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Published: Wed, 22 Nov 2017 07:00:13 EST

Copyright: Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2013 ,

Canada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis. Now St. Michael's Hospital is launching a $30M centre to fight MSCanada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis. Now St. Michael's Hospital is launching a $30M centre to fight MSCanada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis. Now St. Michael's Hospital is launching a $30M centre to fight MS

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 05:00:00 EST

It was a lazy April Sunday — movies on the couch — when Erin Truax’s life took a numbing turn.“I lost all of the feeling in my right hand … from my wrist down,” says Truax, a Toronto communications specialist.“But I thought, maybe I slept on it the wrong way, and I just carried on with my day,” she says.By the following Thursday the diagnosis would become much more dire, when doctors told Truax she had multiple sclerosis — adding the 38-year-old to a troubling and puzzling statistic.Canada has a higher rate of multiple sclerosis than any other country, says Dr. Tom Parker, physician in chief at St. Michael’s Hospital. To combat the disease, today St. Mike’s will announce the creation of a $30-million multiple sclerosis centre that Parker predicts will be the largest and most prestigious on Earth for both patient care and research.“The intent is to build the best clinical facility for MS in the world,” Parker says. “And the way you do that is you make sure it’s a facility that offers the best in education and research as well.”The facility will be known as the Barlo MS Centre — after John and Jocelyn Barford and Jon and Nancy Love, who donated $10 million per family to the project. It will occupy the top two floors of the hospital’s new, 17-storey Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower. The rest of the money is being raised through the hospital’s foundation.While it will not open to patients until 2020, the centre has already recruited a leading MS researcher in Spanish neurologist Xavier Montalban as its head. In particular, Montalban has led the field in the use of new drug therapies that have shown remarkable success in slowing the progression of the ailment.MS is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the transmission of impulses from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.It can cause numbness, vision loss, weakness, fatigue, cognitive impairments and a host of other symptoms.It affects three times as many women as men and typically strikes its victims in the prime of life, with an average onset age of 34.“It’s the most frequent cause of disability in young adults in a number of western countries,” Montalban says.Yet while genetics certainly play a partial role in its development, MS has no known causes, making a cure an elusive prospect.“But we have modified MS (treatment) in a very positive way and this is due to the number of drugs we have nowadays,” Montalban says.In particular, he says, physicians now have 14 anti-inflammatory drugs at their disposal to slow or outright halt the progression of the disease.“In fact the way we look to MS therapy nowadays has changed a lot,” Montalban says, noting that doctors now talk about the “non-evidence” of disease activity. “It’s like being free of disease. This is our target now in many patients.”The new St. Mike’s centre will build on a decades-long focus at the hospital, which currently treats some 7,000 MS patients.“It’s grown to be by far the largest clinic by patient population in Canada and among the largest in the world,” Parker says.Patient care has been somewhat piecemeal, with the different specialties needed for optimal MS treatment being scattered in different locations.The concentration of neurologists, specialized nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and neuropsychologists on two adjoining floors is one of the things that attracted Montalban to the centre. “We will provide the most comprehensive care anywhere,” he says.But it was also the large patient load the centre will inherit that drew him here.Montalban says studies that can help fine-tune new drug therapies to individuals require the long-term observation of large groups of patients, through MRI imaging and other testing. Sorting patients by similar symptoms and levels of nerve damage can help establish which drugs will work best at a personalized l[...]

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Rosie DiManno: Laura Babcock’s accused killer is portraying himself in court as a thoughtless jerkRosie DiManno: Laura Babcock’s accused killer is portraying himself in court as a thoughtless jerk

