Saturday, December 17, 2016

Downsview Park Built For People and Nature, Combines a Park and TTC Subway and Urban Infrastructure


Does Downsview Park have a future as Toronto’s version of New York City’s Central Park?

This idea was shown to me — literally — on a recent tour of the park in a golf cart. We were there, planting trees for the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute (check it out at hohtribute.ca) on one of the beautiful, clear days we’ve had this past fall.

David Anselmi, a director with Canada Lands Company, the crown corporation in charge of the park, offered to drive me across the 291-acre swath located in northwest Toronto, at Sheppard Ave. and Keele St. For nearly 50 years it was the military base CFB Toronto before closing in 1996.

Canada Lands has invested $45 million in a new chapter for the park that will make the property into a multi-purpose urban centre. In its 20 years as a city park, progress has been quiet. Among Downsview’s biggest achievements was hosting 800,000 in 2002 for Pope John Paul II’s World Youth Day. Today, things are quieter but progress is underway with some iconic features such as the Lake, the Meadow and the Mound. And Anselmi is clearly proud of it. This past year, 125,000 visited the park that hosted 22 major events.

One of the first things on our tour that I spied were new public washrooms. “OK — good start,” I thought. If I’m going to visit a public park, I want washrooms and I want the doors to not be locked as they are so often are in places like this. 

Next: The Orchard, a variety of 400 specially chosen apple trees. This wonderful idea reminds me of a similar park in Strathcona, AB., where large planters of edible flowers and vegetables include a sign that reads: “Help yourself.”

Then we motored over the hill to a magnificent view of a nine-acre man-made lake. This is actually a stormwater retention pond that serves more than 400 surrounding acres of land. The lake is full of waterfowl, water plants and has a walking/running path that goes around it. 

Other features of the new Downsview Park:
WILLIAM BAKER WOODLOT: This 27-acre park is the perfect place for kids to play and adults to absorb some oxygen. The 1856 homestead of the Boakes family was located here, and the forest provides a reminder that the property provided a real home to real people long before it became an Air Force base in the late 1930s. 

LOVE SPORTS? Chances are you will find a sport to your liking at the park’s Hangar Sports Complex. Soccer, basketball, volleyball, ball hockey and other recreational sports activities are all accessible to the public. Details at hangarsportevents.com

LOVE WILDLIFE? This park is teaming with wildlife. The lake provides a magnet for much of it, but everywhere in the almost-300 acres there is evidence that Mother Nature is making a home here for herself. Song birds and beneficial insects are enjoying the substantial wetland areas that have formed naturally through a disciplined approach to development of the land.

LOVE TO WALK, RUN AND/OR BIKE? The Circuit Path stretches 2.7-kilometres along the outer ring, with paths criss-crossing through it, to The Meadow in the middle. Most of the paths are well lit and wide enough a baby-stroller, a runner and a bicyclist to share.

TREES: As well as the mature trees in Boake’s Grove, thousands of new trees have been planted across the property. Nothing man-made can match the contribution trees make to our social and recreational while also enhancing the health of our natural environment. The only problem is that they need time to grow. And time will make this park spectacular.

LIVING THERE: Mattamy Homes is building there now, in their Stanley Greene community. Many more units are to come over the next 10 years. 

Will Downsview become to Toronto what Central Park is to New York City? A few comparisons:
  • Central Park is 843 acres. Downsview is almost 300 acres.
  • Central Park has a 22-acre lake.
  • Central Park took 25 years to build and is now 160 years old. That is, give or take, about seven generations.
I have no doubt that in seven generations Downsview Park will hold a significant place in the hearts of Torontonians. While the park is not currently well known and not travelled nearly as much as it could be, the new subway station at the park (on the Toronto-York Spadina extension) and growing awareness of this gem will change all of that.
As all of us are told when we try and grow up too fast: “It takes time.” The pre adolescent Downsview will no doubt grow into a beauty.
 
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Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Legend of Late Toronto Biker Johnny Sombrero AKA Harry Barnes Lives On

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Johnny Sombrero, the larger-than-life leader and founder of the Black Diamond Riders Motorcycle Club who died last week at age 81.




Hundreds of mourners packed a Toronto funeral home Saturday to pay their respects to Johnny Sombrero, the larger-than-life leader and founder of the Black Diamond Riders Motorcycle Club who died last week at age 81 after a lengthy battle with diabetes and heart disease.

“The legend lives on,” said one grey-haired biker wearing a BDR patch who attended the visitation and service on Weston Rd., not far Sombrero’s north Toronto stomping grounds.

The remembrances were attended by members of several affiliate clubs including the Houston-based Amigos MC, with some travelling from the U.S. to offer their tributes. Also known as Harry Barnes, Sombrero is survived by his wife of 58 years, Maire Barnes, five children and seven grandchildren.

While he had brushes with the law decades ago, including a court case over his storage of a gun collection, friends and colleagues remembered him as an old school throwback to the day when bike gangs were about freedom and rebellion and showed respect for one another.

News reports in 1963, however, described the then 28-year-old as a “beefy, tough-talking” leader of a 200-strong gang of thrill-seeking riders that “terrorized high school dance halls, staged brawls and administered serious beatings to whoever was considered an opponent.”

The article also reported on a series of “lightning police raids” on BDR headquarters that saw Sombrero jailed for three months on a liquor charge.


As well, BDR riders took part in a clash in the early 1990s with rival Canadian motorcycle club the Satan’s Choice after a reported attempt to encroach on the gang’s Sudbury territory resulted in a melee in the parking lot of a hotel.

And the Star described a “motorcycle gang battle” that resulted in charges against Barnes, who the report described as a plumber by trade, after a bar fight left a man with a brain injury that required surgery.

A reputation had built up around Sombrero and BDR as evidenced by a reference in the 1980s Blues Brothers film that was a nod by actor Dan Aykroyd to the club from his home province.

Despite the notoriety, Sombrero’s daughter, Sabrina Robinson, said he was loved by many, including the children in north Toronto who would gather around the leather jacketed biker’s Indian motorcycle when he rode into their neighbourhoods.

“A lot of people have an idea what a biker is,” Robinson said. “But he wasn’t like that. He never smoked, didn’t do drugs,” and he didn’t like tattoos.

“He was colourful and he definitely had an independent streak,” added Toronto lawyer David Costa, who defended the then aging biker in 2011 against unsafe firearms charges that were dismissed after a gun expert for the defence testified Sombrero met or exceeded the requirement of safe storage laws.

“He didn’t like to be pushed around,” Costa said, noting as well that Sombrero was an expert collector and gunsmith who provided firearms consulting services to Hollywood moviemakers.

Sombrero’s daughter said her father’s life as Supreme Leader of the BDR began when he founded the club 60 years ago in his late teens, inspired by a love of guns, bikes and the open road.

She said the BDR club and charter continue to exist, although original members who are still alive are mostly in their seventies.

Robinson said her father should be remembered as a uniquely Canadian “cultural icon” and a patriot, noting that his body was adorned with a poppy at the open-casket viewing. She said he lived life to the fullest and stuck to his credo — no guts, no glory.

“He was true to his principles and absolutely loyal to everyone around him.”

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Toronto Star offers new coffee delivery service

After a difficult summer that saw the newspaper lay off more than 50 employees and reveal that it posted a $24.3 million loss in the second quarter of 2016, the Toronto Star is hoping to capitalize on a traditional morning routine to change its fortunes.

On Monday, the country’s second-most read daily newspaper announced that it is launching a new service called Headline Coffee, which brings its readers in the Greater Toronto Area “high-quality, ethically-sourced ground or whole-bean coffee,” each month at the cost of $20.

“Toronto residents love their coffee and they love reading the news,” states the press release.
“Now, the Toronto Star is matching coffee lovers and one of their favourite pastimes with the launch of Headline Coffee."

The newspapers said 75 per cent of its readers enjoy a cup of a coffee while enjoying the Star's content.

The service promises to bring its users a new coffee from a different part of the world each month.
The Star is likely looking to capitalize on Canadian’s coffee culture.

