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Toronto father calls for ban on caffeinated energy drinks

Kevin Misener | posted Tuesday, Mar 21st, 2017

A Toronto father is calling for an outright ban on caffeinated energy drinks but city health officials say it isn’t possible.

Jim Sheppard’s 15-year-old son died of a heart arrhythmia after downing a Red Bull on an empty stomach in 2008.

Sheppard and other parents are calling for a ban on energy drinks in their cities.

“I’ve reached out to those people, some of them are in Australia, there’s a number in the States, there’s another lady in Montreal, and they all feel the same way,” he explained. “(Caffeinated energy drinks) should be regulated. We need to have stiff penalties.”

But Dr. Barbara Yaffe with Toronto Public Health says that while there is emerging evidence that energy drinks could pose health risks, it doesn’t warrant outlawing them.

“The evidence is showing there may in fact be serious health effects so we want people to be aware of that and just use caution,” she said.

Yaffe said the focus should be on increasing awareness and added that Health Canada already bans the sale and marketing of energy drinks to children under 12.

“We’re saying increased awareness. Increased awareness of what Health Canada regulations say, in terms of – do not mix energy drinks with alcohol, do not give it to children.”

Sheppard feels the city can take stronger actions to protect young people.

“The City of Toronto has rights on their own properties and I really feel that they should ban the sale, the marketing and advertising of the products on city properties,” he said.

Health Canada already regulates the sale and marketing of energy drinks, but critics say the rules aren’t properly enforced.

Metrolinx, Bombardier in court over light-rail contract

News Staff and The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Mar 21st, 2017

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Metrolinx and Bombardier will face off in court on Tuesday over a light-rail contact for the Eglinton Crosstown.

The Ontario Superior Court will hear Bombardier’s request for an injunction to prevent Metrolinx from terminating the contract.

The provincial transit agency is fighting for the right to get out of the $770-million contract, and the right to speak to other suppliers, on the grounds that Bombardier may not be able to deliver on time. The delay would cost Metrolinx a fortune in penalties, and it would damage Metrolinx’s reputation.

Bombardier is expected to argue that it can deliver the vehicles on time. Cancelling the contract, Bombardier argues, would cause irreparable harm to its finances, international reputation, and employees.

Bombardier is also claiming that Metrolinx wants out of the deal because it no longer needs all of the vehicles it ordered, and that’s because Toronto City Council flip-flopped on the Scarborough subway plan once Rob Ford became mayor in 2010, essentially cancelling David Miller’s Transit City.

Ban aimed at electronics in cabins of some US bound flights

Alicia A. Caldwell and David Koenig, The Associated Press | posted Tuesday, Mar 21st, 2017

Seeking to bolster airline security, the U.S. government is temporarily barring passengers on certain flights originating in eight other countries from bringing laptops, iPads, cameras and most other electronics in carry-on luggage starting Tuesday.

The reason for the ban was not immediately clear. U.S. security officials would not comment. The ban was revealed Monday in statements from Royal Jordanian Airlines and the official news agency of Saudi Arabia.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press the ban will apply to nonstop flights to the U.S. from 10 international airports serving the cities of Cairo in Egypt; Amman in Jordan; Kuwait City in Kuwait; Casablanca in Morocco; Doha in Qatar; Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia; Istanbul in Turkey; and Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The ban was indefinite, said the official.

A second U.S. official said the ban will affect nine airlines in total, and the Transportation Security Administration were to inform the affected airlines early Tuesday.

The officials were not authorized to disclose the details of the ban ahead of a public announcement and they spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Royal Jordanian said cellphones and medical devices were excluded from the ban. Everything else, the airline said, would need to be packed in checked luggage. Royal Jordanian said the electronics ban affects its flights to New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal.

David Lapan, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, declined to comment. The Transportation Security Administration, part of Homeland Security, also declined to comment.

A U.S. government official said such a ban has been considered for several weeks. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose the internal security discussions by the federal government.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly phoned lawmakers over the weekend to brief them on aviation security issues that have prompted the impending electronics ban, according a congressional aide briefed on the discussion. The aide was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue and also declined to be publicly identified.

