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Boy asks Santa to put vandals on ‘naughty list’ after Christmas display destroyed

CityNews | posted Thursday, Dec 8th, 2016

A Grinch-like act of vandalism has prompted a six-year-old Oakville boy to pen Santa a letter, politely asking that the perpetrators be put on the “naughty list.”

Finn Caldwell wrote the letter after several blow-up decorations he helped assemble in the family’s front yard on Valleyridge Drive near Bronte Road and Dundas Street West were destroyed late Sunday or early Monday morning.

“Dear Santa,” Finn wrote. “Kids or robbers chopped holes in our blow-ups. Don’t go to their house. Love, Finn Caldwell. Bye Santa” (CityNews corrected Finn’s spelling.)

Finn is one of four siblings left heartbroken by the senseless destruction.

In a letter to the Oakville Beaver, Finn’s mother said her kids were “inconsolable” and she explained how Finn especially cherishes decorating the yard when the holidays roll around.

“(Finn) is very passionate about his blow-ups,” Dana Caldwell said. “He designs our yard layout and helps my husband install everything … and takes full responsibility for turning them on after school each day and making sure everything is perfect.

“We were all shocked to find that most of our blow-ups had been destroyed.”

A blow-up Yoda, reindeer, elf and three snowmen were all destroyed. A lighted present decoration was also stolen.

“I wrote that letter because people that cut my blow-ups are really bad,” Finn told CityNews on Wednesday.

“I want (Santa) to put them on the naughty list, because they are really bad and cut things … They ruined Christmas for me.”

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Danzig shooter sentenced to life

News staff and The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Dec 8th, 2016

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A 21-year-old man who started the Danzig shooting when he was 17 has been sentenced to life in prison.

Folorunso Owusu was sentenced as an adult and will not be eligible for parole for seven years, Justice Ian Nordheimer said Wednesday.

Owusu was found guilty of second-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault and reckless use of a firearm in March.

Shyanne Charles, 14, and Joshua Yasay, 23, were killed and 22 others were injured at the barbecue, which was held at a housing complex near Morningside Avenue and Danzig Street on July 16, 2012.

“It’s been (a) huge lift off of our shoulders. It’s been agony to relive this day by day each day … and to hear that justice was served today for all, not just Josh and Shyanne, but all the other victims that were injured that day,” Jennylyn Yasay, the eldest of Joshua’s two sisters, told the media after the sentencing.

“We’ve suffered permanently. We’re never going to get Joshua back but we know that there is justice and we had faith in the justice system, we continue to have faith in God and pray,” she continued.

Owusu maintained throughout the trial that he didn’t fire his gun, starting a wild shootout in a crowd of 200 people that included small children.

The judge says Owusu did not act impulsively when he brought a loaded handgun to a party where he knew there may be rival gang members.

In handing down his sentence for second-degree murder, Nordheimer called the crime a “truly horrific event.”

“The offences here were horrendous. But they were also, in one sense, almost predictable,” the judge explained. “The respondent went to this block party armed with a fully loaded handgun. He knew that, if he used that handgun, others around him would respond in kind.”

Justice Nordheimer's reasons for adult sentence

During last month’s sentencing hearing, which heard emotional victim impact statements, Owusu apologized to the families of the victims.

“If I hadn’t brought a firearm to the barbeque your loved ones would be alive,” he said. “I was a difficult and disrespectful 17-year-old. I’m so sorry.”

Owusu was the last suspect to be sentenced in the shooting and the only one that went to trial.

Last year, two first-degree murder charges were dropped against Shaquan Mesquito, one of the other men accused in the shooting. He pleaded guilty to other charges, including counselling to murder and uttering a threat to a person to cause bodily harm. He was sentenced to nine years less time served.

In 2014, Nahom Tsegazab was sentenced 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of manslaughter.

Donald Trump is Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’

Laurie Kellman, The Associated Press | posted Wednesday, Dec 7th, 2016

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Donald Trump is Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

The president-elect’s selection was announced Wednesday morning on NBC’s ‘Today’ show.

The Manhattan real estate magnate went from fiery underdog to winning the White House over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump won the Electoral College vote, while Clinton won the popular vote.

Time’s managing editor Nancy Gibbs said Clinton was the finalist, and claimed the No. 2 spot.


