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Mom of slain 14-year-old girl outraged convicted teen will only serve three years

CityNews | posted Friday, Mar 3rd, 2017

The mother of a 14-year-old girl who was fatally shot in a Rexdale townhouse is outraged and disappointed after learning that a teen convicted in her daughter’s death will serve just three years in a youth facility.

Alicia Jasquith told CityNews she feels justice hasn’t been served for her daughter, Lecent Ross, who died after the July 2015 shooting on Jamestown Crescent near Martin Grove Rd. and Finch Ave. West.

A 13-year-old boy initially faced a manslaughter charge but was convicted of criminal negligence causing death in November 2016. His sentencing is scheduled for Friday, where Jasquith will read a victim impact statement.

Jasquith said she’s learned he will serve three years before being released to his family.

“It’s just a big disappointment to us at this point,” she said in a phone interview ahead of Friday’s hearing. “We never got no justice.”

“I’m very sad at the moment, I can’t believe this,” she added. “You go out and kill someone and you get three years?”

A police source told CityNews the Crown and defence are still negotiating, but that the sentence will likely be in the “neighbourhood of three years.”

A second male, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, was also charged with criminal negligence causing death. His name can’t be revealed to protect the identity of the younger teen.

Deadline trauma: Why teens procrastinate their big decisions

Maclean's | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

Sophie Kelly’s last day at high school was full of all the usual nostalgic sentimentalities. “All my friends were posting, ‘I’m going to miss you so much! Have fun at Queen’s or Western or wherever!’ ” The 18-year-old from London, Ont., felt distinctly excluded. “All I thought was, ‘Oh, I’ll just be here again.’ ” Though her arts school had reminded her of the Ontario-wide university application deadline in January, Kelly had flip-flopped between arts and medicine, enthusiastic about both, but the deadline came and went and she applied for neither.

Every year around this time, prospective university students slave over applications to their preferred programs and schools. In Ontario, almost 90,000 bombard the Ontario University Applications Centre (OUAC) in Guelph with a total of 480,000 applications by the end of January. A few keeners submit early, the majority will apply in the few days leading up to the deadline, and the rest wait until the very last minute.

Luckily, the centre is prepared for the procrastinators. “They’re high school students; they’re going to leave it to the last minute,” says spokeswoman Deanna Underwood, who stresses that graduate students are no better.

All humans do it, says University of Calgary psychology professor Piers Steel, “and yet nobody quite procrastinates like young adults do.” For that, blame the brain. “Procrastination is the interplay between the limbic system—what feels good here and now—and the prefrontal cortex that cares about the future and the abstract,” says Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation. Applying early would be a wise plan formulated in the prefrontal cortex, but the limbic system suggests it’d be more fun to surf Twitter. “You want to do something and simultaneously don’t want to do it—two systems playing against each other,” explains Steel, adding that the teen brain is still growing up to the early twenties. “Last to develop is the prefrontal cortex, so sometimes that voice just isn’t yet strong enough.”

It can be tempting to fall into stereotypes about teens as irresponsible, unfocused and immature, but it’s not so simple. “Procrastination is never just laziness, even if it sometimes looks that way,” says Mary Frances Fitzgerald, a retired Edmonton guidance counsellor who spent 18 years at high schools big and small. “Most kids are somewhere in the middle, but I’d guess 15 per cent of kids have a plan and are ready—they don’t even need talking to. About a quarter need to be reminded and pestered and re-pestered.”

Hardcore procrastinators usually fall into two camps, she says. Some students just aren’t ready. “Those students often do well to take a year, or two or three, to explore the work world and decide what they’re really looking for.” Others have so many choices, they have a hard time choosing a program. Used to excelling, they deeply fear missteps. “They’re often operating under the myth that if they choose and change their mind, that’s a failure,” says Fitzgerald.

Sophie Kelly was a bit of both. A well-rounded student with a 93 per cent average, the options were daunting. “I thought this choice would determine my marks, which would determine my job, which would determine my income, which determines the rest of my whole life,” she says. “The truth is, I was scared and overwhelmed, but instead of saying so, I just said, ‘Forget it, I’m not going.’ ” Kelly’s mother supported her decision. “I thought not applying was a mistake,” says Leslie Garrett, “but I also think by the time kids are this age, we need to get out of their way. It’s not our job to make it happen for them.”

Parents should resist the urge to micromanage the application process, which is common. Dalhousie requires a declaration that all information is filled in by the applicant. As education costs climb higher, parents have a larger stake in their kids’ success, but “too much parental involvement gets problematic very soon,” warns Dalhousie registrar Adam Robertson. “We want students to do the soul searching and make these decisions themselves and apply for all the right reasons.”