According to a study released earlier this month by global marketing research company Euromonitor, Canucks trail only the Netherlands and Finland in terms of litres of java consumed per capita.
The venture from the Star comes on the heels of the announcement in August that it was slashing its ranks by 52 jobs.

It also revealed in July that it posted a $24.3 million loss in Q2, in part because of costs related to the shuttering of its printing plant in Vaughan, Ont.

The newspaper industry in Canada has been struggling as a whole, as readership has migrated online and advertising revenues have dwindled.

Research has shown that daily paid circulation as a percentage of Canadian households has dropped from just under 50 per cent in 1995 to 20 per cent in 2014.

Meanwhile, the Star saw its average weekday paid circulation drop from 237,141 in 2014 to 192,084, according to Newspapers Canada.

Some experts have even predicted that there will be “few, if any, printed daily newspapers” in Canada by 2025.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Affording a home in Toronto harder now than it has been in 25 years: report

Maybe we should stop letting so many people immigrate into this country until we get our house in order? Just a thought.
 
Keeping a roof over your head making you feel like you’re in the poorhouse?

It's not your imagination.

It’s now harder to afford a home in the city that at any point in the last 25 years, according to a study released Tuesday by RBC.

The study tracked housing affordability through a measure that looks at the percentage of median household income being spent on mortgages, utilities and property taxes. The higher the number, the more people are being squeezed to afford their homes.

At about 60 per cent, the number is the highest it’s been since about 1990 — right before a housing bubble burst in Toronto — and represents a 2 per cent increase in the last five years.

A lack of supply and overwhelming demand is driving the surge, said RBC senior economist Robert Hogue.

“The thing is people still want single detached homes,” he said.

And, there simply aren’t enough of them to go around.

But there's a bit of a difference from 1990 in terms of condos. “Condo prices continue to rise at this stage but no where near as much as with single detached homes,” said Hogue.

Hogue said condos are still a “relatively affordable” option in the city, especially compared to Vancouver, where property values have gone up by 30 per cent in the last year.

“That’s clearly not sustainable,” he said.

“In Toronto, I would argue it’s probably not sustainable either, but it’s not as extreme, and there’s probably more room for a soft landing scenario to unfold.”
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How hot is a TTC subway car in Toronto?

This is what happens when the government tries to run something. Privatize.

It is hard to say exactly when Bianca Spence reached her breaking point because the points were many. Maybe it was the day she stepped on a subway car in Toronto’s west end in early July, as she does every other work day, then got off at her destination, soaked through with sweat and feeling wilted and wondering: why is this happening to Toronto subway commuters?

To people riding the east-west subway line, where one in four cars are without air-conditioning, but not north-south, where the city’s newer subway trains are operating and commuters from some of the tonier neighbourhoods in Canada’s largest city are travelling in cool and delicious air-conditioned splendour?

Or maybe it was the day, not so many days after the first, when Spence woke up extra-early to curl her hair for an important work meeting, before enduring another hell ride on one of the transit system’s now infamous “hot cars.”

“It had been pointless to even bother trying to look good because when I got to work I was a sweaty mess,” says Spence, who works in publishing and, for a few days this week, was on vacation and staying in an air-conditioned apartment in Ottawa.

“So I threw it out there on Twitter after that, and kept going with it, and the longer he didn’t answer me, well … ”

He is Toronto Mayor John Tory. Thanks to Spence’s personal crusade on social media — she repeatedly challenged His Worship to ride a “hot car” with her — she has a subway date (time to be determined) with the politician.

“I hope we do it soon,” she says. “The kids are going back to school, so the cars will be even more crowded. It will be an entirely new rush-hour reality.”

But what is the reality? How hot is the Toronto subway “hot car” hot?

Consider: Tokyo has subway pushers, cramming passengers into cars like sardines; Buenos Aires has pickpockets and no air-conditioning; Moscow has derailments and suicide bombings; and yet commuters in other places somehow soldier on.

When Toronto sweats, people start crying about how inhumane it is to perspire on public transit or worse, detect the scent from others who have.

I am from Toronto, not born here, but I have lived here, more or less, since the age of three. I cringed when I heard my fellow citizens bellyaching over the hot-car mess, since didn’t they understand that it is exactly what the Rest of Canada expects from Toronto?

We waft along on our cloud of self-importance (ROC would say), suffer from Toronto as centre of the universe delusions (ROC would say) — and then when it snows we call in the army — see Mayor Mel Lastman, January 1999 — to fight a blizzard because we’re soft and spoiled. Now we’re too sweaty? Good gravy.

Further research was required. I needed proof. (I commute by bike during spring, summer and fall. There are cars aplenty, but no hot subway cars.) So, I drank three large glasses of water, bought a thermometer from the dollar store near our offices and descended into the Sherbourne subway station at 1:03 p.m. Tuesday.

The air was humid, but not uncomfortably so. I was dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. The thermometer, which I tucked in my pocket, registered 24 C.

A subway appeared. I stepped aboard and was hit by a wall of … air conditioning. The next car had air conditioning, too, while the passengers, including a giggling wee tot in a stroller, appeared happily sweat-free.

Next car? Bingo. The air was still, unpleasant. Hotter than the 28.4 C Environment Canada was reporting at street level at 1 p.m.

Sarah, a university student, sat across from me, sipping on a juice, eating a green apple. Her advice: “Stay hydrated. It gets awful in here.”

At 1:30 p.m., my thermometer registered 30 C. The woman beside me was wearing purple socks. Her eyelids drooped. A man two seats over had his eyes closed and hands clasped on his knees, as though in prayer.

A fresh-faced teen in pants and a Blue Jays jersey produced a chilled bottle of water from his backpack. “Is that cold?” his friend asked.

The mood in the car was subdued. Sweat beaded at the back of my neck. On some lower inner-belly level, I felt nauseous. The kid with the ice water took another swig. I began to hate that kid.

At 2:05 p.m., I was done. Out. Off. My nether regions were uncomfortably warm, my armpits ripening, my thermometer was registering 34 C — and rising.

A voice crackled over the public address system. There was a service disruption at Old Mill station to the west. Commute times would be longer than normal.

There was no mention of the heat.
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Three youths arrested amid disturbances at Toronto CNE’s Youth Day

Will the police or media publish the names and photos of these thugs? I wonder what their father have to say about this?

Three youths have been arrested after trouble broke out at the Canadian National Exhibition Tuesday night.

The CNE closed down nearly three hours earlier than scheduled on Youth Day due to safety concerns.

A 16-year-old girl, and a boy, also 16, have been charged with assaulting a police officer, while another male, 17, has been charged with drug possession, according to Sgt. Steve French.

Police were initially called after 9 p.m. for reports of gunshots, which they later confirmed were false.

The skirmishes were mainly pushing and shoving, staff Sgt. Andrew Stinson said.

“The CNE is experiencing one of the busiest nights of the Fair as a result of the popularity of Youth Day,” said the CNE in a statement.

“CNE organizers are winding down operations early as a proactive measure to curtail overcrowding and ensure the safety of our guests.”

David Hart, who was visiting the Ex with his friends, said he saw a group of about 60 youths running through the park earlier in the night.

“They all just started running in one direction, scared the crap out of everybody, nobody knew what was going on, and then 20 minutes later, the same thing in another direction,” Hart said.

“Just scared the hell out of everybody.”

Hart was in line for a ride, he said, when a “frantic” employee told him that the grounds might be shut down in the next 10 minutes.

Around 9:30 p.m., all the lights and rides were shut off.

Ryan Daly said he arrived at the Ex with his fiancĂ©e and two children around 8 p.m. He said there were groups of teenagers “running around all over the place, having little fights all over the place,” adding he kept hearing about small scuffles from family members who were in different parts of the CNE.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said Tuesday night that officers were on scene assisting with crowd control as the people tried to depart at once.

“There are more people than can be accommodated on each train,” she said, adding that riders were being very patient.