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Pot use on rise, as is driving under drug’s influence: CAMH report

SHERYL UBELACKER, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Dec 7th, 2016

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With Ottawa poised to legalize recreational marijuana next year, researchers are keeping a close eye on use of the so-called demon weed, which has been steadily trending upward over the last couple of decades.

In Ontario, for instance, a survey released Wednesday by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that year cannabis use virtually doubled between 1996 and 2015, rising from about eight per cent to almost 15 per cent of respondents.

Significant increases were found among all age groups, but especially among 18- to 29-year-olds, with the proportion of pot smokers jumping from about 18 per cent in 1996 to 38 per cent in 2015.

“We also see that the cannabis-using population is aging, as well,” said senior scientist Robert Mann, who co-authored the CAMH Monitor report on substance use and mental health status among a representative sample of more than 5,000 Ontario adults.

Last year, 23 per cent of those using marijuana were aged 50 and older – an eight-fold jump since 1977, when just three per cent of users were in that age bracket.

The CAMH Monitor is a collection of survey data that has been published every two years for almost the last four decades, allowing researchers to track long-term trends in the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco, as well as identifying problematic behaviours related to mental health within the province’s population.

One finding of particular concern is the proportion of respondents who reported getting behind the wheel after using cannabis. In the last five years, that figure doubled, rising to three per cent in 2015 from 1.5 per cent in 2010.

“A lot of people have the sense that cannabis does not impair your driving or that they’re able to compensate for the effects of cannabis on driving,” said Mann. “They think it’s not as dangerous as alcohol is, and maybe that they’re even safer drivers if they’re driving after cannabis use.

“That’s not true and I think that’s a dangerous perception for people to have,” he said, noting that research over the last 20 years suggests that getting high on weed significantly increases the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle collision.

Disabusing young people about their notions related to driving under the influence of cannabis is at the heart of a program called Weed Out the Risk, delivered by Springboard, a non-profit service agency that has been taking its message to high school students in the Greater Toronto Area for the last three years.

The program uses videos, interactive games and discussion to educate youth on marijuana’s effects on the brain and on one’s inability to drive safely due to impaired co-ordination and reflexes, reduced peripheral vision and short-term memory deficits.

Don Cooley, a programs manager at Springboard, said he often sees evidence of young people’s lack of knowledge about the drug on social media sites, among them that “the person who smokes pot is the designated driver at a party” and “the one drinking alcohol will smoke pot to sober up to drive home.”

“Because of the federal government announcing that they’re going to legalize recreational marijuana, we see this as really a pending road safety issue for the future,” he said.

Among other emerging issues highlighted in the 2015 CAMH report is the growing use of electronic devices.

“If you look around over the past decade or so, you see there’s been a real transformation,” said Mann. “We know that we’re all more engaged with them – the smartphones, the computers, the notebooks (and other) devices.

“So the research community is wondering what kind of an impact this has.”

The survey showed that on average, Ontario adults are spending more than 11 hours per week on email and social media, and almost four hours per week playing screen-based games over and above time spent on the devices at work or in school.

Based on a series of questions – including “Have you missed school, work or important social activities because of your use of devices?” – the survey suggests seven per cent of Ontario adults have a “problematic” involvement with electronic media.

“So, that’s over 700,000 people,” said Mann, noting that an earlier CAMH survey of Grade 7-12 students found 86 per cent visit social media sites daily and about 16 per cent are online five or more hours per day.

The ubiquitous use of devices like smartphones raises another disturbing issue identified in the 2015 survey – 37 per cent of respondents reported they had texted while driving at least once during the past year, while 11 per cent admitted texting behind the wheel 30 or more times over the previous year.

“So a very high proportion of drivers report texting and driving,” he said. “It ties in with the observation that people are really engaged with their devices, and they’re using them perhaps all the time, they’re using them while they’re driving, which we know is a very hazardous behaviour.”

A number of studies have calculated those who text while operating a motor vehicle have a 20-times increased risk of being involved in a collision, Mann said.

Frantic rescue underway in Indonesia as quake kills scores

ZiaN MUSTAKIN AND ALI KOTARUMALOS, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, Dec 7th, 2016

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A strong earthquake rocked Indonesia’s Aceh province early on Wednesday, killing nearly 100 people and sparking a frantic rescue effort in the rubble of dozens of collapsed and damaged buildings.

Maj. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman, chief of the army in Aceh province, said at least 97 died while four people were pulled from the rubble alive. Another four or five are known to be buried, but he didn’t say if they are dead or alive.

