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File photo of the University of Toronto campus. HANDOUT

University of Toronto contract staff vote 91% in favour of strike mandate

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 23rd, 2017

Contract academic workers at the University of Toronto have given their union a 91 per cent mandate in favour of strike action as they work towards a new contract.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says the workers include non-student sessional lecturers, writing instructors and music professionals.

CUPE says the key issue is how post-secondary institutions relay on “precarious labour,” with sessional lecturers at the university delivering more than 20 per cent of all undergraduate teaching, yet earn less and have little to no job security.

Union official Jess Taylor says after four months of bargaining, they have made some gains at the table in terms of wage increases, but contract workers need a pathway to permanent employment.

The two sides are scheduled to resume bargaining on Friday and Taylor says the union hopes the strike mandate message is “well received” by university negotiators.

“Many of our members have been working at the University of Toronto for decades,” said CUPE 3902 chairwoman Pamela Arancibia in a statement.

Ottawa offers options to international students after college strike

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 23rd, 2017

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Ontario’s college students may be back in the classrooms after a record breaking five-week strike but, for some, there’s still some uncertainty over their future. An international student attending Humber College told CityNews the school’s latest email was putting her in a difficult position. Part of that email she shared, read “If you withdraw, we recommend that you leave Canada.”

The student, who did not want to be identified, said she wanted to receive a full refund for the fall 2018 semester and re-enroll in 2018. But she now fears this plan may have an impact on her student visa status in Canada.

A spokesperson from Humber College said the school regrets any confusion the language may have caused, and a followup email will be sent to students on Thursday.

“The intent of the message was to provide further information to international students about the withdrawal process and how to protect their status with IRCC,” Andrew Leopold said.

“According to current IRCC guidelines, if a student chooses to stop attending classes and withdraw from his/her program, the student is required to leave the country. By not complying with IRCC guidelines, the student is risking an impact on his/her current and future status.”

Colleges in Toronto are operating on a revised schedule, where the Christmas break is shorter and the fall semester extends into the new year, forcing a late start to the winter semester. Some international students, like the student from Humber and Nico Dedocoton, had already purchased flights back home.

“We’re in a trap, I feel like the school doesn’t want to let us go because they’re losing money,” said Dedocoton, who is enrolled in the Bachelor of Technology program at Seneca-York.

Dedocoton, who is from the Ivory Coast and told CityNews he pays $10,000 a semester, must now choose between going back home to Africa in December or continuing his studies. Though students who want to withdraw from classes will be eligible for a full tuition refund, the College Student Alliance, an advocacy group, says international students are expressing concerns over the impacts that will have on their visa status in Canada.

“What international students are hearing from their institutions is that if they withdraw for the tuition refund, they might not be eligible to stay in Canada and they might have to leave the country because they’re no longer in class,” Abdullah Mushtaq, the Director of Advocacy, said.

The province said it has been working alongside the federal government to alleviate the visa impacts the strike had on international students.

“International students are really important and are particularly vulnerable throughout this,” Deb Matthews, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Canada, said.

“We’ve worked with federal government, the federal government has provided assurance that students who need an extension to their visa as a result of the strike will be granted that extension.”

When asked about the concerns expressed by international students, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said although it can’t provide case-specific advice, there are a number of possible scenarios for international students to consider:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Students who continue to remain enrolled and actively pursue their studies following the strike:

“There will be no impact on the immigration status of students who, following the strike, continue to remain enrolled and actively pursue their studies at their designated learning institution. The interruption in studies caused by the strike will not affect a study permit holder’s eventual eligibility for a post-graduation work permit.”

Students who accept the refund and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester:

“There will be no impact on the immigration status of students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester. Students will be eligible for on- or off-campus work after they resume full-time classes in January 2018. The interruption in studies caused by the strike will not affect a study permit holder’s eventual eligibility for a post-graduation work permit.”

Students who accept the refund and are not enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester:

“Students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester, and are not enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester, may change their status to “visitor” if they wish to remain in Canada or they may leave Canada altogether. Students who choose this option no longer meet the eligibility requirements for either on- or off-campus work or a co-op work permit, and will not be eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program.”

Students who accept the refund and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the Summer or Fall 2018 semester:

“Students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester, and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the Summer or Fall 2018 semester, may change their status to “visitor” if they wish to remain in Canada. Students who choose this option no longer meet the eligibility requirements for on- or off-campus work or the post-graduation work permit program. Students who change their status to visitor will need to apply for a new study permit from abroad if they wish to return to full-time studies.”