The CNE will be resuming regular hours Wednesday, said French.

According to French, the 17-year-old male will appear in court Wednesday morning. The other two have been released.

This isn’t the first time the CNE closed early due to the popularity of Youth Day. Last year, operations were shut down an hour early.
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Toronto CNE shuts down early due to 'overcrowding' , reports of fights by black people Black Lives Matter BLM

Here we go again, black youths causing more trouble. This is why many white people don't go to the CNE like they once did, and "the EX" is paying for it financially.
 
The Canadian National Exhibition shut down a few hours earlier than planned on Tuesday night due to overcrowding and fighting inside the fairgrounds.

The CNE said on its website that it was experiencing one of its busiest nights due to the popularity of Youth Day, when the price of admission was reduced to $6 per person after 5 p.m.

It said the early closure was a "proactive measure" to curtail overcrowding and ensure the safety of guests.

Police said there was no risk to public safety, but officers on horseback and others were deployed to the lakefront facility to disperse the large crowds.

Const. Craig Brister said there were a number of fights inside the grounds but no injuries were reported and there were no arrests.




The CNE gates close usually at 10 p.m., but rides and other attractions continue to operate until midnight for those already inside.

Virginia Ludy, the general manager of the CNE, told television station CP24 the trouble began with some "large groups of youths" on the midway.

"Their behaviour became a little bit undesirable and started running through the midway and just for public safety reasons, we made the decision in consultation with the Toronto Police Service that we were going to shut the fair down," Ludy said.

"The issue is the behaviour of a few. A few have ruined it for a larger group of folks who were down here tonight just to enjoy the fair."

The CNE is Canada's largest fair and has been staged at Toronto's Exhibition Place for 138 years.
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Black Lives Matter hijack Pride Toronto town hall meeting


Were you expecting anything different from black racists? 
 
TORONTO - Hundreds of members of Toronto’s gay community packed the Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park Tuesday to discuss where Pride Toronto goes from here following months of controversy.

The dialogue was supposed to be "respectful" -- or at least that was how Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam put it to the crowd -- about what to do following the controversial move by Black Lives Matter, Pride's honoured group, to disrupt the July 3 parade with a sit-in that led to the recent resignation of executive director Mathieu Chantelois over allegations he'd subjected staff to racist and sexist comments and sexual harassment.

But in a move reminiscent of their Pride Parade tactics, BLM members and their supporters quickly hijacked the Town Hall, using the platform to rail against police and shout down any viewpoints other than their own.

Speaker after speaker argued BLM was right to want the police out of the parade and anyone who dared to disagree was shouted down, jeered and called racist.

Gary Kinsman, who was part of the first lesbian and gay pride committee in 1981 following the infamous Bathhouse raids, suggested to the crowd that 2016 has been a year of "very virulent anti-black racism" and as long as any members of Toronto's gay community are "under attack" by the police, the community should not collaborate with them.

A woman named Jocelyn said the police are not needed at the parade and that the gay community can keep itself safe.

"Police harass and kill some members of our community," she said to sustained applause.

When community member Joe Clark dared suggest he filed a complaint to Pride's dispute resolution process about BLM's tactics in the July 3 parade, he was jeered and bullied with taunts of "f---ing racism"; "it's a racism zone" and orders to the meeting's facilitator Tanya De Mello (who tried her best to keep order) to throw Clark out for allegedly being racist and violent.

Elizabeth Plukhovska was also mocked and accused of being racist when she suggested that police should not be banned from the parade.

"Allowing the police to participate shows how far we've come," she said, adding that Pride Toronto should not "tolerate aggressive behaviour" even from its honored group, a comment went over like a lead balloon in the emotionally charged meeting.

It seemed the die had already been cast at the meeting's start, when co-chair Alicia Hall told the crowd Pride Toronto had signed an agreement to work with BLM on their demands.

She said the ban on police participation in the parade -- the most "contentious" demand -- will be sent to Pride’s dispute resolution process for a decision.

A DRP panel will be announced next month, she added.

The DRP process was the same means used to declare that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid did not disseminate hate and was fine to march in the parade.
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Video released in slaying of Toronto grandmother Peggy Ann Smith

TORONTO - Newly-released blurry video of two men running away after the Riverdale laneway shooting that killed a grandmother may not seem like much.

But it’s better than nothing.

And Toronto Police investigators will no doubt build on the brief video and possibly find clearer images of suspects as they hunt for Peggy Smith’s killer.

“In my opinion, it was a cowardly act,” Det. David Dickinson said Tuesday, while standing in the laneway where Saturday’s deadly shooting occurred .

“We are lucky that there weren’t more injuries,” he added.

Based on security video collected so far, he said two men walked south down the laneway, known as Don Mount Crt., at 6:11 p.m. on Saturday.

The killers approached a group of men standing near where Smith, one of her daughters and two of her young grandchildren were enjoying the evening.

Suddenly, the men opened fire, letting loose a barrage of at least 10 bullets.

When the shots rang out, Smith’s daughter, granddaughter, 11, and grandson, 7, ran up the steps into a townhouse. Smith didn’t make it.

Her family members returned moments later when the shooting had stopped and found her at the bottom of the steps.

“I believe this shooting was targeted,” Dickinson said. “However, I do not believe Peggy or her family present at the time were the intended targets.”

He said the gunmen were likely aiming at the group of about five young men who were steps away from the murder victim.

Dickinson said investigators have spoken to a few of those men, but the others have yet to come forward and remain unidentified.

“I need these men to contact me,” he said sternly.

Dickinson refused to say why the men near Smith might have been targeted or if any of them have ties to the victim’s family members, which include three grown daughters and 13 grandchildren.

After the shooting, the gunmen bolted up the laneway and were last seen on foot at Dundas and Hamilton Sts., just west of Broadview Ave.

Several of Smith’s family members were on hand as Dickinson spoke and were less than impressed by the grainy 12-second video.

“That’s all they got?” said Loretta Smith, the victim’s daughter.

Dickinson admitted the quality of the video is “not great,” but he said it “provides a narrative” of what happened.

A visitation will be held for Smith on Friday, from 4-8 p.m., at Giffen-Mack funeral home, 2570 Danforth Ave. A funeral service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Giffen-Mack.
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Monday, August 29, 2016

Cause of deaths in Toronto crossbow killings released



TORONTO -- Police have released the cause of death of three people killed in a bloody attack involving a crossbow in east Toronto last week.

Toronto police Det. Sgt. Mike Carbone says a woman found in a stand-alone garage on Thursday died from ligature strangulation, a man found in the same garage died from a crossbow bolt stab wound to the neck and a man found in the driveway died from a single arrowhead stab wound to the neck.

However, he would not say whether the bolt and arrowhead were shot or used as handheld weapons.

"I can say that a crossbow was seized from the scene," he said Monday. "Because this currently is before the courts, I'm not going to distinguish between the two methods of how these two individuals were murdered."

Brett Ryan, 35, of Toronto is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the slaying.

Officers called to a home on reports of a stabbing found the lifeless bodies of two men and a woman in the garage and driveway with a crossbow lying nearby.

Police say a witness was also taken to hospital and treated, though no charges have been laid in connection with that person at this time.

Carbone says police want to talk to anyone who was in contact with Ryan between 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.

Investigators have released few details about the killings or what might have motivated them.

The relationship between the accused and the four victims has not been released, and the names of the victims cannot be reported due to a court-ordered publication ban.

"The investigation was very, very unusual," Carbone said. "When we became involved, the identity of the three individuals that had been murdered was still not confirmed. There was a publication ban placed at that time obviously until we had completed our jobs. That may change in the near future."

Police also examined a waterfront apartment associated with Ryan last Thursday but found there was no threat to the public, Carbone said.

Ryan is due in court Friday.

He was charged in 2008 with a total of 29 counts of robbery, intent to commit a crime while disguised, and a weapons offence.