“Hopefully we would be able to finish the evacuation from the rubble before sunset,” said Sulaiman.

The rescue effort involving thousands of villagers, soldiers and police is concentrated on Meureudu, a severely affected town in Pidie Jaya district. Excavators were trying to remove debris from shop houses and other buildings where people were believed buried. TV footage showed rescuers in orange uniforms shining flashlight into the interiors of broken buildings as they searched for signs of life.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said 273 people were injured, about a quarter of them seriously. Some 245 buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed, mostly in Pidie Jaya, including 14 mosques and the remainder largely dwellings and shop houses. Roads also cracked and power poles toppled over.

Aiyub Abbas, the chief of Pidie Jaya district, which is located 18 kilometres southwest of the epicenter, said there was urgent need for excavation equipment to move heavy debris and emergency supplies. Footage showed rescue personnel taking bodies in black bags away from the rubble.

Muhammad Reza Faisal, director of Chik Ditiro General Hospital in Pidie Jaya, said the facility, which was damaged by the quake, was overwhelmed with the numbers of injured and many people were being treated in tents pitched on its grounds. He said five of the quake victims died at the hospital.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the shallow 6.5 magnitude earthquake that struck at 5:03 a.m. local time was centred about 19 kilometres southeast of Sigli, a town near the northern tip of Aceh, at a depth of 17 kilometres. The agency had initially placed its epicenter undersea. It did not generate a tsunami.

For Acehnese, the quake was a terrifying reminder of their region’s vulnerability to natural disasters. More than 100,000 died in Aceh after the Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami.

“It was very bad, the tremors felt even stronger than 2004 earthquake,” said Musman Aziz, a Meureudu resident. “I was so scared the tsunami was coming.”

In the capital Jakarta, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he has ordered all government agencies to take part in the rescue efforts for Aceh, a conservative province that has considerable autonomy from the central government under a peace deal with separatists. The Red Cross Indonesia has deployed emergency response teams and advertised bank accounts for donations. The International Organization for Migration said it had sent an assessment team to Aceh.

Seaside resident Fitri Abidin in Pidie Jaya said she fled with her husband and wailing children to a nearby hill after the quake jolted the family awake early in the morning. They stayed there for several hours until authorities reassured them there was no tsunami risk.

“It terrified me. I was having difficulty breathing or walking,” said Abidin.

She said her husband grabbed hold of her and carried her out of the house.

The family’s house didn’t collapse but the homes of some neighbours did and Abidin is afraid three friends were buried in building collapses.

In Pidie Jaya’s neighbouring district of Bireuen, a teacher at an Islamic building school died after being hit by falling debris, said health worker Achmad Taufiq.

Residents of the nearby town of Lhokseumawe ran out of their houses in panic during the quake and many people fled to higher ground.

The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. The 2004 quake and tsunami killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Aceh.

Associated Press journalists Stephen Wright and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta and Ayi Yufridar in Bireuen, Indonesia contributed to this report.

27 pedestrians hurt in 12-hour period in Toronto: paramedics

News staff | posted Wednesday, Dec 7th, 2016

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The number of pedestrians hit by drivers continues to climb.

From 6 p.m. on Tuesday to early-morning Wednesday, paramedics treated 27 separate people after they had been hit by a vehicle.

Two of those people are now in hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Toronto police said Tuesday that 42 pedestrians had been killed in crashes so far this year, out of a total of 76 people killed in crashes. That’s more than half.

The 42nd victim was a woman who had just left a seniors’ home near Bathurst Street near Sheppard Avenue West. She was crossing the street, using a walker, when she was struck and killed.

Weather and darkness may have played a factor in some of Tuesday’s collisions.

Police are expected to say more later on Wednesday, including an updated number of the pedestrians hit so far this year.

Toronto’s proposed 2017 budget calls for 2% property tax hike

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Dec 7th, 2016

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Toronto’s city manager unveiled the proposed 2017 budget on Tuesday, which includes a two per cent property tax hike; however, the city is still facing a $91-million shortfall.

City officials, including city manager Peter Wallace, presented the budget at a committee meeting at City Hall.

However, budget chief Gary Crawford rejected the call for the city to implement a property tax hike.

“I am not willing to go to the residents of this city looking for ways to raise revenues without ensuring that we’ve done everything we can to make sure that we are balancing and looking at our responsibilities as a city first,” Crawford told reporters on Tuesday.