The ban would begin just before Wednesday’s meeting of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Washington. A number of top Arab officials were expected to attend the State Department gathering. It was unclear whether their travel plans were related to any increased worry about security threats.

Brian Jenkins, an aviation-security expert at the Rand Corp., said the nature of the security measure suggested that it was driven by intelligence of a possible attack. He added that there could be concern about inadequate passenger screening or even conspiracies involving insiders _ airport or airline employees _ in some countries.

Another aviation-security expert, professor Jeffrey Price of Metropolitan State University of Denver, said there were disadvantages to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage. Thefts from baggage would skyrocket, as when Britain tried a similar ban in 2006, he said, and some laptops have batteries that can catch fire _ an event easier to detect in the cabin than in the cargo hold.

Most major airports in the United States have a computer tomography or CT scanner for checked baggage, which creates a detailed picture of a bag’s contents. They can warn an operator of potentially dangerous material, and may provide better security than the X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry-on bags. All checked baggage must be screened for explosives.

Koenig reported from Dallas. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Joan Lowy and Ted Bridis contributed to this report.

Lost teddy bear turned in at St. Clair West station

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Mar 21st, 2017

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A TTC rider has turned in a lost teddy bear, found at St. Clair West station on Monday.

The rider, named Liz, also posted about the lost bear on Twitter on Facebook.

Liz wrote that she, too, once lost a favourite stuffed animal on public transit, and it was returned.

The bear is currently in the lost and found, which is located in Bay subway station. The office is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, except statutory holidays. The phone number – 416-393-4100 – is answered noon to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Staff-less public library pilot project raising concerns about safety

CityNews | posted Monday, Mar 20th, 2017

Millions of people walk into Toronto public libraries each year. The majority have a safe, educational experience.

But recent disturbing, and at times, violent incidents at multiple libraries in the city has the union sounding the alarm for increased security.

However, CityNews has learned a staff-less public library pilot project is coming to Toronto and that has raised even more questions and concerns.

“We have huge concerns, not only for the delivery of the library services, but obviously the major concern is safety,” said Maureen O’Reilly, the president of the Toronto Public Libraries Union.

This past week, a nine year old boy at Parkdale library was approached by a man and asked several inappropriate questions. Police arrested Ryan McFarlane, 38, and charged him with failing to comply with probation.

Back on February 1st, a man was stabbed inside the Toronto Reference Library.

On February 28th, a woman who was eight months pregnant and another man were both assaulted inside Fairview Public Library.

The union says since 2015, violent incidents in the library have risen by 29 per cent.

In that same length of time, librarian staffing levels have dropped 20 per cent and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been slashed from the security budget.

And the staff-less pilot project that is scheduled for two Toronto libraries this year will serve to bring those numbers even lower.

Under the pilot project, people will be able to enter the library using a swipe card system, likely tied to a library card. Once inside, O’Reilly says, it will be an “empty building” equipped only with security cameras.

O’Reilley says a library without security and without librarians isn’t a library.

“Technology can’t replace staff on the ground with their eyes and ears,” she says. “Having security cameras is not going to be acceptable.”

The two Toronto libraries scheduled for the staff-less pilot project are Swansea Memorial Public Library in Bloor West Village and the other is Todmorden Public Library on Pape Avenue in the east end.

Ontario bill aims to hold elevator contractors responsible for fixing outages

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 20th, 2017

Maintenance contractors would be held responsible for getting broken-down elevators up and running in relatively short order under proposed novel legislation in Ontario that seeks to address what some have deemed a crisis.

The legislation, which also calls for changes to the provincial building code, is expected to be introduced on Wednesday by Liberal MPP Han Dong, who has spent months crafting the bill.

Under the Reliable Elevators Act, elevators in most buildings would have to be repaired within 14 days – seven days for those in long-term-care and retirement homes. To achieve the aim, the bill aims to amend the definition of a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act to include those who hire elevator-maintenance contractors.

“The building owner is the consumer and the contractor is the service provider,” Dong said. “So, the contractor will be responsible to comply.”