In January 2009, he pleaded guilty to eight counts each of robbery and intent to commit an indictable offence while disguised. The remaining counts were withdrawn. He was sentenced to 45 months in prison -- less seven months for pre-trial custody. The court also imposed a lifetime weapons ban.
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Autopsy results released in crossbow attack in Toronto

TORONTO — Police have released the cause of death of three people killed in a bloody attack involving a crossbow in east Toronto last week.

Toronto police Det. Sgt. Mike Carbone says a woman found in a garage on Thursday died from strangulation, a man found in the same garage died from a crossbow bolt to the neck and a man found in the driveway died from an arrowhead stab wound to the neck.

Brett Ryan, 35, of Toronto is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the slaying.

Officers called to a home on reports of a stabbing found the lifeless bodies of two men and a woman in the garage and driveway with a crossbow lying nearby. The three were later pronounced dead.

Police say a witness was also taken to hospital and treated, though no charges have been laid in connection with that person at this time.

Carbone says police want to talk to anyone who was in contact with Ryan between 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.

Investigators have released few details about the killings or what might have motivated them.

The relationship between the accused and the four victims has not been released, and the names of the victims cannot be reported due to a court-ordered publication ban.

Ryan is due in court Friday.
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Airbnb turning Toronto's waterfront condos into 'ghost hotels': Lakeshore Blvd

New data from Inside Airbnb suggests Toronto’s lakeshore has the highest concentration of short-term rental listings in the city, leading some to dub the waterfront condo towers “ghost hotels.” 

Toronto’s waterfront is haunted by ghost hotels.

According the independent website Inside Airbnb, the condo communities along the lakeshore are home to the highest concentration of short-term rental listings in the city.

The site found 16 per cent of Toronto’s Airbnb listings are located on the waterfront. And of those, 83 per cent are for an entire unit, not just a spare room.

While that may be good news for tourism, advocates say it’s undermining Toronto’s quest for adequate and affordable housing downtown.

Thorben Wieditz, a member of the Fairbnb coalition, said so-called “ghost hotels” take much-needed rental properties off the market, compounding the housing crunch.

So, instead of building housing, the city is “actually building hotels,” Wieditz said.

Vicki Trottier, president of the Fort York Residents Association, said she’s concerned about the safety of short-term rentals. With residents leaving key fobs around for Airbnb guests to pick up, she said it’s hard to tell who belongs in the building.

Trottier also worries about the impact ghost hotels are having on what’s supposed to be a residential neighbourhood.

“If you bought into a home and a community and then it’s turning into a hotel, then that’s kind of like, wait a minute, what’s going on here?” she said.

Airbnb spokesperson Christopher Nulty disputed Inside Airbnb’s findings, saying the site’s analysis doesn’t provide “a complete or accurate picture of the Airbnb community.”

“The vast majority of Airbnb hosts in Toronto are regular people sharing their primary residence a few nights each month in order to make ends meet,” he said.

According to Airbnb, the median user in Toronto made $5,000 in 2015. Nulty also claimed a survey of users found that revenue from short-term rentals helped 500 Torontonians avoid foreclosure or eviction last year.

“We believe that home sharing in Toronto should be regulated and we look forward to working with policymakers to support regular people trying to make ends meet,” Nulty said.
 
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Toronto's disgusting murder tally keeps rising

TORONTO - Nothing shocks us anymore.

We have had a pregnant mother shot to death — in a case where her prematurely born baby eventually died — so why not a grandmother?

What do Toronto’s gangsters care?

They don’t.

They kill at will and we have no answer for it. While none of the murders are acceptable, this is despicable.

Peggy Ann Smith, 61, was gunned down at her Munro St. townhouse complex Saturday.

Nobody is safe. Nobody.

It was Toronto’s 48th slaying of 2016, meaning there have been 13 more murders at this time in the city than last year.

Where does it stop?

It didn’t stop after Ariela Navarro Fenoy’s slaying at the Drake OVO Fest after party last summer or even after Jane Creba in 2005.

With Smith, we are now at 27 murdered in 2016 by guns.

There have been 272 shooting incidents so far this year in Toronto — a jump of more than 46% over last year, when there were 186 at this time.

The sick part is that the brazen disregard for life doesn’t even stand out in the headlines unless the victim is a child, a mother or a grandmother.

Count this woman as another victim of Toronto’s Summer of Death.

Toronto Police Det-Sgt. Hank Idsinga told reporters Smith was likely not targeted, which is hardly a saving grace. It’s not a rap song and there is nothing cool about it.

A piece of Toronto also died with this woman — just like all of the other pieces that have died in the murderous scourge. The names of good people on the receiving end of a bullet are too many to list.

Everybody and anybody is a target. Gangsters have no fear. Police have about 15 unsolved homicides in 2016, with about 20 others dating to 2015.

It’s not that they don’t always know who did it but more that they lack evidence or people prepared to testify. The “no-snitch” mantra of the street has proven more effective than the programs encouraging people to co-operate.

Until politicians beef up witness protection programs and offer large rewards for information, there will be more sons and daughters killed — and moms, dads and grandparents, too.

In the meantime, we have had community activist groups blocking intersections and interrupting parades, alleging police racism. But there’s nothing so far to express outrage at the crime against people of all colours, races and ages.

It’s like we have now accepted the killings and take some solace in that it’s not as bad here as it is in Chicago. But when you have more shooting carnage than you have rain, it’s important to take note.

What’s the next headline going to be? Who will be the next innocent victim?
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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Peggy Ann Smith, 61, of Toronto, was fatally shot Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016 in the Don Mount Court and Kintyre Avenue area of Riverdale

TORONTO - For the third time in four months, gunfire erupted in a Riverdale neighbourhood Saturday evening.

But unlike the first two incidents where nobody was hurt, the latest shooting killed Peggy Ann Smith, a 61-year-old grandmother.

“It’s just horribly sad,” said long-time area resident Susan Bryant. “It just feels like my neighbourhood is ruined.”

After leaving a bouquet flowers at the back porch of a townhouse on Munro St., Bryant said Sunday that Smith was her friend’s mother.

Bryant said her friend told her that she and Smith arrived home when gunshots rang out just after 6 p.m. on Don Mount Ct. — a laneway behind the row of government housing units, near Dundas St. W. and Broadview Ave.

“They started running and the mother didn’t make it,” Bryant said, fighting back tears.

One area resident, who asked not to be named, said he heard what sounded like two guns firing upwards of eight shots.

He rushed over to the neighbouring laneway and saw two extremely distraught women with the lifeless victim, who was bleeding from a head wound.

Dozens of people, who seemed to know each other, quickly gathered around the victim, the man said.

The back porches of two townhouses were riddled with bullet holes. But Toronto Police Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga said he finds it hard to imagine the grandmother was the intended target.

Area residents said the laneway is often teeming with people sitting in lawn chairs behind their homes.

Idsinga said there was a birthday party for a young teenager not far from where the shooting unfolded and also a barbecue at a nearby townhouse.

“Needless to say, with the number of people out and about in the area on a warm summer night, there was a strong possibility of further injuries or fatalities,” he said.

A townhouse a few doors away from where Smith was killed was shot up on May 5. Another home just south of the murder scene was hit by gunfire on April 20.

The spate of shooting has left some area residents frightened and hoping police will take action to get the guns out of their community.

“It makes me wonder if I’m safe,” Bryant said. “Is it random? Who were they trying to get? I won’t those people caught.”

No arrests have been made.

But one woman, who asked not to be named, believes she saw the killers fleeing.

“There were three of them,” she said. “I could see at least one of them had a gun in his hand.”

She said one man ran between two homes, hopped on a motorcycle and took off along Dundas St. E. The other two men jumped into an SUV and drove away, the woman said.

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Toronto’s Brett Ryan,35 "Fake Beard Bandit" served his time and was due to be married. Now he’s charged in a triple homicide

Alleged Toronto crossbow killer Brett Ryan pled guilty to eight robbery charges in 2008

After serving a three-year sentence, Brett Anthony Ryan seemed to have a decent shot at overcoming his criminal past as Toronto’s Fake Beard Bandit, a serial robber notorious among bank tellers for his campy disguise of a stick-on beard, dark glasses and a hat.