Ahead of the budget committee meeting on Monday, Mayor John Tory has stood by his position that any property tax increases next year will be at, or below, the rate of inflation.

According to Statistics Canada, the annual rate of inflation in Toronto in October was 2.3 per cent. Overall, the national inflation rate was 1.5 per cent.

The city has used several tools to keep the property tax hike at the rate of inflation, including the Municipal Land Transfer Tax and a TTC fare increase.

With $33-billion in unfunded projects, on top of a multi-million-dollar gap in this year’s budget that has to be balanced, the city has to find ways to come up with more money.

Tory said raising property taxes beyond the rate of inflation is not an option. Instead, he has backed road tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway as well as a hotel tax to help raise money. He has also called on other forms of government to help chip in.

While the cost of the tolls has not been decided, Tory said a $2 fee would bring in more than $200 million every year. All drivers would pay the toll – not just those living outside Toronto.

Tory has also asked all of the city’s departments, including the Toronto Police Service and the TTC, to find 2.6 per cent in reductions.

The $10.46-billion operating budget and the $26.5-billion capital budget will be reviewed by the budget and executive committees. It will then be debated at city council on Dec. 13-14 and voted on by council on Feb. 15-16.

Torontonians can share their views on the budget at public deputations on Jan. 5 and Jan. 9-10.


Related stories:

City’s share of transit plan costs could be equivalent to 2 per cent tax hike

Road tolls, hotel tax unanimously approved by mayor’s executive committee

Tory repeats support for road tolls at York University subway station

Families to spend up to $420 more on groceries, restaurants in 2017, report says

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Dec 6th, 2016

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The typical Canadian family will spend up to $420 more on groceries and dining out next year, getting little relief from a recent drop in the cost of food, suggests a new report released Monday.

A study by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax estimates food inflation will increase in 2017, driven by a falling loonie and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s first year in the White House.

Food prices overall are expected to rise between three and five per cent, with meat (especially chicken and pork), vegetables, fish and other seafood among those projected to jump by four to six per cent.


Related stories:

Food prices post first annual drop since 2000, as inflation creeps up in October
Report suggests more Canadians are using food banks
Industrial milk price hike likely to be passed down to consumers at restaurants


Fruit and nut prices are anticipated to go up between three and five per cent, while the costs of dairy, eggs, bakery goods and cereals are forecast to increase by up to two per cent. Restaurant costs will rise by two to four per cent, the report says.

The study says the sweet spot for food inflation is between one and two per cent, a rate it says is manageable for restaurateurs, grocery stores and consumers.

Sylvain Charlebois, the report’s lead author, says he wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s food inflation surpassed four per cent.

“I think 2016 was volatile and 2017 will be, at the very least, equally as volatile,” Charlebois says.

Last year, Charlebois and the University of Guelph’s Food Institute, which he was previously affiliated with, predicted food prices would rise this year between two and four per cent — or up to $345 for a family of two adults and two children. Based on data from January to October, the cost of food rose 2.5 per cent, the report says.

Food prices fluctuated this year, rising rapidly before later easing off. In October, food prices recorded their first year-over-year drop in nearly 17 years, according to Statistics Canada.

Charlebois expects the cost of food to remain fairly stable over the holidays and into the new year, before starting to edge up around April. The two biggest factors behind that will be the Canadian dollar and the incoming Trump administration, he says.

The researchers expect the loonie to drop, bringing up the price of many of Canada’s imports, including produce and nuts.

Several Trump policies could drive up Canadian grocery bills for the next several years, according to the report. Trump, for example, could deport some of the estimated two million seasonal farm workers who are in the U.S. without legal permission, creating a production shortage and higher prices.

However, Charlebois doesn’t anticipate a recurrence of the so-called cauliflower crisis from earlier this year, when the cost of the vegetable soared to around $10 per head. He says retailers have learned from that and may temporarily halt the import of food with rapidly rising prices.

“They will just move on and import something else.”

Depending on where they live, Canadians will experience different levels of sticker shock at the grocery store and in restaurants, the report says.

Those living in Ontario and B.C. should prepare for above-average food inflation — around four to five per cent, says Charlebois.

The study says residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta should enjoy below-average price increases, while the remaining provinces and the Northwest Territories should expect average rises in food costs.

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