Still, students shouldn’t panic if they miss a deadline. Instead, pick up the telephone, like Kelly did in August when she decided she was ready for university after all and wanted to study environment and urban sustainability at Ryerson. With the help of the dean of admissions and program manager, they worked some magic and found her a spot. Despite all the procrastination in the world, says Ryerson registrar Charmaine Hack, “it’s never too late to check if it’s really too late.”

Schools are teaching values. But whose values?

Meagan Campbell | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

(Photograph by Jimmy Jeong)

At W.J. Mouat Secondary School in Abbotsford, B.C., “character class” is mandatory. Its teacher, Lisa Marie Fraser, spends 120 hours a year on units called caring, respect, responsibility, teamwork, awareness and integrity, dissecting each and devising community service projects. There’s a lot of “thinking about thinking”—one of the course’s goals—as students work through the material. Fraser grades students according to their reflections on their thoughts; as the capstone project, they review their reflections and contemplate any changes in their attitudes.

“I’m 100 per cent convinced this is something that needs to be here,” says Fraser, who also teaches English and drama. “When you get kids in Grade 9, they don’t even know what a value is. They say, ‘I value my cellphone, I value my Nintendo’ … They’re learning pretty cool stuff.”

While politicians talk about screening immigrants for Canadian values, schools in every western province and Ontario are already teaching them to students. Whether using the terms “values,” “traits” or “attributes,” or emphasizing the importance of perseverance, lovingness or grit, schools are teaching what children were once expected to learn through churches and nuclear families. To test if these curricula are working, and to show children where they need to improve, schools between Ontario and B.C. are administering an annual survey to 7,000 students to measure their character.

Some parents are perturbed. They ask whose values are being taught and how much time teachers are spending on morals instead of math, and on gratitude instead of grammar. Critics wonder if character is even teachable, let alone measurable. And as universities and employers in some places begin paying attention to character scores, critics warn that will only add stress for children who already deal with sometimes dangerous amounts of pressure.

When W.J. Mouat introduced the Living and Learning with Character course in 2010, Fraser would interrupt math, science and language classes to teach the course to Grade 9 and 10 students once a week. Now, the school has introduced “flex time,” giving students a 40-minute block of free time every day. Each week, one of these is spent learning character.

The course aims to create helpful citizens. One class decided to plan fundraisers for refugees and create swag bags for new students. “I thought it was friggin’ awesome,” says Madison Hendry, who graduated last spring and is now in the pre-nursing program at Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C. “Personally, I really liked it,” echoes her classmate Salar Jabari, who now studies engineering at Concordia University in Montreal.

Yet some students resent all the reflection, which they see as wishy-washy. They must write, for example, about genuine caring versus material gift-giving and watch theoretical videos. “You’d have to complete these really, really pointless assignments of how you did this and that in the community,” says Jabari. “They force you to make something up … and it didn’t make me feel like a better person. Sometimes they try to shove it down your throat, and that’s not how you should learn.”

Skeptical teachers, however, have come on board as the character curriculum shifts toward hands-on projects. “It’s like the best thing that I think could’ve happened,” says Karen Bowater, a math teacher at W.J. Mouat. “It’s part of what I think should be happening everywhere.”

It is. British Columbia’s Ministry of Education now includes character-building in curriculum beginning in kindergarten. School boards in Alberta and Saskatchewan have published kits to help schools encourage courage, decency, civility and other traits. And the Ontario government has requested that schools “embed character development in all subject areas.”

The movement began in Greater Toronto’s York Region in 1999, when school counsellor Avis Glaze watched news of the shooting of a student in Taber, Alta., and of the near-fatal beating of local high school student Jonathan Wamback. “We must do something now,” Glaze remembers declaring. Today, Ontario schools, including 110 Catholic institutions, have given out 1,350 character awards and assigned attributes to each month (October is inclusiveness; November, empathy.)

Preachers, not teachers, were the original guides of character, along with family members. Educators who support the teaching of values say children are spending less time with family and are instead poring over raunchy music videos and playing violent games. “It would be too dangerous to our society not to have it [taught] more pervasively,” says Glaze.

Not all parents are convinced. “There’s a tendency to see it as airy-fairy, New Agey BS,” says Yuki Hayashi, the mother of a student entering Grade 9 in Hamilton. “My concern would be, how much time is spent on this?” Yet, Hayashi agrees that schools should teach everyday skills and are trying to “mould citizens that we want to live next to.” Of course, not everyone agrees on the definition of a model citizen. One father told Glaze he didn’t want his son being taught to be honest because it would compromise his future as a businessman. “As a society,” counters Glaze, “we must have a few attributes that are non-negotiable.”