Despite declaring bankruptcy from prison, he lived until this week in an upscale condo tower on Toronto’s central waterfront, and was due to be married in a luxurious country setting next month to a woman who works in a downtown hospital as a physiotherapist.

But then came Thursday’s carnage, one of the worst mass killings in recent Canadian memory, made all the more horrifying by the unusual murder weapon, allegedly a crossbow, and by the subsequent evacuation of the streets around Ryan’s condo after police learned of a potential bomb threat inside.

The condo on Queens Quay in Toronto where Brett Ryan lived, he was charged in the crossbow deaths of three people on Friday August 26, 2016.

Ryan, 35, appeared briefly in a Toronto courtroom Friday to be charged in the shocking triple murder of a woman and two men, who cannot be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban. He was dressed in a white forensic suit because his bloodstained clothes were seized as evidence, and he did not appear to be injured.

He faces three charges of first-degree murder, which indicate police believe the murders were planned and deliberate.

Autopsies were being conducted Friday, and police have said the three victims appeared to have been injured by a bolt, the heavy arrow used with crossbows. A crossbow was recovered near the bodies, police said, and Ryan was taken into custody at the same location.

Residents on the street in a suburban east Toronto neighbourhood, between a park and an elementary school, described a scene of panic, originally reported to paramedics in emergency phone calls as “multiple traumas” from an apparent stabbing spree.

One man who fled the murder house took shelter across the street at the home of Warren Dalton, who made one of the 911 calls, and said in an interview that this man was evidently in shock. He was screaming for police, and for help for his injured brother.

Dalton said he took a towel over to the scene, hoping to help. He found a man lying on the driveway, his face and body so covered in blood that he could not find a wound.

“I couldn’t tell, there was too much blood,” he said.

 Toronto Police officer walks through the scene of a crossbow shooting in Toronto, Ont. on Friday.

The other two victims are reported to have been found a few metres away in the garage of the well-kept bungalow. The property backs on to the home of Jerome Cruz, who was working on his deck Thursday about 1 p.m. when he heard a brief commotion, including shouts of “calm down.”

His wife Vijaya Cruz recalled a distant but cordial relationship with a quiet older couple who lived there until the husband died more than a year ago.

Court records indicate Susan and William Ryan bought the house in 2010, and discharged a mortgage last year, around the same time the property was transferred to Susan.
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That same year, when Ryan declared bankruptcy from prison, he listed this house as his address. He had just more than $60,000 in liabilities and only $200 in assets.

It is not known whether he owned or rented his 14th-floor condo, site of the bomb threat. A poem on his wedding site, which was taken down Friday, describes a blind first date that started just outside, by Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

The bomb threat, which was announced shortly after the murders, was cleared within a couple of hours. But it caused disruption and concern, long before the link was made to the murders. For example, children at a daycare in the building were ordered to shelter in place until the threat was cleared.

It is not clear whether the report of the bomb threat came from Ryan himself, who was in police custody by that time, or from someone else.

According to court records, Ryan held up banks at a twice-monthly pace starting in fall 2007, including Christmas Eve and Valentine’s Day, until his arrest in June 2008, when he allegedly lost his nerve in a bank on Kingston Road, and was quickly apprehended outside. He was wearing a fake beard and carrying pepper spray.

This was his style — to disguise his face and declare but not show a weapon. His targets were  banks in eastern Toronto and nearby cities, such as Pickering and Ajax.

For the first couple of holdups, he disguised himself unusually with medical bandages, according to court records. Then he switched to fake beards, glasses and a hat, and stuck with those.

In August 2008, just a few weeks after his arrest, he pled guilty in a deal with prosecutors to a slew of robbery charges, eight in all, after several others were withdrawn. A weapons charge over the pepper spray was also dropped.

He was sentenced in January 2009 to three years for the robberies, concurrent with one year for wearing a disguise with intent to commit robbery. He was paroled and his case has been formally concluded.

His murder case was put over until early September, when it is expected the unusual publication ban on the identity of the murder victims will be revisited.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Training mandatory for new cabbies: Toronto Taxi Alliance

TORONTO - Budding taxi drivers in Toronto who want to work for a major brokerage will be required to train for 18 hours before getting the keys to a car.

After city council approved a new bylaw in May for vehicles for hire, city-mandated training was no longer required by taxi driver licence applicants.

The Toronto Taxi Alliance (TTA) announced the training requirement on Wednesday, along with a new central email address for anyone who has a complaint about a cab driver.

Here’s what was announced:

TRAINING REQUIRED: Major brokerages in Toronto, like Beck Taxi, will require any cab drivers licensed since May 4 to complete an 18-hour training program through Centennial College. Details are still being hammered out, but TTA spokesman Rita Smith expects the course will cost around $600 to $700, with four three-hour in-class components, and a six-hour defensive driving session. Training will cover an English language assessment, local road knowledge, customer service, and cultural and gender sensitivity training.

ONGOING ISSUES: The TTA warned of inexperienced drivers signing up for taxi licences at municipal licensing and standards. Smith said she has heard of at least one applicant showing up to apply a day after getting his driver’s licence.

“On May 4, licensing and standards began handing out taxi driver licences to anyone who showed up with a $20 police background check and a driver’s licence,” she said. “That resulted in a stampede of drivers, untrained, untested, in many instances supremely unqualified, obtaining taxi driver licences and showing up at brokerages to lease a taxi.”

City spokesman Bruce Hawkins says they have seen an increase in people applying for a taxi/vehicle-for-hire license, with around 3.500 new applications since May 4. “The bylaw states that individuals ‘must be able to communicate in English,’” he said. “This is determined through the interactions the applicant has with city staff during the licensing process.”

POINT AND CLICK: Turned down by a cab for a short fare? Told you can’t pay with anything but cash? People who have complaints about taxi drivers are instructed by the Toronto Taxi Alliance to snap a photo of the number on the car door and email it to TOtaxifeedback@gmail.com. Complaints will be forwarded to the appropriate brokerage.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

John Ignagni, 33, Toronto murder victim, was gunned down in the parking garage of his King West Village apartment building Sunday afternoon

While John Ignagni was “a nice guy,” but his murder came as no surprise to a man familiar with the shooting victim.

Ignagni, 33, was gunned down Sunday at his King West Village apartment building.

The man, who spoke with the victim dozens of times at 954 King St. W., said Tuesday that Ignagni appeared to be involved in a lifestyle that might put him in harm’s way.

“I was shocked when I heard there had been a shooting,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But I thought right away that it must be him.”

Toronto Police responded around 12:30 p.m. Sunday to what was initially thought to be a motorcycle collision in the building’s underground parking garage.

But officers found the lifeless body of Ignagni — the city’s 44th murder victim of the year. Detectives have said they believe Ignagni was the intended target.

Court records show he was among four people arrested in connection with a kidnapping in Flemingdon Park seven years ago.

A smoke-filled hallway prompted emergency crews to respond to an apartment complex on St. Dennis Dr., near Eglinton Ave. E. and Don Mills Rd., on Jan. 17, 2009.

Police encountered three men who were pleading for help and claiming they had been abducted a day earlier and held at gunpoint over drug debts.

Ignagni initially faced a slew of charges but he ultimately pleaded guilty to a single count of threatening death.

“Any time I talked to him, he was always polite,” recalled the man. “He was a nice guy.”

He said the victim lived alone in the building for at least a couple of years.

Other residents often complained about noise coming from Ignagni’s apartment, the man said, adding most recently the victim was heard yelling in his unit on Friday night.

“I’m not sure if there was someone in his apartment or if he was on the phone,” said the man, who wonders now if that incident may be tied to his killing just over 36 hours later.

Police towed a BMW motorcycle and a Porsche sedan from the underground in the wake of the killing.

The man confirmed the two luxury vehicles were owned by Ignagni.

“He also had a Ducati for a while,” the man said, explaining the high-end motorcycle sat parked in the garage so long that its tires went flat.