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 19:20:00 EST

It was a question intended to belittle and embarrass.“How do you spell the word hangar?”Honest to God, this reporter, for one, was silently urging the witness to shoot back with a hyphenated obscenity: ---- Y-O-U.Crown attorney Jill Cameron was promptly on her feet, objecting. Justice Michael Code agreed.“I can’t see the relevance,” he said.Move on.For a good hour, by that point, Dellen Millard had been eliciting evidence that Marlena Meneses — head over heels in love with his best friend, Mark Smich, back in the late spring of 2012 — had been a dull-witted teenage high school dropout with scarcely two brain cells to rub together.And a mooch, both she and Smich living off his generosity, smoking his weed, drinking his booze, semi-residing at his Etobicoke home.Read more: Dellen Millard, Laura Babcock had bad blood, friend testifies at murder trialEx-girlfriend testifies she saw Laura Babcock’s accused killers ‘testing’ incinerator: DiMannoDellen Millard claimed incinerator was for pet cremation business — uncle called idea ‘absurd,’ Babcock trial hearsFor a bit of pin money, Meneses would do odd jobs, including cleaning out the toilet at the H-A-N-G-A-R owned by his family’s aviation business.Meneses, 18 at the time, had moved out of her own home after quarrelling with her stepfather. She and Smich had been involved for about a year.“You kind of liked me at the beginning?” Millard asked.Yes, she did.“As time moved on, you didn’t like me as much?”Meneses: “That’s correct.”These were all facts which Meneses, a key witness for the prosecution, had made clear under direct examination last Friday. On Tuesday, when the trial now into its fifth week resumed, it was Millard’s chance to cross-examine.Millard and Smich have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the disappearance and presumed death of Laura Babcock shortly after Canada Day, 2012. The 23-year-old’s remains have never been found. The prosecution maintains that Babcock was killed July 3-4, her body burned in an incinerator at the hangar on July 23.While Meneses was not sure of the exact date — and hadn’t been asked — she’d testified about seeing the incinerator, the Eliminator as it was dubbed, in action late one night after Millard drove the three of them to the hangar, claiming he needed to “test” the machine. Ordered to stay in the car, she’d stepped out to investigate after hearing a sharp cracking sound.“I passed by it and I saw smoke coming out of it and it had a crackling noise.”The jury has seen a brief video of the Eliminator purportedly doing its business around midnight that evening, bits of orange-hot embers wafting into the air.On Tuesday, Millard — he’s representing himself at trial — spent a great deal of time exploring the dynamics among the trio of friends, depicting Meneses in particular as a leech he’d tolerated, out of an excess of charity.He reminded Meneses of all the times he’d played trivia games with her, a kind of torment.“It made you feel dumb?”Indeed it had.“It hurt your feelings.”If so, and Meneses agreed to feelings of inferiority, way over her head with this wealthy and charismatic scion, she is no longer that cowering naïf of five years ago. On several occasions she raised her voice and snapped back at Millard.“You used to smoke a lot of weed, right?’’Yes.“Wherever we were going, you came with us?”Yes.“I smacked your butt once, didn’t I?”Meneses: “Yes, and actually it was more than once.”“You gave me a dirty look, so I knew you didn’t like it. It was unwanted contact.”As in his cross-examination of other witnesses — mutual friends from that era who knew about the bad blood which had apparently developed between Millard and Babcock — the defendant continued to po[...]

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Freeland calls U.S. proposals ‘extreme’ as NAFTA round ends without major progressFreeland calls U.S. proposals ‘extreme’ as NAFTA round ends without major progress

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 18:34:50 EST

WASHINGTON—The good news: this round of North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations didn’t end with Canada and the U.S. in a new argument.The bad news: they didn’t make progress on the things they were arguing about before.The fifth round of the renegotiation, which concluded Tuesday in Mexico City, produced progress on low-key matters, such as telecommunications and customs enforcement, but little to none on the big issues that threaten to ruin the talks initiated by President Donald Trump.For example, Canada and Mexico declined to present a counter-offer to an American proposal on automotive manufacturing that is loathed even by the U.S. auto industry.Instead, Canada delivered a kind of lecture on the protectionist proposal, explaining how it would hurt both countries and pressing the U.S. for further specifics.Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said there was “some very good concrete progress on some of the more technical chapters” important to Canadian businesses. But she added, “There are some areas where more extreme proposals have been put forward. “These are proposals that we simply cannot agree to,” she told reporters in Ottawa. “What we’ve done in some of those areas is ask for a better understanding of those proposals. We really feel that a fact-based approach is the way to get a good result.”U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressed frustration with the approach taken by Canada and Mexico, calling on them to “come to the table in a serious way.”“While we have made progress on some of our efforts to modernize NAFTA, I remain concerned about the lack of headway. Thus far, we have seen no evidence that Canada or Mexico are willing to seriously engage on provisions that will lead to a rebalanced agreement. Absent rebalancing, we will not reach a satisfactory result,” he said in a statement. A Canadian official said on condition of anonymity: “On the controversial proposals, we cannot really negotiate as there seems to be little room to do so and little logic to the proposals.”There did not appear to be progress on dairy, on which the U.S. wants Canada to dismantle its own protectionist system, or on government procurement, on which the U.S. has proposed protectionist “Buy American” rules that would freeze out many Canadian firms.In fact, the New York Times reported, Mexico responded to that proposal with a point-making protectionist proposal of its own, suggesting a plan that would effectively deny Americans access to Mexican government contracts.Some observers saw hints of a U.S. softening on its proposal for a five-year automatic termination clause, but the three sides did not come to any conclusion on the “sunset” subject.There are at least short-term benefits to Canada’s strategy of delaying engagement on contentious topics, said Robert Fisher, a U.S. negotiator for the original NAFTA talks and now managing director of Washington trade consulting firm Hills and Co.Dragging out the talks, Fisher said, creates time for powerful U.S. interests opposed to the Trump proposals to put their own pressure on the administration. In the last week alone, 57 House Republicans wrote to Lighthizer to criticize the auto proposal; the third-ranking Senate Republican, John Thune, wrote to Lighthizer to call for labour mobility and criticize Trump’s focus on trade deficits; and the second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn, held a Texas hearing in which he hailed NAFTA as “overwhelmingly positive” for the state.“In my view, the U.S. is firmly entrenched in many of these positions, and it’s not going to be the Canadians and Mexicans that are going to change the mind of the U.S. administration. It’s going to be U.S. stakeholders and, more importantly, Congress,” said Dan Ujczo, an Ohio trade lawyer with Dickinson Wright. “And I think that’s been the most significan[...]