However, if students withdraw from the semester, it doesn’t automatically mean they will be getting automatically be admitted into the program.

“At Humber, we are able to re-admit most students to their program of study but we cannot guarantee in which semester that will occur,” said Leopold. “While we will do everything possible to help students who want to withdraw and start their program or semester again in the future, some programs have a limited number of spaces and are only offered at certain times throughout the year.”

College students still have time to decide on their enrollment, the deadline to withdraw from lasses without academic penalty is December 5th.

Liberals propose billions for affordable housing, including new benefit

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 23rd, 2017

nov22-justin-trudeau-housing-announcement

A Liberal government fond of promising help for those working hard to join the middle class unveiled billions in housing help Wednesday that could make a difference to hundreds of thousands of households — but only in a few years when federal money finally flows to new units and tenant benefits.

The release of the national housing strategy on National Housing Day was designed to tout tens of billions in planned and expected spending over the next decade and solidify the federal government’s re-entry into the affordable housing sector.

Included in the plan was a promise to introduce legislation to make housing a fundamental right, create a new, portable housing benefit for low-income households, and prioritize funding for the most vulnerable populations like women fleeing domestic violence.

But the plan itself rests heavily on provinces and territories kicking in matching funds, without which federal dollars won’t flow.

Even then, it won’t happen until April 2018 and not until 2021 in the case of the new housing benefit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the reason much of the money won’t be spent until after the next election in 2019 is because the federal government needs to take the time to get the details right and satisfy myriad local, provincial and territorial needs.

“We are looking at the realistic horizon that is going to not just put a Band-Aid on the problem, but create the kind of deep change and lasting impact that we know Canadians are going to need,” he said at an event in Toronto.

“When we say the federal government is back for the long term, we mean it — and that starts with getting it right from the very beginning.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the plan “timid” because of the delays in spending when the money is desperately needed now.

And Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the strategy does nothing for lowering the high cost of housing ownership in major urban centres, only making a passing reference to exploring further options.

What the plan does is pull together almost $10 billion in planned spending, $11.2 billion in housing money outlined in this year’s budget, and $4.8 billion the Liberals promised to keep spending on funding to affordable housing providers. The rest is all from provinces, territories and the private sector to total about $40 billion over a decade.

There are also strict strings attached.

A new housing fund to create 60,000 new affordable housing units and allow repairs to 240,000 more, through grants and loans, will prioritize mixed-income developments and require about one-third of all those units to be offered at 80 per cent of median market rents for a 20-year period. (A mix of other funding is poised to create an additional 40,000 new affordable housing units.)

The $4-billion portable housing benefit could eventually help 300,000 households by 2028 and provide on average $2,500 a year in help, but only if provinces and territories match $2 billion in federal money and ensure the extra money doesn’t cause a jump in private rents. Mitigating inflationary pressures account for why the documents speaks of targeting the money to those in community and social housing.

The strategy also says the government plans to create a federal housing advocate and table legislation to enshrine housing as a human right, requiring regular reports to Parliament on federal efforts to ease the housing burden for hundreds of thousands of families.

The details of that idea and others in the strategy still need to be worked out, prompting municipal and housing groups to lend cautiously enthusiastic support for the plan.

Recently released census data found that 1.7 million households were in “core housing need” in 2016, meaning they spent more than one-third of their before-tax income on housing that may be substandard or does not meet their needs.

The government hopes the strategy will lift 530,000 of those families out of that core housing need category, help 385,000 more avoid losing their homes and lift 50,000 out of homelessness.

Wednesday’s news included precious little help for Indigenous communities, which is getting a separate plan that Trudeau said the government is still finalizing. Separate plans are in the works for First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

Man arrested for impaired driving in Finch and Islington crash

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 23rd, 2017

The crash scene on Finch Avenue West near Islington Avenue on Nov. 22, 2017. CITYNEWS

One man has been arrested for impaired driving after a two-vehicle crash in the city’s west end.

Toronto police were called to Finch Avenue West near Islington Avenue around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

They say the man was driving east on Finch, when his car drifted into the westbound lanes and hit another vehicle.

He was taken to hospital but his injuries are not life-threatening injuries.

The driver of the other vehicle, a woman, was treated for minor injuries and released from hospital.

TDSB votes to scrap program that put police officers in schools

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 23rd, 2017

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The Toronto District School Board has voted to permanently end the practice of having police officers stationed in high schools.

There was loud applause when the result of a vote to scrap the School Resources Officer Program was announced on Wednesday night.