While Fraser believes she can teach character, she isn’t convinced she can measure the success of that mission. She often gives grades of 100 per cent. “The ministry requires me to throw down a percentage, which drives me mental,” she says. “It sounds ridiculous to fail a kid in character.” Karen Addison, director of the Character Community Foundation of York Region, agrees. “It’s not like there’s a thermometer and the level goes up, the level goes down,” she says. “It’s a very intangible thing.”

To formally assess children’s characters, schools between Ontario and British Columbia have begun distributing a questionnaire created by psychologist Wayne Hammond. “We’ve proven that the tool is statistically predictable,” says Hammond, owner of a Calgary-based human resources consulting firm called Meritcore. “I can tell you where your character’s at.”

The questionnaire, called the Resiliency Assessment Survey, contains 62 to 82 questions, depending on a school’s preference. Students rank how strongly they agree or disagree with statements similar to “I try to avoid unsafe things” or “I feel hopeful about my future.” The tool creates profiles of each student’s top strengths and weaknesses, such as acceptance, restraint or safety. The results belong to each school board and are used to identify at-risk students and trends within schools. “It starts to give them a round-up,” says Hammond. “Who needs resources? Who needs stretching?”

Alternative measures include the Character Growth Card, invented by American Angela Duckworth, a pioneer of the character movement. Duckworth argues that character, specifically “grit,” is the key determinant of student success. Her hard-copy questionnaire gauges attributes such as gratitude, self-control and zest (defined as approaching life with enthusiasm) by asking students and teachers to rank how often they’ve done things like “kept their temper in check” and “stuck with a project for more than a few weeks.”

A third tool comes from psychologist Mark Liston at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His online multiple-choice survey measures 11 character strengths in as many minutes, giving students and teachers percentage scores on attributes such as wisdom, empathy and “love/closeness” (one school in Denver had to remove the questions on spirituality because it feared a lawsuit from parents). The results compare each person to “national averages” derived from 1,000 Americans. Schools pay up to $500 per student to take the survey.

A “character portfolio” is another concept of Liston’s. It presents a student’s character scores through Grades 4 to 12, paired with extracurricular and community service hours, journal entries and mentor reports, decorated with personal statements and pull quotes. Liston plans to sell a portfolio program to schools and parents, for students to use in university applications. “When kids start seeing this will help them get into a better college, they’ll start to use it,” he says. “In the past, it’s pretty much been a reference letter. We can do more than that. We must do more than that.” Even if students lie about their empathy, kindness and optimism to buff up their portfolios, Liston says, “How long can you fake it before it actually becomes who you are?”

Alarmingly, some schools are taking character scores more seriously than the researchers intended. This year, nine school districts in California will begin to incorporate character assessments into school accountability, affecting their funding. “We’re nowhere near ready,” warns Duckworth in a column in the New York Times, “and perhaps never will be, to use feedback on character as a metric for judging the effectiveness of teachers and schools.” Duckworth notes that the new measurement tools may not be accurate due to cultural biases—for example, at one school, students from Korea ranked themselves lower on all attributes—and because students hold different standards for character indicators such as “comes to class prepared.” Regardless of the limitations, the measurements threaten to become “high-stakes metrics for accountability,” Duckworth writes. When a California teacher told her that she worried the school’s low scores would mean less funding per student, Duckworth writes, “I felt queasy.”

At W.J. Mouat, character grades range from 50 to 100 per cent, and final grades appear on student transcripts. Fraser hopes to learn more about the concept of character portfolios and their use for university applications. “I think it’s fascinating,” she says. Her students are currently spending their class time publicizing orange shirt day in remembrance of residential schools in Saskatchewan and planning an Aboriginal feast. Fraser expects character education to flood into Eastern Canada as schools show quantitative evidence of its success. “This wave is here,” says Fraser. “This wave isn’t going away.”

‘Envelopegate’ accountants not allowed back at Oscars

Sandy Cohen, The Associated Press | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

The president of the film academy says the two accountants responsible for the best-picture flub at Sunday’s Academy Awards will never work the Oscars again.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs said Wednesday that Brian Cullinan, the PwC representative responsible for handing over the errant envelope that led to “La La Land” mistakenly being announced as best picture rather than “Moonlight,” was distracted backstage. He tweeted (and later deleted) a photo of Emma Stone in the wings with her new Oscar minutes before giving presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope for best picture.

Cullinan and his colleague, Martha Ruiz, have been permanently removed from all film academy dealings, Boone Isaacs said.

