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Ontario seeks public feedback on cannabis lounges as legalization looms

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Jan 22nd, 2018

Ontario is considering allowing licensed cannabis consumption lounges in the province once recreational marijuana is legalized this summer, and is asking the public to weigh in on the idea.

The proposal is being met with optimism by some cannabis activists and municipal politicians who say the provincial government’s approach on where legal weed can be consumed has been too restrictive so far.

Under rules outlined in the fall, the province intends to sell marijuana in up to 150 stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to people 19 and older, with a ban on pot’s consumption in public spaces or workplaces.

On Thursday, the province issued a request for public feedback on a slew of regulatory changes proposed to clarify where recreational and medical cannabis can be consumed. Among them is the possibility of permitting “licensed and regulated cannabis consumption lounges and venues” sometime after legalization in July.

That’s exactly what Abi Roach, the owner of Hotbox Cafe, a private Toronto cannabis lounge open since 2003, said she’s been asking the province to do for six years.

Roach appeared before a legislative committee examining the provincial government’s pot laws in November and at the time urged politicians to ease their rules around where the drug could be consumed. She said she wanted the government to shift from what she sees as building policy based on “90 years of prohibitionist mentality” to something that is “functional and realistic to the needs of the consumer.”

Current rules that intend to restrict consumption of marijuana to private residences will push people who can’t use cannabis in their own homes to places where it would create a problem, like public parks or their cars, Roach argued.

“In an urban setting you have to take into consideration your neighbours,” she said. “Maybe your neighbour has children. Maybe they’re not really into it. Maybe your neighbour has respiratory issues. There’s no real consideration there for your community.”

Roach said private cannabis lounges like Hotbox, which is among seven such establishments in Toronto, see thousands of customers a month and check IDs to make sure all customers are over the age of 19. The lounges do not sell marijuana but may offer equipment for customers as they consume in a communal setting.

Roach said a major part of the government move to legalize cannabis is to cut down on criminal activity. Including private businesses, like lounge owners, in that regulatory environment will help achieve that goal, she said.

“People who are in the cannabis business do not want to be criminals,” she said. “Cannabis consumers don’t want to do business with criminals. In reality, we all want to be licensed.”

Roach also said that the government should not attempt to open its own government-run cannabis lounges, like it intends to do with standalone pot shops.

“Do you want to hang out at Kathleen Wynne’s lounge?” she asked. “There has to be a level of innovation in this industry. There has to be a level of privatization.”

Toronto councillor Jim Karygiannis, who sits on the city’s licensing and standards committee, said the province should step in with clear regulations that would lead to better controls on where the lounges are established, ensure patrons are of legal age to consume cannabis and protect lounge employee safety.

The province should also require lounges to have appropriate set-backs from school zones, he said.

“A private lounge is a wonderful alternative as long as it’s legislated and regulated,” he said. “The municipality should have some form of … oversight. If they’re not regulated it will be the wild, wild west.”

Andrew Rudyk, spokesman for Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, said the province is taking a cautious approach to the federal legalization of cannabis.

“There are no immediate plans to make … these changes as we are just taking this opportunity to get early feedback on possible next steps after legalization,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to consult on the decisions still to come.”

The province is accepting feedback on its proposals until March 5. Comments can be submitted through the Ontario Regulatory Registry website.

Twitter says 700,000 Americans duped by Russian election trolls

The Associated Press | posted Monday, Jan 22nd, 2018


Twitter says it is emailing almost 700,000 people in the United States who followed accounts linked to Russian propagandists during the 2016 election.

In a blog post Friday, the social media site said it had found 1,062 new accounts associated with the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

Twitter says the 3,814 identified IRA-linked accounts posted 175,993 Tweets in the 10-week period preceding the 2016 election, approximately 8.4 per cent of which were election-related.

Twitter says it has since suspended those accounts.

Twitter also identified another 13,500 automated accounts – for a total of 50,258 – that were linked to Russia and tweeting out election-related material.

“We are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period,” the company said.

“Any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue.”

Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Virginia who’s harshly criticized Twitter’s lacklustre investigation into Russian meddling, tweeted Friday that he was “encouraged to see the company beginning to take responsibility” in dealing with the issue.

Twitter released some examples of the election-related material that was linked to Russian propagandists





New data shows Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Jan 22nd, 2018


If it seems as if the weather’s getting weirder, you’re not wrong.

An index of extreme weather in Canada compiled by the insurance industry backs that up.

“Yes, we see definite trends that can’t be explained by normal variability,” said Caterina Lindman of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.

The institute compiles what it calls the Actuaries Climate Index, a joint effort by insurance organizations across North America. It recently released its latest quarterly update — up to spring 2017.

The index begins with a 30-year average taken from 1961 to 1990 of everyday weather conditions such as temperature, precipitation, wind speed and sea level. Thresholds are set for each of those based on the top 10 per cent of readings.

For an average month, for example, about three days would be in that 10 per cent.

Using data provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — one of the top American government science organizations — the index then counts how many days actually exceed that threshold. The index plots the results for every three-month period since 2016.

The method reveals a slow, gradual increase in extreme weather.

The overall Canadian index indicates that during the entire three decades between 1961 and 1990, extreme weather fell outside the range of normal variability only five times. In the last 10 years, however, that happened 12 times.