“He told me that he sold the Ducati to a friend,” he added.

No arrests have been made.
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Matthew Maxwell, 26, charged in human trafficking investigation, Toronto Police said on Aug. 18, 2016 BLM Black Lives Matter

TORONTO - A man faces numerous charges after a woman was allegedly forced into prostitution, made to take illicit drugs and had her family threatened.

Toronto Police allege the 26-year-old man convinced a 21-year-old woman to have sex for money and forced illicit drugs on her so he could control her.

The woman didn’t want to work in the sex trade, police said Thursday, and she tried to avoid the drugs, but the man allegedly threatened to inject them into her.

He also assaulted the woman and threatened her family to keep control of her, according to police.

Matthew Maxwell, of no fixed address, was located Monday, eight days after police started their investigation.

He is charged with 20 counts including extortion, forcible confinement, choking and trafficking.

Police say they’re concerned there may be other victims, and are asking anyone with information to come forward.
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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sucker-punch robbery at Luxy Nightclub on Interchange Way in Vaughan, Ontario

They sucker-punched him in the face before jacking his keys and phone. Then, in one last violent swoop, one of the three thugs kicked him in the head as they walked away.

Kyle, the 26-year-old victim in what York Regional Police call “a very violent” robbery, shook his head Wednesday, recalling the “randomness” of the July 24 assault in a Vaughan nightclub parking lot.

“Everyone wants to know if there was something leading up to that, but there was honestly nothing,” he told the Toronto Sun.

“It’s hard to believe it was random, but there are a lot of idiots out there for a thrill. That part got me pretty upset ... It’s just unfortunate it had to happen to me.”

Kyle, who didn’t want his last name published, said he doesn’t remember much except going to Luxy Nightclub on Interchange Way and then parting ways with his friend around 2 a.m. While walking through the lit parking lot to his car, he was approached by three men, one of whom punched him in the face, knocking him unconscious.

Surveillance video released by police last week shows the trio rifling through Kyle’s pants, taking his keys and phone. One guy is seen kicking him in the face before they leave the scene.

“I’m just walking back to my car and the next thing I know, there’s a cop in front of me and the bystander that called everything in,” Kyle said. “I was out of it. I didn’t know what happened. I was looking for my cellphone and keys and they were gone, but I still had my wallet on me.

“That’s how I know they’re idiots.”

York Regional Police Const. Andy Pattenden confirmed Wednesday one man has been arrested thanks to a tip to police. He has been charged with robbery, but detectives are still hunting the two others before they’ll reveal more information.

“I was excited to hear about an arrest,” Kyle said.

Kyle was released from hospital later on the 24th after being diagnosed with a mild concussion.

“After seeing the surveillance (video) again, I was upset (about) getting kicked in the face while I’m knocked out,” he said. “If I wasn’t standing where I was standing, my head could have hit the cement or curb, then it could have been serious. I could have been dead.”

Kyle doesn’t recall even seeing the three guys earlier that evening.

“I asked (police) if it was a case of mistaken identity and they said it was just because I was by myself.”

He said he’s grateful for the bystander who witnessed the beating and called police.

“I just want to thank him,” Kyle said. “There were numerous cars that drove past me and saw and didn’t do anything. I’m glad he didn’t intervene, but the fact he went and got the police meant a lot because I would’ve woken up and had no idea what happened to me.”
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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Vishnuvarthan Srivaratharajah, 26, Bao Quach, 19, Walter Long, 19 and Van Le, 19 all of Toronto face a total of 28 charges, including careless use of a firearm

TORONTO - Four people face charges after police responding to reports of gunshots found a handgun.

Toronto Police officers found a Glock handgun around 6:35 a.m. Monday when they answered a call about gunshots being fired in the Pape and Mortimer Aves. area.

“One person actually told us that they saw a vehicle with someone in the backseat holding a handgun out the window and firing the handgun,” Det.-Sgt. Jim Gotell said Tuesday. “It’s not something that we would see everyday, especially at 6:30 a.m., which is almost morning rush-hour.”

Gotell said police located the vehicle, placed the occupants under arrest and found the Glock and bullet casings.

“As far as we know, nobody was hurt,” he added. “We had no other reports of bullets impacting anywhere and anyone.”

Vishnuvarthan Srivaratharajah, 26, Bao Quach, 19, Walter Long, 19 and Van Le, 19 — all of Toronto — face a total of 28 charges, including careless use of a firearm.

The seizure prompted a tweet by Chief Mark Saunders on Tuesday: “Guns seized yesterday through excellent police work, which continues to be done on the streets of #Toronto by my officers.”
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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Why does it take so long to build in Toronto?

TORONTO - Some parts of Toronto resemble a rat’s maze.

A hellish labyrinth for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers as they attempt to navigate around blocked off sidewalks, closed lanes and parked construction vehicles.

Like the skeletal silhouettes of construction towers scattered across the city’s skyline, traffic chaos is a sign of healthy economic activity.

But far too often, projects seem to drag on needlessly and endlessly, the cause of which, say politicians, builders and bureaucrats, is a witch’s brew of red tape, poor planning and coordination, labour issues and the complex nature of many projects, particularly public ones.

Toronto has taken about five years to finish Leslie Barns, a warehouse and garage for streetcars in the city’s east end.

There have been significant delays connected with ongoing subway and transit construction, renovations to Union Station and the proliferation of skyscraping condos across the city.

And things aren’t likely to improve any time soon.

Toronto Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong suggests Toronto commuters will have to get used to cranes, lane closures and all the inconvenience that surrounds such work.

With plans by all levels of government to invest in new infrastructure, especially transportation, Toronto’s traffic and construction woes are likely to increase.

“There’s more public infrastructure going on in the GTA then anywhere else in North America,” Minnan-Wong said.

At the same time, Toronto has a poor track record at costing and completing projects on time.

“Nathan Phillips Square was very significantly over budget,” Minnan-Wong said. “You also look at Union Station – over budget and delayed in time.

“The Queen’s Quay streetcar - $30 million over budget – that was done by the waterfront,” he said. “A shelter at Peter’s Street that was done by the city – it was also over budget.”

“Union Station was supposed to cost $640 million, it came in at $800 million. Nathan Phillips (Square refurbishment) was supposed to come in at $40 million, it came in at $70 million.”

But the city is seized with the idea of speeding things up, Minnan-Wong insisted.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, who promised to do what he could to clear the city streets of gridlock, has taken a number of steps to cope with congestion, including that caused by construction.

“People across the city have repeatedly made it clear to the mayor that traffic is one of the most important issues they expect him to tackle,” spokesperson Keerthana Kamalavasan said in an e-mail. “It continues to be about managing the city more effectively – making sure road construction is completed more quickly, that we reduce lane closures due to private building construction, and that we coordinate all potential road closures in the city.”

One of the measures taken has been to dramatically hike the fees charged to private companies, like condo developers, that close lanes for construction.

Last year, the fee jumped from $5.77 per square metre a month to a range of $26.35 to $105.41.

However, developers were furious at the increase, according to a construction industry source, because many believe they shouldn’t be targeted to pay extra costs when government is often at fault for construction delays.

For instance, it’s a crap shoot when builders tear up city roads to connect their buildings to sewer and electricity.

Builders frequently have to wait for extended periods of time while city departments figure out the logistics of what’s under there and who pays for what.

And simple jobs get needlessly delayed when two or more city agencies either get into a turf war or simply can’t agree how and when to proceed.

Meanwhile, labour woes add to the troubles, such as a spring strike by the residential framing sector of LIUNA Local 183.

“With the public interest in mind, every effort is made by the private sector to expedite construction activity to the best of our members ability especially in an area where the public impact may be onerous, such as the case of occupying roadways leading to congestion,” Danielle Chin, of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), said.

Bureaucracy is also an ever-present concern, Chin said.

“There are so many changes that happen like monthly through the community councils,” she said. “And all of those have a potential to delay projects. Not necessarily within its construction phase but with the entire development life cycle as a whole.”