The academy president broke her silence four days after the biggest blunder in the 89-year history of the Academy Awards. She told The Associated Press that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ relationship with PwC, which has been responsible for tallying and revealing Oscar winners for 83 years, remains under review.

PwC released a statement late Sunday and another Monday taking “full responsibility for the series of mistakes and breaches of established protocols” during the Oscar show. The company did not immediately respond to email and phone messages sent Wednesday.

Though the academy released a statement late Monday apologizing to the artists of “Moonlight” and “La La Land,” Boone Isaacs said she waited to say more until her team had a better understanding of what led to the error.

She praised presenters Beatty and Dunaway, and host Jimmy Kimmel for gracefully taking charge of the situation. She also lauded “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz, whom she said “went from a nominee to a winner to a presenter in a matter of minutes.”

Horowitz, still holding the Oscar he thought he’d won, was the first to announce that “Moonlight” was the actual winner.

Boone Isaacs lamented that “the last 90 seconds” of the telecast have overshadowed what she described as “the most brilliant and wonderful show.”

Also on Wednesday, the academy addressed another embarrassment on Sunday’s show, apologizing to the Australian movie producer it incorrectly displayed during the in memoriam segment.

In a statement, the academy extended “our deepest apologies” to producer Jan Chapman, whose photo was mistakenly used in the tribute instead of Chapman’s colleague and friend, the late Janet Patterson. Chapman had said she was “devastated” by the error.

Patterson, an Australian costume designer and four-time Oscar nominee (“The Piano,” “Bright Star”), passed away in October last year. Patterson and Chapman worked together on “The Piano.”

The academy also updated the in memoriam reel on the website for the Oscars.

Extra $87M in property tax charged due to double-dipping error

CityNews | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

If you have automatic billing set up for your City of Toronto property tax payments, you should check your bank account.

As many as 44,000 residents were charged twice on Wednesday due to “an error in file transfer protocol” — amounting to an extra $87 million withdrawn.

“My expected payment was around $700 and they had deducted basically that same amount twice,” said homeowner Samantha Anne Little, “So, I ended up about $1,400 out.

“I was very lucky. I had enough to cover both payments.”

Casey Brendon, director of the city’s Revenue Services Division, said staff learned of the problem first thing in the morning when customers started calling.

He said only one file should have been sent to the Royal Bank of Canada, the city’s bank. Instead, RBC received two and both were processed.

“The city worked very swiftly with its banking service provider to make sure that credit adjustment was applied to customer’s accounts,” Brendon said.

“That account adjustment has already taken place. Customers should find that their accounts are reflecting their expected balance.”

He said because the error was fixed on the same day, banks should not charge fees for insufficient funds. Any problems should be reported to 311.

Little said she has avoided pre-authorized payments with some of her other bills because of possible mistakes like this.

“This is exactly why I don’t do pre-authorized payments,” she said. “For things like property taxes or gas bills or hydro bills, it’s supposed to be a fairly regular payment within a reasonable amount of money … and that’s why I do that for those types of bills.

“But for other things I don’t because this can happen and put me in quite a difficult financial spot.”

Brendon said the city and RBC are reexamining their file transfer protocol to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again.

Wind takes down home under construction in Leslieville

CityNews | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

A house under construction in Leslieville was no match for the intense wind on Wednesday night.

Toronto Fire were called to the home on Leslie Street south of Queen Street East around 10:30 p.m.

The home was blown over by the wind and was leaning against the house next door.

No injuries were reported.

It’s unclear if there was any damage to the neighbouring home.

Wind gusts of around 50 km/h blew through the city on Wednesday, as a cold front moved into the area. Although the wind gusts slowed to 30 km/h on Thursday, the windchill made it feel like -16 in the morning.

Recycling bins can be seen on the street on March 2, 2017, after a windy night and morning. CITYNEWS/Bertram Dandy

Correction: An earlier version said three people were in the home.

Wynne to make announcement on Ontario hydro bills on Thursday

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

Ontario electricity ratepayers will learn Thursday how the Liberal government plans to reduce their bills.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is set to make the announcement in the morning, a day after the Toronto Star reported the plan is to cut consumer costs by another 17 per cent largely by financing the costs of electricity generation contracts over longer periods.

Opposition and energy critics say the move, akin to renegotiating a mortgage, is a “shell game” that will lead to more costs down the road.

The Liberal government faces no bigger political issue at the moment than hydro bills, which have about doubled in the last decade.

The Star reported the benefit from the plan would be more than $1.5 billion a year, reflected in decreased global adjustment costs.

