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An ambulance sits parked next to an overturned bus in Mahahual, Quintana Roo state, Mexico, on Dec. 19, 2017. The bus carrying cruise ship passengers to the Mayan ruins at Chacchoben in eastern Mexico flipped over on a highway. (Novedades de Quintana Roo via AP)

Canadian family affected by fatal bus crash in Mexico: Global Affairs

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Dec 20th, 2017

Global Affairs Canada says at least one Canadian family has been affected by a bus crash in eastern Mexico that has killed an estimated dozen people.

The department says it is providing consular assistance to the family, but could not provide further details about how many Canadians were in the bus and whether they were killed or injured.

Authorities in Mexico say of the 31 people on the bus, at least 12 people were killed and 18 were injured Tuesday.

The bus was carrying cruise ship passengers to Mayan ruins when it flipped over on a highway.

Quintana Roo state Civil Defence spokesman Vicente Martin says seven Americans and two Swedes were among the injured, but says authorities hadn’t yet established the nationalities of the dead.

Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises says in a statement that passengers from two of its ships, the Celebrity Equinox and Serenade of the Seas, were involved.

Video images from the scene show the bus on its side in vegetation off the two-lane highway, with some survivors lying on the pavement and others walking around.

Public Security of Quintana Roo state said in a statement that emergency responders took the injured to hospitals in Bacalar, Chetumal and Tulum.

The agency says Mexican officials have been in contact with consular offices to assist families of the victims and injured, including citizens of the U.S., Sweden and Brazil.

With files from The Associated Press

Marc and Jodie Emery plead guilty to drug-related charges

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017

Jodie Emery, who owns the Cannabis Culture brand with her activist husband Marc Emery, left, talks to reporters at the opening of one of their stores Thursday, December 15, 2016, in Montreal. Several other pot dispensaries are set to open in Montreal this week that will be selling marijuana to recreational users, despite federal rules that forbid such shops. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Prominent pot activists Jodie and Marc Emery have pleaded guilty to a number of drug-related charges in a Toronto court.

Marc Emery, the self-proclaimed “Prince of Pot,” pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana for purpose of trafficking, trafficking marijuana and possession of proceeds of crime more than $5,000.

Jodie Emery pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana for purpose of trafficking and possession of proceeds of crime over $5,000.

The couple’s arrest at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in March was followed by co-ordinated raids in several cities of pot shops associated with them.

The Emerys own the Cannabis Culture brand, which was used by a chain of 19 marijuana dispensaries in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, but the number of stores has dwindled to eight.

Three other people arrested in March — 37-year-old Christopher Goodwin and 31-year-old Erin Goodwin, both of Toronto, and 29-year-old Britney Guerra of Stoney Creek — also pleaded guilty to drug-related counts.

Push towards presto raises concerns for low-income riders

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017


Fare collectors have begun disappearing from TTC stations, beginning with the permanent closure of collector booths at Wilson and Sheppard West (formerly Downsview) stations over the weekend.

And when the six new stations on the Line 1 subway extension on Dec 17 were opened, it was also without collectors sitting in booths. That’s a total of eight stations without fare booths or collectors.

While the transit agency says this will mean better customer service, some in the social service sector say they’re worried about what it means for low-income riders.

The move is part of the push to fully automate the system with Presto, but for those who only buy one fare at a time, it could prove to be a bigger barrier. One transit advocate says even the cost of buying a Presto card in the first place is a deterrent.

“The $6 upfront for a blank card, if you’re a parent with teenagers, that can be $18 or $24, just for the card, and without even getting on the TTC,” says Yvette Roberts, who works with the Young Parents No Fixed Address Network.

“People don’t realize that low-income people actually pay more for transit,” says Roberts. “They can’t afford that monthly upfront cost. It’s $147 upfront [for a Metropass] at the same time of the month that they’re paying their rent typically. So in the end, low-income or working-class people are paying on a daily or weekly pass basis and more for transit than higher-income people are.”

The TTC says the $6 is Presto’s administration fee. They’re currently working on a low-income pass that could be ready as early as spring 2018.