The approach would subject contractors to a wide range of punitive measures – such as black-listing, public shaming, or prosecution – that exist under the Consumer Protection Act and which the Consumer Services Ministry already enforces.

The proposed legislation seeks to bridge a glaring gap between current stringent safety regulations and “elevator availability” in which users have little recourse beyond yelling at a building manager who may be stymied in efforts to get the situation fixed.

Dong said he was inspired to act after The Canadian Press reported last summer on extensive problems in the elevator industry, and he was getting an earful by constituents in his Toronto riding. Apart from frequent outages, he said, paramedics on one occasion took more than an hour to get a senior down from the 11th floor of a building because the only elevator large enough was out of service.

“One complaint that stood out was about the elevators,” Dong said. “It’s more than accessibility. It’s actually a health and safety issue.”

The Canadian Press investigation last year uncovered widespread elevator problems across Canada – from people getting trapped, to seniors stuck in their apartments for weeks on end. Latest figures, for example, show firefighters in Toronto alone had to pry open elevator doors to free 3,647 people in 2016. They’ve already been called out more than 400 times this year.

While some issues relate to older elevators, even new luxury highrise condos have endured weeks of disgruntled residents when elevators have stopped running and parts have needed to be sourced from abroad.

To ensure adequate service in new buildings, the second part of Dong’s bill would make elevator-traffic studies mandatory under the building code, which now requires only that a building of more than seven storeys have at least one elevator.

“A lot of developers go the extra mile to get a proper assessment to make sure the elevator service is up to standard, but I feel that with all these vertical communities happening, we need tighter regulation,” Dong said.

Rob Isabelle, an engineer and veteran elevator consultant, said Dong’s ideas made good sense but the devil was in the details. Among other things, he wondered if old elevators with obsolete components or building owners who fail to pay contractors would be exempt and at what point it would be mandatory to add more elevators.

“Theoretically good,” Isabelle said of the approach. “Practically challenging.”

Analysts like Isabelle have tended to blame the often dismal situation on a tight-knit industry dominated by a handful of mega multinationals, who have little incentive to address the availability problems.

In January, one of those companies, ThyssenKrupp, was fined $375,000 for failing to keep a Toronto elevator in a state of good repair, leading to a terrifying mishap that left a man with a serious leg injury. But as long as an elevator poses no imminent danger, no one enforces elevator reliability.

“Something has to be done,” Dong said. “Hopefully, the industry will change its practices and find some reasonable solutions.”

While private member’s bills seldom make it through the legislature, Dong did successfully spearhead an initiative to regulate home inspectors that was essentially adopted by the government.

St. Catharines man wanted for first degree murder of stepson

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 20th, 2017

A 43-year-old man is wanted for first-degree murder in connection with the death of his stepson, who family friends described as a “loving little boy.”

Niagara Regional Police said they planned to issue a Canada-wide arrest warrant on Monday for Justin Kuijer, who was also being sought in connection with a stabbing incident at a Royal Bank branch on Friday in which a woman was sent to hospital.

Nathan Dumas, 7, was found critically injured in a residence in St. Catharines, Ont., Friday morning. He was rushed to hospital, but died early Saturday. Police did not immediately reveal the cause of death.

Friends of the boy’s family started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for funeral costs. The campaign surpassed its $10,000 goal by Sunday afternoon.

“He was the most loving and caring little boy,” the page read. “And now because of another he will never be able to grow into a fine young man and make a diff(e)rence in this cruel world.”

Police said the boy is Kuijer’s stepson, but revealed little information on the case.

They said Saturday that they were looking for Kuijer in connection with the bank stabbing.

The woman was stabbed by a man who entered the bank. He then fled. Police said the incident was not a robbery. They said Kuijer and the woman knew each other professionally. The woman was in stable condition in hospital.

Niagara Regional Police Const. Philip Gavin said the Canada wide-warrant would be on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Gavin said Kuijer has a vehicle and potentially could be far from the Niagara region.

“We don’t know his whereabouts,” he said.

The case has been a tough one for police and the community, Gavin said.