“We’re not saying we don’t want to have a relationship with the police, but we just won’t want armed police officers in our school every day,” school board chairwoman Robin Pilkey told reporters after the vote.

Toronto school district staff recommended removing officers from schools after a survey of students, staff and parents found that the police presence left some teens feeling intimidated or uncomfortable.

The program, which was suspended at the start of the school year, saw police officers stationed at 45 high schools in the district to try to improve safety and perceptions of police.

It began in 2008 after 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed at C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute.

A majority of the students surveyed for the school district report said that having an officer in school made them feel safer, but the more than 2,000 students who said they felt uncomfortable with a police presence was enough to justify the decision, Pilkey said.

“We have to reflect that two-thousand students are a significant number of students to not listen to,” said Pilkey.

However, a handful of trustees opposed ending the program, with one complaining that the decision is being made based on surveys rather than hard facts about whether the program has been a success or failure.

“It’s very unsatisfactory for us to make a decision as important as this without data, we have opinion but not data,” Gerri Gershon told the board meeting, adding that the school district should not walk away from improving relations between police and students.

“This is a horrible pun, but I think this is a big cop out,” she said.

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack echoed those sentiments.

“Disappointed in TDSB decision tonight, a huge step backwards for students, our members and the community,” he said in a tweet. “We need to build bridges, not tear them down.”

With files from News Staff

 

Cheesecake Factory opens 1st Canadian location in Toronto

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 22nd, 2017

A lineup outside the Cheesecake Factory's as the chain opens its first Canadian location at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto on Nov. 21, 2017. CITYNEWS/Tony Fera

Sweet treat lovers in the Toronto area can now have their cheesecake and eat it too with the opening of Canada’s first Cheesecake Factory location Tuesday.

The U.S. restaurant chain, which serves dozens of different kinds of desserts, announced earlier this year that it would bring its restaurant to Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre in the fall.

The new location spans about 966 square metres and employs more than 300 staff in a variety of positions.

The Cheesecake Factory was founded in 1978 and operates 211 restaurants primarily throughout the United States.

 

2 Toronto officers injured in struggle with knife-wielding suspect

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 22nd, 2017

A Toronto police cruiser is seen in an undated file photo. CITYNEWS

Two Toronto police officers suffered minor injuries during a violent struggle with a knife-wielding man in East York on Tuesday.

Police headed to the area of Dawes Road and Grower Street, near Victoria Park Avenue, around 5 p.m. after receiving a call about a man attacking a woman. The woman wasn’t seriously injured.

The suspect fled, but police managed to track him down during a search of the area.

That’s when things took a violent turn.

Police say the suspect tried to stab the arresting officers, nicking one of them in the neck.

Both officers were treated by paramedics for minor injuries and the suspect was taken into custody.

Liberals look to ease affordability concerns with release of housing strategy

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 22nd, 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses delegates during the 2017 United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

OTTAWA – The federal government will unveil its highly anticipated national housing strategy today, with the Liberals looking to ease the concerns of Canadians who fear being priced out of the market.

The plan will put a heavy focus on housing supply — building tens of thousands of affordable housing units over the next decade — and repurposing other cash to maintain housing supplements.

There are expectations that the plan will also include a new portable benefit that low-income renters can carry with them through the market.

Those are just two of a number of anticipated measures aimed at making housing in Canada more affordable, particularly for the 1.7 million households that are forced to spend more of their disposable income than they should on housing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Toronto to unveil the details of the plan, while Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos travels to Vancouver to make a simultaneous announcement on the West Coast to mark National Housing Day.

Recently released census data found that 1.7 million households were in “core housing need” in 2016, meaning they spent more than one-third of their before-tax income on housing that may be substandard or doesn’t meet their needs.

Outside of Vancouver, the cities with the highest rates of core housing need were in Ontario. In Toronto, close to one in five households were financially stretched — the highest rate of any city in the country.

The government hopes that building 80,000 new affordable rental units, along with billions more in spending over the next decade, will lift 500,000 of those families out of core housing need and help a further 500,000 avoid or get out of homelessness.

The details of how the spending will roll out are of keen interest to housing providers and cities. Municipal leaders have been meeting with federal officials this week to talk about the national housing strategy.

The Liberals laid the financial backbone for the plan in this year’s federal budget, promising $11.2 billion over a decade in new spending. About $5 billion of that money the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is expected to turn into $15 billion by leveraging $10 billion in private investment.

Still, most of the money won’t be spent until after the next election in 2019, which concerns anti-poverty groups.

Those groups are planning demonstrations in multiple cities today, demanding the Liberals spend the full $11.2 billion before the next election.

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