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National housing strategy to include rental benefit for low-income tenantsNational housing strategy to include rental benefit for low-income tenants

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 18:46:57 EST

Canada’s long-awaited federal housing strategy will include a new national housing benefit, the Star has learned.A housing benefit, or rent supplement for low-income tenants, has been high on the list of supports that housing advocates have pushed for to better ensure that all Canadians can find stable and safe places to live.That benefit program could be in place in as early as two to three years, a source told the Star.The National Housing Strategy will be unveiled in Toronto and Vancouver on Wednesday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce details at a news conference in Lawrence Heights, the site of Toronto Community Housing’s largest redevelopment project, at 3 p.m. Federal minister of families, children and social development Jean-Yves Duclos will be making the announcement at the same time in Vancouver.The strategy will provide a “much more concrete understanding” of how money allocated in the last budget will be spent on housing, a federal source told the Star’s Bruce Campion-Smith.“Poverty reduction will be central to the entire thinking behind the national housing strategy,” the source said.In March, the federal government announced $11.2 billion would be dedicated to affordable housing initiatives and programs to be spent over 11 years. Roughly $3 billion of that amount was set to be spent over the next five years.As part of the process, the federal government reviewed submissions from 7,000 Canadians, through focus groups, surveys, reports and written opinions.The National Housing Collaborative, a coalition of non-profit and private housing associations and charitable foundations, had included the need for a national benefit in a lengthy submission made as part of that process.“If we are going to make progress against core housing needs and if we are going to reduce core poverty in Canada the introduction of a new housing benefit is essential to that task,” said co-chair Pedro Barata, vice-president of United Way Toronto and York Region.Any potential benefit, the collaborative had stated, should include dedicated funding, a clear timeline for implementation and a call on the provincial and territorial governments to work together to develop a housing tool that can work for all Canadians.Their submission also included the call for a federally led pan-Canadian initiative to end homelessness in 10 years, the creation of financial initiatives to boost the supply of market and non-market rental housing and a renewed commitment to improve and expand social housing.While there have been few details, a significant block of money has been set aside specifically to help vulnerable people find and keep a home.Duclos announced in April that the strategy would include a $5 billion National Housing Fund. Among the people that money should help: seniors, people dealing with mental health or addiction issues, veterans, people fleeing domestic abuse or those living with disabilities. It could mean additional supports for people like James Ribble, a man who told the Star he would rather live on the streets than stay in a dank, run-down basement apartment he was connected to through the city. Ribble spoke openly about his issues with drugs and how his dismal living conditions made recovery more difficult. The federal government has also made a $3 billion commitment to strengthen the relationship between provinces and territories and provide targeted funding for northern and Indigenous communities, both on and off reserve.Nov. 22 is National Housing Day, an annual event created after the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee declared homelessness a national disaster in 1998.Last year, on that day, the federal government released a summary report on what Canadians were hoping to see in the strategy. Key points identified included the need to boost affordable housing stock and improve the living conditions of vulnerable people, particularly Indigenous communities.The $11.2 billion spen[...]

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‘Partridge Family’ star David Cassidy dies at 67 ‘Partridge Family’ star David Cassidy dies at 67

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 21:31:19 EST

LOS ANGELES—David Cassidy, the teen and pre-teen idol who starred in the 1970s sitcom The Partridge Family and sold millions of records as the musical group’s lead singer, died Tuesday at age 67.Cassidy, who announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with dementia, died surrounded by his family, a family statement released by publicist JoAnn Geffen said. No further details were immediately available, but Geffen said on Saturday that Cassidy was in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hospital suffering from organ failure.“David died surrounded by those he loved, with joy in his heart and free from the pain that had gripped him for so long,” the statement said. “Thank you for the abundance and support you have shown him these many years.”Read more: David Cassidy, who revealed he has dementia, says he ‘always knew this was coming’The Partridge Family aired from 1970-74 and was a fictional variation of the ‘60s performers the Cowsills, intended at first as a vehicle for Shirley Jones, the Oscar winning actress and Cassidy’s stepmother. Jones played Shirley Partridge, a widow with five children with whom she forms a popular act that travels on a psychedelic bus. The cast also featured Cassidy as eldest son and family heartthrob Keith Partridge; Susan Dey, later of L.A. Law fame, as sibling Laurie Partridge and Danny Bonaduce as sibling Danny Partridge.It was an era for singing families — the Osmonds, the Jacksons. The Partridge Family never cracked the top 10 in TV ratings, but the recordings under their name, mostly featuring Cassidy, Jones and session players, produced real-life musical hits and made Cassidy a real-life musical superstar. The Partridges’ best known song, “I Think I Love You,” spent three weeks on top of the Billboard chart at a time when other hit singles included James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tears of a Clown.” The group also reached the top 10 with “I’ll Meet You Halfway” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted” and Cassidy had a solo hit with “Cherish.”“In two years, David Cassidy has swept hurricane-like into the pre-pubescent lives of millions of American girls,” Rolling Stone magazine noted in 1972. “Leaving: six and a half million long-playing albums and singles; 44 television programs; David Cassidy lunch boxes; David Cassidy bubble gum; David Cassidy colouring books and David Cassidy pens; not to mention several millions of teen magazines, wall stickers, love beads, posters and photo albums.”Cassidy’s appeal faded after the show went off the air, although he continued to tour, record and act over the next 40 years, his albums including Romance and the awkwardly titled Didn’t You Used To Be? He had a hit with “I Write the Songs” before Barry Manilow’s chart-topping version and success overseas with “The Last Kiss,” featuring backing vocals from Cassidy admirer George Michael. He made occasional stage and television appearances, including an Emmy-nominated performance on “Police Story.”Meanwhile, The Partridge Family remained popular in re-runs and Cassidy, who kept his dark bangs and boyish appearance well into middle age, frequently turned up for reunions and spoke often about his early success.“So many people come up to me and talk to me about the impact it (the show) had,” he told Arsenio Hall in 1990.Even while The Partridge Family was still in prime time, Cassidy worried that he was mistaken for the wholesome character he played. He posed naked for Rolling Stone in 1972, when he confided that he had dropped acid as a teenager and smoked pot in front of the magazine’s reporter as he watched an episode of The Partridge Family and mocked his own acting. Cassidy maintained an exhausti[...]