“A situation like this, it impacts the community, it impacts the family,” he said. “It’s not easy, but we have a job to do, and we try to persevere through that.”

Police called the suspect armed and dangerous. They said if members of the public see him, they should not approach him and call 911 immediately.

Kuijer was last seen wearing an orange hoodie under a brown leather coat, dark pants, a black toque, and boots, police said. There is a pink floral decal on the back window of the dark grey van he was driving that references missing person Ashley Simpson and “Missing Women of Canada.”

The suspect van’s licence number was BYTE392, police said.

 

Meet Julia: Muppet living with autism to be welcomed on ‘Sesame Street’

Frazier Moore, The Associated Press | posted Monday, Mar 20th, 2017

Folks on Sesame Street have a way of making everyone feel accepted.

That certainly goes for Julia, a Muppet youngster with blazing red hair, bright green eyes – and autism. Rather than being treated like an outsider, which too often is the plight of kids on the spectrum, Julia is one of the gang.

Look: On this friendliest of streets (actually Studio J at New York’s Kaufman Astoria Studios, where “Sesame Street” lives) Julia is about to play a game with Oscar, Abby and Grover. In this scene being taped for airing next season, these Muppet chums have been challenged to spot objects shaped like squares or circles or triangles.

“You’re lucky,” says Abby to Grover. “You have Julia on your team, and she is really good at finding shapes!”

With that, they skedaddle, an exit that calls for the six Muppeteers squatted out of sight below them to scramble accordingly. Joining her pals, Julia (performed by Stacey Gordon) takes off hunting.

For more than a year, Julia has existed in print and digital illustrations as the centerpiece of a multifaceted initiative by Sesame Workshop called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children.”

She has been the subject of a storybook released along with videos, e-books, an app and website. The goal is to promote a better understanding of what the Autism Speaks advocacy group describes as “a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.”

But now Julia has been brought to life in fine Muppet fettle. She makes her TV debut on “Sesame Street” in the “Meet Julia” episode airing April 10 on both PBS and HBO. Additional videos featuring Julia will be available online.

Developing Julia and all the other components of this campaign has required years of consultation with organizations, experts and families within the autism community, according to Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice-president of U.S. Social Impact.

“In the U.S., one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” she says. “We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children. We’re modeling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share.”

Julia is at the heart of this effort. But while she represents the full range of children on the spectrum, she isn’t meant to typify each one of them: “Just as we look at all children as being unique, we should do the same thing when we’re looking at children with autism,” Betancourt says.

It was with keen interest that Stacey Gordon first learned of Julia more than a year ago. “I said, ‘If she’s ever a puppet, I want to BE Julia!’”

No wonder. Gordon is a Phoenix-based puppeteer who performs, conducts classes and workshops, and creates whimsical puppets for sale to the public.

She also has a son with autism, and, before she started her family, was a therapist to youngsters on the spectrum.

Although she figured her chances of landing the dream role of Julia were nil, her contacts in the puppet world paid off: Two friends who worked as Muppeteers on “Sesame Street” dropped her name to the producers. After submitting tapes, then coming to New York for an audition, she was hired.

In the introductory segment, Julia is having fun with Abby and Elmo when Big Bird walks up. He wants to be her new friend, but she doesn’t speak to him. He thinks she doesn’t like him.

“She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way,” Abby informs him.

Julia, chuckling, then displays a different-but-fun way of playing tag, and everyone joins in. But when a siren wails, she covers her ears and looks stricken.

“She needs to take a break,” Big Bird’s human friend Alan calmly explains. Soon, all is well and play resumes.

“The ‘Meet Julia’ episode is something that I wish my son’s friends had been able to see when they were small,” says Gordon. “I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react.”

Gordon says her son, now 13, isn’t drawn to puppetry. “He’s more interested in math and science, and plays the piano brilliantly,” she says with pride.

But she’s having a blast being part of the show that helped hook her, as a child, on puppeteering.

“It is so much fun to be on set with everyone, and get to play up all the positive things I’ve seen with the kids that I’ve worked with,” Gordon says. “At the same time, I come at this with a reverence. I don’t want to let the autism community down.”

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