But Roberts, who is also part of the Fair Fare Coalition, says one of the other big concerns for low-income drop-in centres is what Presto – a digital pay system – will mean for programs that hand out tokens and tickets to their members.

The TTC says that’s part of the next phase of the Presto roll-out they are currently working on.

“Last fall, we put out a survey to our list of stakeholders who do bulk purchases,” says Heather Brown, a TTC spokeswoman. “We are working closely with them so that the transition is as smooth as possible.”

Social service agencies in Toronto can purchase tokens and tickets in bulk at a reduced cost. Under Presto, the plan is to replace those with a limited use paper card. Brown says the TTC plans to have that in place by the middle of next year.

As for the eight stations without fare collectors, the TTC says there are still customer service agents there to help riders and people can still pay with cash, tickets or tokens at those locations.

3 confirmed dead after Amtrak train derails near Seattle

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017


American authorities say there are three confirmed deaths in the Washington state train derailment and more than 100 people were transported to hospital.

An official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press that preliminary signs indicate that Train 501 may have struck something before going off the track about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Seattle. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A local official had raised concerns about the safety of the new bypass as recently as two weeks ago at a public meeting.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said several vehicles on Interstate 5 were struck by falling train cars and multiple motorists were injured. No fatalities of motorists were reported.

In a radio transmission immediately after the accident, the train’s conductor can be heard saying the train was coming around a corner and was crossing a bridge that passed over Interstate 5 when it derailed.

“I’m still figuring that out. We’ve got cars everywhere and down onto the highway,” he tells the dispatcher, who asks if everyone is OK.

Chris Karnes was on the train, three or four cars back from the front. He said the only part of the train remaining on the tracks was the rear locomotive. Several cars were hanging over the overpass.

Daniel Konzelman, 24, was driving parallel to the train on his way to work as an accountant in Olympia. He was about 30 seconds ahead of the train on the freeway when he saw it derail.

Konzelman, who was driving with a friend, said he pulled off the freeway and then ran down along the tracks and over the bridge to get to the scene. They saw three cars and a semi-truck on the freeway that had been damaged by the derailment. There were train cars with their roofs ripped off, or that were tipped upside down, on both sides of the track or turned sideways on the bridge.

They climbed into train cars and found people hurt — some pinned underneath the train, others who appeared to be dead, he said. If they were mobile and seemed stable, he helped them climb out. If they appeared seriously hurt, he tried to comfort them by talking to them.

“I just wanted to help people because I would want people to help me,” he said. “I’m an Eagle Scout. I have a lot of first-aid training and emergency response training.”

They stayed for nearly two hours before hitting the road again.

“I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. I saw a little bit of both,” he said.

President Donald Trump used the deadly derailment to call for more infrastructure spending in a tweet sent about three hours after the accident. He said the wreck, on a newly completed bypass, shows “more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly.”

The train was making the inaugural run on the new route as part of a $180.7 million project designed to speed up service by removing passenger trains from a route along Puget Sound that’s bogged down by curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic.

The Amtrak Cascades train service is jointly owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Amtrak operates the service for the two states as a contractor and is responsible for day-to-day operations. Amtrak Cascades runs trains from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon.

The Amtrak schedule called for the train to leave Seattle around 6 a.m. and arrive in Portland about 3 1/2 hours later.

Monday marked the first public use of the new bypass built on an existing inland rail line that runs along Interstate 5 from Tacoma to DuPont, near where Train 501 derailed. Track testing was completed in January and February in advance of Monday’s launch, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The tracks, known as the Point Defiance Bypass, are owned by Sound Transit, the transit agency serving the Seattle area. They were previously owned by BNSF and were used for occasional freight and military transport.

The mayor of Lakewood, Washington, a city along the new route, predicted a deadly crash — but one involving a fast-moving train hitting a car or pedestrian at a grade-crossing, not a train tumbling off an overpass. At a recent public meeting, he called on state planners to build overpass-like rail structures instead of having trains cross busy streets.