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Canada's Auditor General delivers blistering report on pay fiasco that will cost more than half-billion dollars to fixCanada's Auditor General delivers blistering report on pay fiasco that will cost more than half-billion dollars to fix

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 10:19:09 EST

OTTAWA—Parliament Hill descended into political finger-pointing over who should bear the blame for the botched Phoenix pay system Tuesday, after Canada’s auditor general released a damning report that left him grasping for words to describe his disappointment.Auditor General Michael Ferguson said that it will take years and cost more than $540 million to fix the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system, which created a backlog of more than 150,000 federal employees representing more than half a billion dollars in pay errors. “It’s hard to characterize,” Ferguson said Tuesday, after tabling his report in the House of Commons..“‘Unacceptable’ just doesn’t capture the seriousness of the issue,” he said. “They didn’t understand the size of the problem.” The report immediately touched off partisan rancour, with Liberals blaming Conservatives for creating Phoenix starting in 2009 and Conservatives accusing Liberals of recklessly implementing the system before it was ready. Ferguson’s report focused only on the problems with the system’s implementation since February 2016. He slammed the government for taking too long to start working on a lasting solution to problems that started accumulating almost immediately, as well as for failing to accurately track and report on the ever-growing backlog of pay errors clogging the new system. As of last April, more than a year after Phoenix launched, 51 per cent of federal employees were getting paid too much or too little, Ferguson’s report found. There were also more than 490,000 outstanding pay errors in the system, which Ferguson said is “very much the minimum,” given that he was only able to access backlog information from 46 of 101 government departments and agencies that use the Phoenix to pay employees. Ferguson noted that a similar yet “less complex” system implemented by an Australian health authority took seven years and $1.2 billion to get working.Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough, whose department is responsible for Phoenix, said she welcomes Ferguson’s report and is heeding his call to make fixing the pay system the top government priority. She said her department is “desperately trying to pay people as quickly as possible,” and defended the efforts the government has made to speed up Phoenix’s processing times. “It’s not fair and it is unacceptable,” she said. But the Liberal government also framed the report as a denunciation of decisions made by their Conservative predecessors. “The Conservative government bought this system, created this system, and we will fix this system. It is unacceptable that Canadians aren’t being paid for the work they’re doing,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House during Question Period. “The Liberal government did not create this mess, but we are going to fix this mess.”Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer dismissed that as “government spin”, while Ontario MP Tony Clement — who was Treasury Board President for the Tories from 2011 to 2015 — accused the Liberals of ignoring the warning signs raised about Phoenix before they took government. “They pressed the start button. That’s the issue here,” Clement said. Qualtrough, who told CTV News last week that addressing Phoenix could cost up to a billion dollars, would not discuss how much time or money the government expects to spent fixing the system. She said that while the Liberal government had no other option upon taking power than to “work with Phoenix,” all options are now being considered, including a union proposal to scrap Phoenix and build an entirely new system from scratch.“Nothing is off the table,” she said. Phoenix was initially supposed to cost just $310 million to implement and was [...]

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White House personnel removed over alleged improper contact with women on Trump’s Asia trip: officials White House personnel removed over alleged improper contact with women on Trump’s Asia trip: officials

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 20:37:17 EST


Three military personnel have been reassigned from their White House jobs amid allegations that they had improper contact with foreign women while travelling with U.S. President Donald Trump on his recent trip to Asia, according to officials familiar with the situation.

The service members all worked for the White House Communications Agency, a specialized military unit that helps provide the president, vice president, Secret Service and other officials with secure communications.

The military is scrutinizing three Army non-commissioned officers who allegedly broke curfew during Trump’s trip to Vietnam this month, officials said.

Mark Wright, a spokesperson for the Defense Department, confirmed that the Pentagon is examining the behaviour of personnel during the visit to Vietnam.