Although construction on some condos seem to progress at a snail’s pace, for example the highrise at Bloor and Yonge, generally most meet their outside closing dates (though they can be several years in the future), according to Tarion which pays out on average less than a handful of warranty claims in the GTA each year based on delays.

Dino Angelakos, program co-ordinator of Humber College’s Civil Engineering Technology program, said there are numerous reasons why a project might be delayed, and building in downtown Toronto with narrow streets, aging infrastructure and a full summer season of festivals and parades makes everything more time consuming.

If something goes wrong, in-demand subtrades can move onto another project and it can take a week or month or longer to get them back on the job site, creating a domino effect, he said.

Some problems flow from the current fast-paced, design-build model where projects are both designed and built almost simultaneously to save time.

Large, established private companies usually have a handle on these types of design-build issues, but some public projects have famously not, Angelakos said.

“(The contractors) know there’s change orders that occur and every change costs money,” he said.

And sometimes, city hall’s just “a mess,” he said.

“The disaster that is the St. Clair right-of-way, to me anyway” shows the kind of myopic planning that can exist at the city, where even the fire department was complaining about the impact of the project on its own life-saving mandate, he said.

The mayor’s office has taken steps to speed up some public sector projects, including paying more to extend work hours on some projects to finish more quickly, such as spending $3.4 million last year to speed up work done on the Gardiner Expwy.

“In September of 2015, Council approved a P3 approach that involves a private sector financing partner and combines various aspects of procurement – such as engineering, design and construction – under one contract,” Kamalavasan said. “This approach allows the contracts to realize economics of scale, provides cost certainty on construction, maintenance and operations, and shifts the risks of costs and time overruns to the private sector partner. It will save the city money and cut construction costs.”

City council has now approved the retention of a third party to review the TTC plan or the Scarborough subway extension.

Minnan-Wong said that in the case of public projects, the city now brings together all departments to give five-year notices when roads will be opened up so that everything can be done at once instead of ripping up fresh asphalt.

“There is a silver lining behind this ... some of these projects that go on the street they take longer now because they actually try and align underground work with road work,” Minnan-Wong said.

That harmony faltered during the Leslie Barns project where a large water pipe would have been covered by the new streetcar tracks, he said.

“There was conflict between the water department and Toronto Transit Commission,” Minnan-Wong said. “That’s an excellent example... of how city departments need to get along. It was very frustrating for guys like me. I was chair of the works department then.”

TTC spokesperson Susan Sperling said the underground water infrastructure work had been noted prior to construction.

Factors impacting completion dates were “unforeseen site conditions such as underground utilities, underground structures, etc; extreme weather events in recent years that cause construction activities to stop or slow down... availability of resources due to busy construction industry in the GTA, and so on,” Sperling said in an e-mail.

Utilities, as well as contractor performance and funding approvals, are among the issues that have slowed down the Spadina subway extension, she said.

Keele and Finch – an intersection that practically resembles a parking lot thanks to construction – should be back to four lanes in the fall, she said.

Minnan-Wong said the city doesn’t always get it right when it comes to construction but it’s getting better.

He believes bringing in more of the private sector will help, he said.

“It’s important that we keep the trust of the taxpayers because we’re going to them and asking for their money. To get that mandate, they have to have some reasonable assurance that we’re not wasting their money and squandering it,” he said. “It’s important for us to make sure that projects are delivered on time and on budget.”



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CONSTRUCTION TIMES



    Maple Leaf Gardens – five months
    Empire State Building – 14 months
    Eiffel Tower – 26 months
    Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) – 31 months
    CN Tower – 40 months
    Leslie Barns streetcar project – five years-plus extra time for landscaping
    Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension – tunnelling construction began 2011 (other related construction began three years earlier), originally to be completed by 2015, now looking at 2017
    Union Station Revitalization – construction started January 2010, originally to be completed by 2015, now looking at 2017



TOP 10 PRICIEST BUILDINGS UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN TORONTO RIGHT NOW

    Union Station Revitalization (61 Front St.) - first related permit issued Jan. 23 2007 - original estimated construction value $350M, total project now up past $800M
    Yorkdale Shopping Centre addition (3401 Dufferin St.) - first permit issued March 21, 2014 - $349.4M
    Harbour Plaza Toronto (90 Habour St.) - first permit issued Aug. 13, 2015 - office tower/residential condos – $250M
    EY Tower (100 Adelaide St. W.) - first permit issued Aug.27 2013 - office tower project – $250M
    Eau Du Soleil (2183 Lake Shore Blvd. W.) - first permit issued Jan. 29 2016 - residential condo/office building project - $240M
    One Bloor (1 Bloor St E) – first permit issued Aug. 9, 2011 - commercial/residential condo project - $220M
    U Condos (50 St. Joseph St.) - first permit issued May 12 2010 – residential condo project - $200M
    King Blue Condos (355 King St. W.) – first permit issued June 29, 2015 - hotel/residential condo/commercial project - $200M
    Hotel X at Exhibition Place (111 Princes Blvd.) – first permit issued June 20 2013 – hotel project – $180M
    St. Michael’s Hospital (30 Bond St.) – first permit issued April 7, 2015 – tower addition - $170M
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Friday, August 12, 2016

Now magazine could face lockout by end of August

Now magazine could face a lockout or strike by the end of this month, says the union representing employees at the Toronto weekly.

A no-board report was issued Wednesday at the request of company management, which puts the alternative magazine in a legal strike or lockout position after 17 days.

Unifor 87-M, which represents 52 full- and part-time staff at Now, says it is concerned the company has escalated ongoing contract negotiations by requesting the report from the province, which starts the clock ticking on a possible company lockout or union strike by Saturday, Aug. 27.

The two sides have been at the bargaining table since last December. In recent months, the company has tried to re-bargain items already settled and added new concessions, throwing talks into disarray, said Jonathan Goldsbie, a staff writer at Now and chair of its bargaining unit.

“I don’t think they want a lockout, and I know we don’t want a strike,” he said.

It also raises fears as to the future of the long-running magazine, he said, noting this also comes at a time when Now must vacate its headquarters, which have been sold, at Church St. near Shuter St. this fall.

“It’s not clear what their long-term plan is,” Goldsbie said.

The union applied for provincial conciliation and voted 86.5-per-cent in favour of calling a strike if necessary. Shortly after July 19, the conciliator produced a recommended settlement, which the union accepted.

However, Unifor says the company refused the settlement, along with the union’s offer to go to binding arbitration.

“It is true that the no-board report has been issued,” confirmed Now’s co-founder and publisher Alice Klein in an email.

“In Now’s view, however, much of what has been reported and quoted from union memos is inaccurate,” she said.

Klein declined an interview, but said “we will continue to focus all our efforts on finding a resolution to this impasse that works for our staff, the company and the union.”

Goldsbie said the union also remains “sincerely committed to reaching a deal.”

“We firmly believe in the paper, its social justice mission, and its crucial role in the city’s landscape,” he added.

The paper has a circulation of 100,000 print copies per week, but has been struggling amid declining ad revenues.

Unifor Local 87-M represents about 2,400 media workers across southern Ontario, including the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Metroland community newspapers and 14 Postmedia daily newspapers.
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Toronto Real Estate: Buying a home in the GTA requires a six-figure income

It takes a six-figure household income to afford a home in the Greater Toronto Area. The exceptions are a couple of pockets of Durham where, if you’re earning a little less than $100,000 a year, you can still find a starter nest.

A study being published Friday by real estate brokerage TheRedpin shows that the average required to buy a home, anything from a condo apartment to a detached house, is $124,153, including the income needed for property taxes and utilities.

If your household income is $76,057, you can still get a rung on the property ladder but you’re probably looking at a neighbourhood like Brock near Lake Simcoe. It’s at least 90 minutes from Toronto but it had the lowest selling price in the region the first half of the year, averaging $373,269.

It’s easy to see why first-time buyers in particular fear being priced out of the market, said Tarik Gidamy, TheRedPin’s broker of record.

