at the Liberty Grand.

This year’s event will feature international food, live K9 dog shows and exotic animals, boxing and wrestling matches, the Miss and Mr. CHIN swimsuit competitions, concerts, celebrities and shopping.

CHIN CEO Lenny Lombardi says this is the event he grew up with, the brainchild of his father, the late CHIN Radio founder Johnny Lombardi.

“It’s with great pride that the legacy of my father continues with this celebration,” Lombardi said.

“My father started this celebration out of gratitude of being one of the first multicultural broadcasters in Canada ... It’s a unique experience that celebrates different cultures. This is very important for Toronto.”

The picnic celebrates 25 different cultures and boasts musical celebrities from Italy, Portugal, China, India, Pakistan, Philippines and Latin America.

There is also the Rising Star singing contest, where contestants can upload an original song to the picnic’s website and people can vote for the finalists who will then appear on the bandstand stage July 1.

Mariannthy Nicolaou hopes to win the title of Miss CHIN Bikini.

“I had a tragic year last year because my husband was killed. To get through it, I turned to health and fitness and decided to enter the CHIN bikini contest to help reach my goals,” Nicolaou said.

Ron Woolley, of Tiger Paw Exotics, was at the launch with a kangaroo and promised to bring more critters to the midway, as well as pony rides and a petting zoo.

“People enjoy animals and we have different ones that people don’t get to see every day,” Woolley said.
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Monday, June 2, 2014

Eglinton Crosstown green trackway plans 'ridiculous'

TORONTO - Councillor Michelle Berardinetti is seeing red over the green trackway planned for the Eglinton Crosstown.

Berardinetti will ask council next week to vote to reject the “absolutely ridiculous” greenway plans for the Eglinton LRT where it runs above ground in Scarborough.

She is also asking council to push to allow emergency vehicles to enter and exit the trackway when responding to emergency calls and creating separated bike lanes along the street rather than the current plan, which wouldn’t separate the bike lanes.

“It is all about safety,” she told the Toronto Sun. “They are worried about a visual impact and I’m worried about the impact of emergency services and safety.”

The Scarborough Southwest (Ward 35) councillor said the greenway — where grass would be planted in spots along the LRT lines — would prevent fire trucks and other first responders from using the right-of-way to respond to emergencies.

“If the green grass is gone, the emergency vehicles can access the trackway,” Berardinetti said. “It’s about emergency vehicles and it is about time.”

Installing the greenway is 22% more costly than building traditional track.

She argued separated bike lanes were dumped from the project to allow for the greenway.

“I think it is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

Metrolinx spokesman Jamie Robinson said city planning officials were “keenly interested” in having green trackway along certain portions of the Crosstown in Scarborough.

The city has agreed to fund the greenway, he added.

“We embraced that and so there will be green trackway along portions of the surface section in Scarborough,” Robinson said. “That’s in the project specifications.”

He said emergency officials raised the issue withe Metrolinx of being able to cross the trackway in the event of an emergency.

“There are a series of locations where emergency vehicles will be able to cross back and forth across the track,” he said.

But he confirmed emergency vehicles wouldn’t be able to jump onto the right-of-way and use them as a clear path to respond to an emergency.

“It is not necessary,” Robinson said.

“Emergency vehicles will not be able to travel down the right-of-way.”

Robinson stressed there are bike lanes planned for Eglinton but they are not separated.

Asked why they aren’t, Robinson said there is a “significant” cost.

“It has not been an issue, it has not been a requirement and we’re not building separated bike lanes,” he said.
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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Two men shot in Jane-Finch area of Toronto

TORONTO - Two men who were shot outside a Jane-Finch apartment complex Saturday may have been innocent bystanders, police say.

The men, both in their 50s, were standing at the back of 400 Driftwood Ave. around 10:15 p.m. when gunfire erupted.

“Two suspects approached and there was some gunfire,” Toronto Police Staff-Sgt. Ken Boyle said Sunday. “They were both hit. We don’t know at this time if they were targeted or if they were just hit. It appears that they might have just been struck.”

One victim was hit in the leg, treated and then released, while the other was struck in his upper arm and remains in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

“The one released is being co-operative,” Boyle said.

Toronto Police are looking for two suspects, both male and black, but don’t have a more detailed description.

A weapon was not recovered at the scene.

Boyle wouldn’t elaborate whether the two victims lived in the apartment complex, but said they did not know the suspects.

Anyone with information is asked to call 31 Division at 416-808-3100.
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