“We are aware of the incident, and it is currently under investigation,” Wright said.

Trump visited Vietnam as part of a 12-day swing through Asia.

The episode comes after four military personnel on the same White House team faced allegations related to their behaviour during a trip to Panama in August with Vice President Mike Pence. Those men — two from the Army and two from the Air Force — stood accused of taking foreign women after hours into a secure area as they were preparing for Pence’s arrival, officials said.

They were all flown home before Pence arrived and stripped of their White House assignments pending the findings of the investigation, officials said.

Army Col. Amanda Azubuike, a military spokesperson, said an investigation into the Panama case has been closed and the findings forwarded to senior military officials for review. She said she was not aware of the final conclusions or any disciplinary action.

NBC previously reported that military members on the Panama trip had been removed from White House duty.

Service members with high-level security clearances are expected to report contacts with foreign individuals to ensure that their interactions do not compromise national security.

The mission of the White House Communications Agency is to prevent eavesdropping on presidential communications and to ensure that White House officials can be securely reached worldwide at a moment’s notice.

If found guilty, the service members face the risk of losing their security clearances or could be subject to administrative discipline or courts-martial.

Spokespeople for Trump and Pence declined to comment and referred questions to the office of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.

U.S. President Donald Trump, third left, and his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang participate in a welcome ceremony in Hanoi on Nov.12. Three Whire House military personnel have been removed amid an investigation into contacts with foreign women during Trump's Asia trip.

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Estimated costs for Toronto’s Rail Deck Park rise to $1.66 billion Estimated costs for Toronto’s Rail Deck Park rise to $1.66 billion

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 19:04:04 EST

The plan for a signature park backed by Mayor John Tory over the downtown rail corridor is now estimated to cost $1.66 billion.City staff are looking to push forward with design of the 21-acre (8.5-hectare) park, which is now at a very preliminary stage, saying a financing plan could see charges the city collects from new development and funds already collected from developers pay a significant portion of the costs. The current timeline projects construction some time beyond 2019.But on Tuesday, staff would not discuss details of how much the different financing methods being considered could potentially raise. The strategy relies, at least in part, on contributions from local businesses and corporations that are not yet secured and have not yet been explored.“The importance of Rail Deck Park is thinking about the city 25 years from now,” said acting chief planner Gregg Lintern. “We’ve got to imagine a city where a substantially increased number of people are going to live here, perhaps double the number of people we’ve got in the downtown right now. We’ve got to think about the livability for those people.”Staff have identified a “priority phase 1” option for the park that could be built first — a 9.5-acre stretch from Spadina Ave. to the existing Puente de Luz pedestrian bridge, at a cost of $872 million. This would have a significant impact in a downtown core currently lacking in parks, staff say.Staff believe a significant portion of the funds can be collected from ongoing development. Provincial legislation allows cities such as Toronto to collect land, or cash in lieu of land, for the creation and development of parks from developers seeking to build beyond the allowed height and density of a site. Staff are currently reassessing the cap on the rates developers are charged to see if more funds could be raised through that process during an unprecedented development boom in the city.Deputy city manager John Livey noted there are 180,000 new units coming to the downtown core by 2041, with 99,000 units already in the pipeline.Cash-in-lieu collected from developers that has not yet been spent and can only be spent on parks is held in reserve funds. But staff would not say how much from those reserves could be used towards Rail Deck Park, or how much they forecast will be drawn from future development.“We’ve seen increases in height that haven’t provided … cash-in-lieu for parkland and I think there’s an opportunity to capture some of that,” Livey told reporters after a briefing. “Really it’s the last opportunity for a large park in the downtown and we should not let that opportunity pass.”A report says staff will also seek “commercial contributions” as part of the financing strategy.Livey noted the Blue Jays organization recently sent a letter expressing support of an animated public space that is proposed to eventually extend to Blue Jays Way.“Surely they’ll support us in some fashion to help that become a reality,” Livey said. The letter did not specifically speak to financial contributions.In a statement, Tory called the park a “now-or-never opportunity.”“Today’s staff report demonstrates that this vision is both necessary and feasible, and can be largely paid for through the growth that continues to happen in our city, meaning that the cost will not be carried by people’s property taxes,” the statement said.An application from a consortium of developers to build a deck over the rail corridor but substantially occupy it with eight condo and office towers, along with a smaller, 12-acre park, presented a question of ownership of the air rights above the corridor.While the developers, which call themselves P.I.T.S. Developments Inc., say they have a cond[...]