The global adjustment, which accounts for up to 70 per cent of electricity rates, is the charge consumers pay for above-market rates paid to power providers in 20-year contracts meant to ensure a steady supply.

Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has estimated the global adjustment cost $50 billion between 2006 and 2015 and increased by 1,200 per cent between 2006 and 2013 – meanwhile, the average electricity market price dropped by 46 per cent.

The government will also shift the Ontario Electricity Support Program for low-income customers to the tax base, rather than being funded by other ratepayers, the Star reported.

Wynne has previously signalled that more savings will be coming for rural and northern ratepayers, who face significantly higher costs than urban customers, and the energy minister has suggested that changes are on the way for time-of-use pricing.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the reported plan would just shift costs from people’s hydro bills to tax bills.

“The money needs to come from somewhere,” he said. “Will this government come clean and acknowledge that in their leaked plan, taxes are going to go up? They’re simply playing a shell game.”

In response, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the government would be balancing its upcoming budget.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault played equally coy after question period, refusing to confirm or deny the Star’s report. But he did note that Ontario Power Generation did something similar to reduce nuclear refurbishment cost increases.

“It’s something that OPG has recognized that works, but for us in terms of our smoothing – or our rate mitigation plans, we’re not putting anything out there right now,” Thibeault said before heading into a cabinet meeting.

Energy consultant Tom Adams said in a blog post that the plan would create a “big new electricity debt” in order to make rates “appear” to decrease.

“In a nutshell, Wynne’s plan is to stretch out the recovery of current electricity generation costs over a longer time period than currently is the case,” he wrote.

It’s not clear whether the underlying contracts would be extended or if the Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation, which manages the debt of the former Ontario Hydro, would fund the difference, Adams wrote.

NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh said the reported plan wouldn’t address the root causes of problems within the electricity system, such as the high-paying, long-term contracts.

“When they talk about smoothing out payments … that means extending a bad contract and by extending it the interest payments are going to put more money in the hands of bankers,” he said.

The NDP on Monday presented its plan to lower hydro bills, and it included renegotiating power contracts they say have led to high costs and an oversupply of energy.

The government will also shift the Ontario Electricity Support Program for low-income customers to the tax base, rather than being funded by other ratepayers, the Star reported.

Wynne has previously signalled that more savings will be coming for rural and northern ratepayers, who face significantly higher costs than urban customers, and Thibeault has suggested that changes are on the way for time-of-use pricing.

GO Transit rail safety campaign aims to provoke

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

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A bold new rail safety campaign by GO Transit is sparking some controversy.

With GO Transit increasing service, Metrolinx said they wanted to boost rail safety awareness.

The campaign began in January with the image of a vehicle parked on the railway tracks as a GO train barrels toward it. The caption below reads ‘Killer View’.

“We designed this campaign to provoke conversation, to make people pay attention to it, to get them thinking about rail safety,” Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikens explained.

“We want people to stop and think about what they’re doing because it can have deadly consequences. I know that it provokes people … that’s actually good.”

Over the past five years GO Transit has increased the number of trains across its system by 44 per cent. It’s annual ridership for both train and bus grew by nearly 20 million people – from 52 million to 70 million.

And that number continues to grow across the GTHA.

“Our ultimate goal is to save lives. We’re going to be bringing more and more service over the next few years … that’s why we’re doing this campaign ahead of more service coming,” Aikens explained.

Some of the emails received by Metrolinx called the campaign upsetting.

Aikens said they understand why some people might find the images disturbing — especially those who have learned first hand what it’s like to lose a loved one to this type of tragedy.

“I think people who have personal experience with someone perhaps dying as a result of being hit by a train, some sort of misfortune like this, I can understand why it provokes terrible, terrible memories,” she explained.

“Those images are to remind people that we don’t want them to be in the same position that you find yourself in. Their families are devastated by someone dying on tracks, our crew are devastated. We carry every one of these people with us forever.”

While some people are calling the new ads disturbing, others are praising the campaign for not sugar coating such an important issue.

“Brilliant campaign… It’s the ‘disturbing’ aspect that triggers the retention of the message. ‘Soft’ messages don’t stick,” Blair W Carrigan posted on Twitter.

“It’s graphic and it should be. It’s obviously working,” Valerie Ward wrote on Facebook.

“The fact that they have to create a picture like this to get their point across is what I find disturbing. Not the ad itself,” Susan MacDonald commented on Facebook.

Aikens said there are more images coming that some may find disturbing — including one involving a child.

CityNews got an exclusive sneak peek at some of the campaign’s next posters.

GO Transit Killer View Campaign poster

GO Transit Killer View Campaign poster
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