The National Transportation Safety Board said a team of investigators was on its way to the scene from Washington, D.C.

The train was going 81.1 mph moments before the derailment, according to transitdocs.com, a website that maps Amtrak train locations and speeds using data from the railroad’s train tracker app.

The maximum speed along the stretch of track is 79 mph, according to information about the route posted online by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

All southbound lanes of I-5 were closed south of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and motorists were being warned to avoid the area.


Associated Press writers Sally Ho and Phuong Le in Seattle, Michael Sisak in Philadelphia, Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles and Gillian Flaccus in Portland contributed to this report.

#CITYCOMMUTE: Toronto group proposes underground highway to ease congestion

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017


With traffic snarls and commute times being some of the top pet peeves among Toronto commuters, one group feels the city needs to dig deeper to solve congestion issues.

The Get Toronto Moving Transportation Committee is proposing a six-lane tunneled highway that they say would help ease a lot of traffic woes. It would run from Highway 401 at Highway 2A in the east, to Highways 400, 427 and 402 in the west and would make Toronto home to the longest underground toll highway in the world.

“It would be 62 kilometers,” says James Alcock, chair of the committee. “What we’re doing is moving a lot of the through traffic underground by building a tunnel under existing railway corridor across the city from end to end.”


Alcock wants to see these underground toll highways built by private companies and operated by the private sector.

“There’s the Ontario teachers pension fund which has over $100 billion available, there are oil companies, there are companies all over the world looking to invest.”UNDERGROUNG-HIGHWAY-MAIN-IMAGE-1024x576


However, the proposed tunnel may be counter-productive to the work the city is already trying to do. Graham Haines, Research Manager with Ryerson City Building Institute says it won’t prove to be the buried treasure the group is hoping.

“A big thing with highways is a thing called induced demand. So basically when we build new road capacity, it fills up pretty quickly because we’ve made driving easier,” he says. “More people will start driving, they’ll move further away. A tunnel highway is no different than adding a lane to the 401, which is what we see happening all the time.”

Nevertheless, Alcock and his team are putting together a formal “pitch” for their underground tunnel project. They hope to have a formal press conference in late January or early February, presenting it as an option for Toronto’s commuter future.

Preparing to spend Christmas in a tent

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017


A Toronto woman who has a chronic disorder that makes her extremely sensitive to chemicals and environmental pollutants is preparing to spend the holidays in a tent because she has no place to live that will accommodate her condition.

Danni Storr suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), which can cause severe physical reactions when exposed to certain chemicals, such as perfumes, cleaning products and personal hygiene products.

As CityNews previously reported, Storr felt forced to leave her job and moved into a tent months ago, because of her illness.

Two weeks ago, when asked about Storr’s living situation, Mayor John Tory said it’s not acceptable for anyone to be in a tent in our climate and he pledged to “undertake a review of her file.”

On Monday, the mayor’s office said city officials have been trying to reach Storr to arrange for assistance but it’s proven to be difficult. “We haven’t received Ms. Storr’s contact info and don’t have a signed consent form,” said the mayor’s office in a written statement.

A 2007 report commissioned by the Canadian Human Rights Commission states that approximately three per cent of Canadians have been diagnosed with environmental sensitivities, and both the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Commissions recognize certain environmental sensitivities as a disability with a right to accommodation.

“For myself, I’m pretty much homebound, I don’t really get out unless it’s in the summertime,” says Bonita Poulin, who also suffers from MCS and left her job and moved from Brockville to rural Ontario because her symptoms got so severe.

Poulin’s advice to Storr is to leave the city. “We have to become self-sufficient and just stop waiting for other people to solve our problems… we’ve got to stop waiting around for somebody else to stop using perfume or for landlords to stop using pesticides and stop being so reliant on municipal affairs, and start looking after themselves,” adds Poulin.

The City of Toronto’s Homeless Initiatives and Prevention Services department says they have assisted people with MCS in the past and it hopes it can help Danni find a housing solution. Officials recently reached out to Danni to offer their services but she declined, saying she is afraid the accommodations won’t be safe for her.