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Royson James: Outgoing TTC head Andy Byford did better, for The Better WayRoyson James: Outgoing TTC head Andy Byford did better, for The Better Way

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 20:14:07 EST

The head of the TTC is leaving the “best transit system in North America” for one that’s bigger — and, er, better.Andy Byford assumes his new post as president and CEO of the New York system in a month. Maybe now Torontonians will acknowledge what the city’s had for more than five years — an excellent transit leader who lived and breathed public transport and was never shy about enduring the challenges of the daily commute with suffering passengers.Never has the TTC had a manager — maybe not since David Gunn — who experienced the fine-grained details of the system as intimately as Byford. And when things broke, as they inevitably did, he never took shelter in his office at Yonge and Davisville. Rather, he faced the cameras, spoke to passengers, took responsibility, listened to the criticisms. And pledged to do better.Read more: Andy Byford leaving the TTC for a job with New York City TransitIn the end, that’s exactly what Byford did — better, for The Better Way.What would have been best? A more objective, principled, evidence-based stance on the transit options for Scarborough. Here, Byford failed, history will show.The singular, most visible image of Byford is this: among the masses, smoke billowing from a wintery red nose, trying to explain a shut down or diversion to white-hot commuters. This, and his other achievements, will have to be built upon to sustain a lasting legacy.The man who has held top leadership positions on transit systems in London and Sydney, Australia, now goes to the giant of them all in what he says must be the toughest job in transit.In 2016 Byford remarked that his predecessors at the TTC lasted, on average, five to six years. Byford didn’t wait to be shown the door — leaving on his own terms, saying goodbye to a $340,000 job for what is undoubtedly a raise in the Big Apple.On most of the metrics, the Toronto Transit Commission is an improved agency since 2012 when Byford became transit czar, replacing Gary Webster, done in by Rob Ford’s henchmen.When the American Public Transit Association named the TTC the number one transit system in 2017, commuters here snickered, even howled in derision. Social media had a blast. But the TTC can’t be blamed for the weak competition. And a fair accounting of the TTC’s improvements points to an upward trend.There are fewer complaints and system breakdowns and delays, better on-time performance, improved customer service, an uptick in ridership, advancements in technology and fare systems and infrastructure. And a massive transit buildout that threatens to overwhelm the system.In fact, the expansion plan alone prompted Byford to retrench, give up the TTC’s traditional and proud role as transit builder and concentrate on the nuts and bolts of service delivery. That was a huge blow to the TTC’s reputation — a decision that still chafes. But it may have rescued a system wallowing in operational stagnation.Byford will stick around to see the Toronto-York Spadina extension into Vaughan. It’s his pride and joy; his signature accomplishment. And that says a lot about where the TTC was when he took over.The Spadina line should have opened for the Pan Am Games. It is years late, multi-millions over budget and had to be rescued by Byford, who personally took over management, fired two well-liked TTC managers, hired an outside firm to supervise the project and personally staked his job on getting it opened by December 2017.Byford is leaving at the opportune time. Plans for future transit expansion are mired in conflicting or non-existing analysis. He himself was caught up in a dubious declaration that an LRT line to replace the Scarborough RT would cost almost as much as a subway — an astonishing claim that subway proponents grabbed onto [...]

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Not guilty verdict for driver who mounted the sidewalk and killed pedestrian on Dundas St.Not guilty verdict for driver who mounted the sidewalk and killed pedestrian on Dundas St.

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 16:07:15 EST

Bad driving, but not criminally bad driving. That, in a nutshell, was the ruling of Mr. Justice Peter Bawden in finding Gideon Fekre not guilty of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. Explaining his verdict to a packed courtroom Tuesday after a week-long trial, Bawden ruled that it was a “momentary lapse of attention” that caused Fekre to fail to negotiate a turn on Dundas St. E. approaching Carlaw Ave. in April 2015, crossing a bike lane, and driving onto the sidewalk for a distance of “some 20 metres,” where he struck and ultimately killed 31-year-old Kristy Hodgson and one of the two dogs she was walking at the time. ‘We cannot hold drivers to a standard of ideal decision-making when making split-second decisions,” Bawden said. He found Fekre’s made an “imprudent but reflexive decision.” Fekre admitted at the scene and on the stand that he had taken his eyes off the road and reached down with his right hand when a water bottle fell at his feet while he was driving. All sides in court agreed the distraction was momentary. The defence had argued this was a matter of instinctive reflex, while the crown argued Fekre made a conscious decision to divert his attention at a critical moment. The judge said he found the crown had not proven this beyond a reasonable doubt. And so while he found that the driving was obviously dangerous, and that taking his eyes off the road was a “departure from what a reasonably prudent driver” would do in the situation, it was not “a marked departure” from that standard that rose to the level of requiring criminal sanction. The driving in question could lead to culpability in a civil trial, the judge noted, but the criminal standard for dangerous driving outlined in Supreme Court decisions is higher. Bawden explained that the duration of the lapse in attention was key to his decision. According to the crown’s expert witness, traffic officer Dawn Mutis, the evidence shows a provable period of inattention of between 0.74 seconds and 1.18 seconds, Bawden said. “On the evidence of the crown’s own expert witness,” Bawden said, “this would be a miniscule period of inattention.” Even a longer attention lapse alleged by crown lawyer Scott Pattison, Bawden said, would still mean a total period of inattention of less than two seconds. This, Bawden said, qualifies as a “momentary lapse of attention” of a kind deemed non-criminal by the Supreme Court.Bawden further said that he had found the defendant’s behaviour at the scene — he remained there, called 911, volunteered an explanation to police on the scene of what happened that was consistent with what both crown and defence told the court, and showed concern for the victim and dramatic remorse — enhanced his credibility. After the judge told Fekre he was free to go, the defendant who had been facing up to 14 years in prison if convicted put his head in his hands. Cries of anguish immediately rang out from the gallery where Hodgson’s friends and family had been watching the trial. Hodgson’s widowed partner, Nick Siskopoulos, shouted obscenities at Fekre from the doorway of the courtroom, and said, “You killed my wife!” before quickly leaving the building.In the hallway outside the courtroom, John Hodgson, Kristy’s father, expressed his anger. “There’s no justice there whatsoever. Let’s all drive on the sidewalk and kill people, because the precedent has been set. He killed somebody because he’s not watching the road. He’s a murderer,” Hodgson said. “And he won’t even get a slap on the wrist. His insurance won’t even go up.” [...]Nick Siskopoulos, longtime partner of K[...]