“Not many people have the chance, especially gen Y and the newer generation, to amass a deposit that would qualify for today’s average home price,” he said.

TheRedpin study averaged home prices based on the Toronto Real Estate Board statistics and factored in utility costs and taxes. The average selling prices include every type of home — detached, semis, townhomes and condos.

The study assumed an average 20-per-cent down payment, an interest rate of 2.49 per cent and a 25-year amortization. Property taxes were calculated on a per-municipality basis.

The study found that purchasers eyeing detached houses, semis or townhomes need 17 per cent more income to buy this year than they did last year as area home prices continue to climb faster than most people’s earnings.

Apartment condo purchasers needed an additional 6 per cent.

The highest average home prices were in York Region, where King Township homes averaged $1.208 million between January and July, and in Richmond Hill, which showed a $1.066-million average price in the same period.

“The average Canadian who has an average job is getting driven out of those markets completely,” said Gidamy, who added the area is especially attractive to foreign and move-up buyers, who have equity from a previous home and some additional income.

You need a household income of about $180,000 to buy a house in Richmond Hill, according to TheRedPin. Many people consider the purchase in terms of a monthly payment. The average monthly mortgage payment on a Richmond Hill home would be $3,818.

“You can find a detached home, but most are over $1 million They’re going for $1.5 million and higher and $1.8 million is about the average,” said agent Ali Mosadeq, a Richmond Hill native who specializes in that market.

Buyers, who want a three-car garage will likely have to spend over $2 million. Custom homes are selling for $4.5 million and some are approaching $5 million, he said.

Great schools and the prospect of a subway extension up Yonge St. are helping attract buyers willing to pay those prices, said Mosadeq.

Although there are new condos going up along Yonge St., Mosadeq said, “Richmond Hill is still a freehold community,” meaning that most buyers target detached and semi-detached homes.

That won’t change until the town gets a subway, which would attract more young workers looking for a quick commute downtown or local office jobs, he said.

At the other end of the market, buyers with less than $100,000 in annual income can still afford real estate in Durham Region, including Oshawa and Clarington.

First-time buyers in particular are increasingly attracted to Oshawa, which had a slightly higher average home price of $427,790 through the first part of the year, agent Eva Allaire said.

The gritty city used to be considered too far from Toronto, but the trend toward multiple offers that afflicts buyers throughout the region has also become a normal part of the Oshawa real estate scene, Allaire said.

She cited a client of hers who, earlier this year, was outbid on five homes because they had a budget. They eventually got a place that was listed for about $350,000, but they paid about $30,000 over the asking price.

“If (sellers) don’t hold off on offers, houses can sell in two, three hours,” said Allaire.

“Sometimes I’m on my way to a showing and on the way there I get a call cancelling because the house sold,” she said.

Income needed to buy in the GTA

King: Average price $1,208,094; household income required $205,525

Richmond Hill: Average price $1,066,569; income required $179,551

Oakville: Average price $995,666; income required $168,871

Markham: Average price $960,118; income required $161,662

Aurora: Average price $941,068; income required $162,741

Vaughan: Average price $921,714; income required $156,731

Whitchurch-Stouffville: Average price $920,463; income required $157,688

Caledon: Average price $768,988; income required $136,641

Newmarket: Average price $761,080; income required $134,605

East Gwillimbury: Average price $753,054; income required $132,365

Toronto: Average price $736,932; income required $124,126

Uxbridge: Average price $729,755; income required $134,712

Burlington: Average price $678,401; income required $118,893

Milton: Average price $629,536; income required $108,246

Mississauga: Average price $620,606; income required $109,560

Pickering: Average price $599,267; income required $113,595

Whitby: Average price $574,506; income required $109,671

Brampton: Average price $570,380; income required $105,743

Ajax: Average price $568,342; income required $108,207

Clarington: Average price $459,464; income required $90,141

Oshawa: Average price $427,790; income required $87,801

Brock: Average price $373,269; income required $76,057
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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Torstar Cuts 52 Jobs, Drastically Reducing Tablet Edition Staff , Toronto Star

Less than a year after the Toronto Star launched an ambitious tablet edition designed to reshape the newspaper’s digital future, parent company Torstar Corp. has slashed 52 jobs, dramatically shrinking the project’s core staff.

The cuts announced Tuesday include 45 people from the Star’s newsroom, 26 of whom were on contract jobs and mostly dedicated to Toronto Star Touch. Another 19 were full-time staff, including 10 reporters and five editors, while three digitally focused positions and four jobs outside the newsroom at the free Metro daily newspapers were eliminated.

The layoffs represent a major retrenchment in resources devoted to the tablet edition as the company lowers its expectations for the project’s popularity with readers, but also shows the deep financial troubles afflicting Torstar. The publisher of newspapers including the Star and The Hamilton Spectator recently closed its printing plant in Vaughan, Ont., outsourcing printing of the Star and putting 285 people out of work, and posted a $23.9-million loss in the first quarter of 2016.

“The moves are in response to declining advertising and our need to allocate the company’s resources as cost-effectively as possible,” Bob Hepburn, a spokesman for the Star, said in an interview.

Torstar’s leadership is also in flux. The Star’s publisher, John Cruickshank, left the company in May, and its chief executive officer, David Holland, plans to retire this fall. The head of the Star’s tablet project, Jon Filson, also left the paper this summer amid an internal investigation into inappropriate newsroom relationships.

Last year, as Torstar laid the groundwork for the tablet edition’s September launch, it hired about 70 dedicated newsroom staff, including reporters, videographers, designers and graphic artists. As of Tuesday, only 26 are still with the company.

Torstar spent about $25-million getting Star Touch off the ground in 2015, and is doling out another $10-million this year. Even so, tablet readership has fallen well short of the company’s initial expectations. Between 55,000 and 60,000 readers use the app each week, typically three to four times, spending an average of 25 to 30 minutes on it in a given day. But the latest indications suggest the Star’s tablet audience has reached a plateau.

Company executives have also told investors the company aims to make Star Touch break even by 2017, and Mr. Hepburn confirmed that Tuesday’s cuts are part of a plan to reach that goal.

“These changes are another important step in the Star’s strategic evolution along a path towards the multiplatform news media organization of the future,” Mr. Holland said in a company memo on Tuesday. “Along with these staff reductions, the Star newsroom is also evolving its structure to place greater emphasis on key content areas such as breaking news, investigations and special projects.”

Tuesday’s job losses are only the latest of several rounds of cost cutting at Torstar. In January, as the printing plant closing was announced, Torstar cut 10 contract staff who helped launch the tablet edition, as well as three other digitally focused newsroom positions and 15 circulation staff.

Some of the contract positions cut on Tuesday were due to expire at the end of the year, and the union that represents newsroom staff at the Star, Unifor Local 87-M, had hoped to convert them to permanent jobs.

“It’s a really hard day,” said Jim Rankin, a Star journalist and vice-chair of the union’s local unit. “We’re told it’s purely about economics and it’s not about individual talents.”

The technology behind Star Touch is based on La Presse’s similar tablet edition, La Presse+, and if the French-language daily is a model, some level of cutbacks could be expected as staff settle into a daily production routine. But Tuesday’s cuts go beyond fine-tuning, and Mr. Rankin said it will be “a challenge” to program the app with a slimmer staff.

“We’re making everything a bit leaner,” Mr. Hepburn said, but added: “We’re still fully committed to the tablet.”

The company has adopted a more muted tone when discussing its hopes for Star Touch. Prior to launch, the Star’s editor, Michael Cooke, declared that 2015 would be “the Year of the Tablet,” adding: “We are entering a period of fabulous life-changing non-stop revolution.” In an interview last September, Mr. Cruickshank called the tablet edition “the biggest change in storytelling in a century.”

Instead, the company is marking another pivot point as it searches for a way to turn the corner.

“We have to keep rethinking everything we do and how we do it. We have to, and will, keep trying new things,” Mr. Cooke said in a separate memo to staff. “Everyone here agrees with that.”

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