“I kept telling them that I can’t go to a shelter because a lot of the things used in shelters will make me sick,” said Storr. But she is still hoping that city officials will find her safe, chemical-free accommodations for the holidays. “It’s just scary waking up in a tent… it literally looks like an ice cave.. so if I was hoping to be camping in an ice cave, it would be great but that’s not what I was hoping for.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s relationship status no longer a secret

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to media following his speech to delegates and supporters during the B.C. NDP Convention at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday, November 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s personal life is no longer under wraps.

A series of Instagram photos posted over the weekend show Singh and fashion designer Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu attending what appears to be a pre-engagement party.

The pair are dressed in traditional Punjabi garments and one post congratulated the couple on their “rokha” –a traditional Punjabi ceremony held ahead of a wedding and usually attended by close family.

James Smith, a spokesperson for Singh, says the leader is neither engaged nor married; he says the families of the couple met at the gathering.

Sidhu, 27, identified herself online as the co-founder of Jangirro, a clothing line based in the Greater Toronto Area.

Until now, the 38-year-old Singh has been guarded about his personal life, declining to confirm or deny that he’s even in a relationship.


Penny-pinching adds up for Canadian grocers to tune of $3M per year: study

CityNews | posted Monday, Dec 18th, 2017

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 4: A clerk counts out pennies for change. Penny goes out of circulation today across Canada, the penny will still be used and factor into prices but banks will start taking any they collect out of circulation in  Toronto.  February 4, 2013  STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR        (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Grocery stores across the country are cashing in on the demise of the penny, according to a young researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Third-year economics and mathematics student Christina Cheng has written a paper that says Canadian grocers are making $3.27 million per year from penny-rounding.

Ottawa announced plans in 2012 to phase out the copper coin, and as a result, cash purchases are now rounded up or down to the nearest five-cent increment.

Cheng wanted to know whether the change was benefiting shoppers or stores.

“Penny-rounding always becomes a guessing game,” the 19-year-old explained. “It’s a fun guessing game because it might not hurt in the short run, looking at several cents, but in the long run, I wondered if this actually accumulates.”

Curious, she decided to use her spare time outside of class to investigate.

First, Cheng enlisted a friend and they spent about a month and a half documenting more than 18,000 prices at grocery stores, taking pictures of price tags and entering the data into a spreadsheet.

They found that most prices ended in .99 or .98 – numbers that would result in bill totals being rounded up for cash transactions, if tax is not applied.

Cheng took the data and used a computer simulator to create “grocery baskets” with various items. She adjusted different variables such as the numbers of items and amount of taxes, and factored in data from the Bank of Canada on what payment methods consumers are most likely to use.

Cheng said her analysis found that grocery stores are profiting from penny-rounding.

In the end, Canadian consumers don’t end up paying much extra, but the rounding on cash transactions can mean big money for grocery retailers across the country, with each store standing to collect $157 per year, Cheng said.

In October, a paper Cheng wrote on the research won a competition for the best undergraduate student paper at the International Atlantic Economic Society’s conference in Montreal. Her study is slated to be published next June in the Atlantic Economic Journal.

The Retail Council of Canada disagrees with Cheng’s findings, said Karl Littler, the group’s vice president of public affairs.

The study’s methods don’t reflect real grocery baskets or take into account the impacts of various provincial taxes on bill totals, he said, noting that the average grocery bill is $53 and consists of a larger number of items than Cheng’s simulated baskets included.

Littler said the council’s members have reported anecdotally that penny-round is about 50-50, with half of the bill totals being rounded up and benefiting stores, and the other half being rounded down and benefiting consumers.

“There’s no nefarious plan here to scoop pennies,” he said.

Cheng said she isn’t looking to demonize Canada’s grocery industry, and simply wanted to look at an issue that affects most Canadians on a daily basis.

Her work on penny-rounding was all done outside of class time as a labour of love, which Cheng said really surprised her professors.

“Tying research with application is what I love to do,” she said.

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