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Laurier apologizes to teaching assistant who aired clip of gender-pronoun debate Laurier apologizes to teaching assistant who aired clip of gender-pronoun debate

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 15:14:47 EST

An Ontario university has apologized to a teaching assistant who was severely chastised for airing a clip of a debate featuring a controversial figure, saying the woman was not treated according to the institution’s values.The president of Wilfrid Laurier University said the school is proceeding with a third-party investigation into the dispute with graduate student Lindsay Shepherd, but said recently revealed audio recordings of her interactions with her immediate superiors made it clear an apology was in order.Shepherd said she discreetly recorded a meeting with three Laurier faculty and staff members in which she was roundly criticized for failing to condemn the views of polarizing University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, who has refused to use gender-neutral pronouns. She had aired a clip of a debate featuring the professor as part of a communications tutorial.Read more: Neither Wilfrid Laurier University’s methods nor teaching assistant’s debate helped trans peopleLaurier university starts independent probe after teaching assistant plays clip of gender debateSuppressing TVO video, stifling free speech, is making Wilfrid Laurier unsafeOn the recording of the meeting, Shepherd is heard tearfully defending her decision to play the clip while staff accuse her of being transphobic and liken her failure to condemn Peterson to remaining neutral on the views of Adolf Hitler.“The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires,” the university’s president, Deborah MacLatchy, said in a statement Tuesday. “I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd.”Shepherd said she accepted and welcomed the apology, but felt it rang hollow coming on the heels of intensive media attention around her case.“Let’s not forget that this was their only option,” she said. “They were basically forced to do it out of public and media shaming.”The saga began earlier this month when Shepherd led two tutorial groups of students taking a first-year communications course.As part of a lesson on the complexities of grammar, Shepherd said she was trying to demonstrate that the structure of a language can impact the society in which its spoken in ways people might not anticipate.To illustrate her point, she said she mentioned that long-standing views on gender had likely been shaped by the gender-specific pronouns that are part of English’s fundamental grammatical structure.The clip of Peterson debating sexual diversity scholar Nicholas Matte, she said, was meant to demonstrate ways in which the existence of gender-specific pronouns has caused controversy. A student complaint about the class prompted a meeting with supervisors.In Shepherd’s recordings of her meeting with superiors, which she shared with The Canadian Press, she is heard arguing that she tried to present the situation neutrally in order to foster debate and discussion, and states that she herself does not support Peterson’s views on gender-neutral pronouns.Shepherd’s supervisor Nathan Rambukkana is heard explicitly drawing parallels to white supremacist propaganda and is heard saying Shepherd should not have taken a neutral stance on the issue in class.In an open letter to Shepherd, Rambukkana apologized.“While I still think that such material needs to be handled carefully, especially so as to not infringe on the rights of any of our students or make them feel unwelcome in the learning environment, I believe you are right that making a space for controversial or oppositional views is important, and even essential to a university,” he wrote in the letter.“The trick is how to properly contextualize such materia[...]

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Meet Emmerson Mnangagwa, the ‘Crocodile’ poised to take power in Zimbabwe after MugabeMeet Emmerson Mnangagwa, the ‘Crocodile’ poised to take power in Zimbabwe after Mugabe

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 16:11:09 EST

JOHANNESBURG—Emmerson Mnangagwa, elected as the new leader of Zimbabwe’s ruling political party and now poised to take over as the country’s president, has engineered a remarkable comeback using skills he no doubt learned from his longtime mentor, the newly resigned president Robert Mugabe.Mnangagwa served for decades as Mugabe’s enforcer — a role that gave him a reputation for being astute, ruthless and effective at manipulating the levers of power. Among the population, he is more feared than popular, but he has strategically fostered a loyal support base within the military and security forces.A leading government figure since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, he is widely blamed for a 1983 military campaign that killed thousands under his watch as minister of security. Mnangagwa, who became vice-president in 2014, is so widely known as the “Crocodile” that his supporters are called Team Lacoste for the brand’s crocodile logo. The 75-year-old “is smart and skilful, but will he be a panacea for Zimbabwe’s problems? Will he bring good governance and economic management? We’ll have to watch this space,” said Piers Pigou, southern Africa expert for the International Crisis Group.Mugabe unwittingly set in motion the events that led to his own downfall, firing his vice-president on Nov. 6. Mnangagwa fled the country to avoid arrest while issuing a ringing statement saying he would return to lead Zimbabwe.“Let us bury our differences and rebuild a new and prosperous Zimbabwe, a country that is tolerant to divergent views, a country that respects opinions of others, a country that does not isolate itself from the rest of the world because of one stubborn individual who believes he is entitled to rule this country until death,” he said in the Nov. 8 statement.He has not been seen in public. But shortly after Mugabe’s resignation was announced Tuesday, ruling party chief whip Lovemore Matuke told The Associated Press that he would take over as the country’s leader within 48 hours, saying Mnangagwa “is not far from here.”For weeks, Mnangagwa had been publicly demonized by Mugabe and his wife, Grace, so he had time to prepare his strategy. Within days of the vice-president’s dismissal, his supporters in the military put Mugabe and his wife under house arrest.When Mugabe refused to resign, a massive demonstration Saturday brought thousands of people into the streets of the capital, Harare. It was not a spontaneous uprising. Thousands of professionally produced posters praising Mnangagwa and the military had been printed ahead of time.“It was not a last-minute operation,” Pigou said. “The demonstration was orchestrated.”At the same time, Mnangagwa’s allies in the ruling ZANU-PF party lobbied for the removal of Mugabe as the party leader. At a Central Committee meeting Sunday, Mnangagwa was voted in as the new leader of the party, which had been led by Mugabe since 1977. Read more:What just happened in Zimbabwe? A timelineTony Burman: How Robert Mugabe turned into the anti-MandelaRosie DiManno: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has finally overplayed his handIn an interview with The Associated Press years ago, Mnangagwa was terse and stone-faced, backing up his reputation for saying little but acting decisively. Party insiders say that he can be charming and has friends of all colours.Mnangagwa joined the fight against white minority rule in Rhodesia while still a teen in the 1960s. In 1963, he received military training in Egypt and China. As one of the earliest guerrilla fighters against Ian Smith’s Rhodesian regime, he was captured, tortured and convicted of blowing up a locomotive in [...]

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Is Toronto in for a balmy or bad winter? Depends on who you talk to Is Toronto in for a balmy or bad winter? Depends on who you talk to

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 16:47:04 EST

It’s a battle of the winter forecasts. In one corner, from the Weather Network, we have Chris Scott, chief meteorologist, predicting that Toronto will be pounded by plenty of storms. In the other, from Environment Canada, is Dave Phillips, senior climatologist, who says winter won’t pack as much of a punch as Scott believes.Which winter prediction will be left standing when the final bell rings? Earlier this week, Scott said the message to Toronto from his forecast team, led by Dr. Doug Gillham, was to “buckle up, because it looks like a stormy winter.”He pointed out that this year’s La Nina weather system bears a striking resemblance to that of 2007-2008, when Toronto had its snowiest winter in 70 years, dumping 194 centimetres on the city. Toronto sees an average of 115 cm in the winter. “History tells us that when we have cooler waters off the coast of South America, that’s La Nina, and those winters tend to be classic Canadian winters,” he said. Phillips’s response was that temperatures only have to be half a degree or colder than average for three months to classify as La Nina and that this one is “borderline. It’s weak.”“The point is this: there are La Ninas, and then there are La Ninas.”Last year, Phillips said, we went into the winter under a similar weather system, and it faded away to give us a “balmy winter,” which ended up being the seventh warmest since 1947. Both concluded that there would likely be patches of wilder weather in the Toronto area, interrupted by mild spots throughout the season. “You might get two out of three months where you think, ‘wow, that was a wild winter,’ and then one month where the winter goes away,” Scott said. Where the two differ is on the overall severity.“This will be a winter that’s more on than off,” Scott said, with lots of snow for December in the eastern half of Canada.Phillips believes that “we could see more snow in the early part of winter,” but didn’t commit to a prediction of storms after that. “It may feel or look more like winter than last year,” Phillips said, because of the “staying power” of the snow.“I think it may be colder than last year, but it’s still going to be above normal.”The disparity between the forecasts doesn’t mean the science is doomed. “When two different weather providers or meteorologists look at this information, it’s often conflicting. So when you’re dealing with all of that differing information and what it’s saying, you get different results,” Scott said, pointing out that they do predict similar temperatures, even if his team has a stronger stance on potential storms. “David is such an amazing guy, he’s done so much for the communication of weather and climate in Canada. We’re colleagues and I have the utmost respect for him. The relationship that the Weather Network has with Environment Canada is a close, working relationship.”Phillips echoed his feelings: “I have the highest regard for Chris and the Weather Network, and different models say different things.” The full Environment Canada outlook for winter doesn’t arrive until Dec. 1, meaning Phillips’ forecast was going off of the preliminary data available to him. Both agree that seasonal forecasts are always going to be less exact, with Scott and Phillips calling them a “sketch” and “like throwing a dart on a dartboard” respectively. “I wouldn’t go to the bank on it,” Phillips said. “I’d go to a wine and cheese party and tell people [...]

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