Temperatures have been climbing.

Across Canada, hot days have exceeded the normal number every quarter since the winter of 2015. The number of cold days hasn’t exceeded normal for nine years.

It’s getting wetter, too. Across Canada, the average number of days with heavy rain or snow has been outside the norm since spring 2013. In Ontario and Quebec, it’s been since winter 2008.

It’s harder to draw conclusions about wind for Canada as a whole. Likewise for sea level — unless you live in the Maritimes, where sea level has been higher than the normal range for the last 12 years.

The findings correspond with data from Environment Canada, which suggests average summer temperatures have climbed one degree since 1970 and precipitation has increased about five per cent.

Actuaries use the information in their calculation of risk as they insure lives and property, said Lindman. But they also do it to contribute to public debate.

“There’s a lot of political angst around the issue of global warming and we’re trying to be neutral sources,” she said. “We’re just adding our voice.

“We’re in it for the long haul, so we are concerned for the sustainability of our planet.”

Fog advisory in Toronto, freezing rain warning in parts of GTA

CityNews | posted Monday, Jan 22nd, 2018


It could be a slower-than-normal drive in the GTA on Monday due to either fog, freezing rain, or both — depending on where you live.

A fog advisory is in effect for Toronto and the GTA. Areas like Newmarket, Uxbridge, Innisfil, Caledon, and Barrie are under a freezing rain warning.

Environment Canada warns areas affected by the warning could see some patchy drizzle or freezing drizzle during the morning commute. It will be followed by an “extended period of freezing rain” later in the morning and into the evening, causing icy roads for the drive home.

The national weather agency tempered its outlook when it comes to the freezing rain it was calling for Toronto and other areas of the GTA.

It now says precipitation will likely fall in the form of rain as temperatures hover above the freezing mark. However, portions of the York and Durham regions, could see some freezing rain.

Freezing rain will be more of a threat in Dufferin Country, where temperatures are expected to be below the freezing mark until the evening.

Man reported dead after medical incident at Moss Park Armoury

CityNews | posted Monday, Jan 22nd, 2018

The Moss Park Armoury in Toronto is photographed on Friday, January 5, 2018. The federal armoury is being opened as a temporary homeless shelter for two weeks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Reports from homeless advocates say a man in his 50s has died following a medical incident at the Moss Park Armoury shelter.

Paramedics confirmed that one person was transported to hospital from the armoury on Sunday afternoon. He was alive at the time, but advocates say he later died. EMS have not confirmed the death at this time.

Activist and street nurse Cathy Crowe told CityNews the man was reportedly staying in a room at the armoury with other residents and pets, where conditions were highly unsanitary. She added that he had been ill for quite some time.

Activists are also raising concerns about what they say are deplorable conditions at the armoury shelter.

More to come

Toronto makes short list for new Amazon headquarters

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Jan 19th, 2018


Toronto is the only Canadian city still in the running to host Amazon’s multibillion-dollar second headquarters.

The e-commerce giant released Thursday its short list of 20 candidates for the facility — out of 238 cities that applied last year — which is expected to house up to 50,000 employees.

Bids poured in from Canadian cities from coast to coast as both major urban centres like Montreal and Halifax vied with smaller dark-horse competitors such as Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

In the end, however, Toronto was the only Canadian city to make the short list, where it stands alongside American metropolises such as Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough,” Amazon said in a tweet announcing the short list. “All the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory celebrated the news that the city and surrounding municipalities were in contention.

“Last year, I said I would put the Toronto Region up against any city in North America as the place for ambitious, forward-looking companies looking for a home,” he said in a statement touting Toronto’s talent, quality of life and vibrancy. “I’m glad that Amazon agrees that Toronto is worth considering.”

In the bid it submitted to Amazon last October, Toronto was quick to point out that it met all the criteria the company specified in its search for a second corporate home.

The company’s wish list included proximity to a metropolitan area with more than a million people; ability to attract top technical talent, a location 45 minutes from an international airport, direct access to mass transit, and the capacity to expand the headquarters to more than 740,000 square metres over the next decade.

Toronto also touted diversity as one of its strengths alongside its lower business costs relative to similarly sized American competitors, expanding infrastructure and low crime rates.

The city’s pitch also took what could be construed as a dig at U.S. President Donald Trump and his administrations anti-immigration policies.

“We build doors, not walls,” reads the cover letter from the group co-ordinating the bid from Toronto and several surrounding municipalities. “Those doors open to highly skilled economic immigrants and international students who can easily become permanent residents and citizens.”

Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Steven Del Duca said Toronto’s placement on the Amazon short list is “outstanding news” for the entire province.

“I think it’s a very clear indication that it’s a jurisdiction that’s attracting top talent and top talent (is) being trained in this area.”

Asked if economic incentives were back on the table to land Amazon, Del Duca said the province will continue to push its skilled work force as the top selling point.

“The focus of our efforts has been talking about the kind of talent that we have at the table,” he said. “I know that from the very beginning we’ve stressed that that’s the focus of what makes Ontario and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area particularly appealing for organizations and companies like Amazon. I believe that’s what we’ll continue to stress.”

Alberta investigating ice cream eating bear at Dairy Queen drive thru

The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Jan 19th, 2018


The province is investigating a video that shows a Kodiak bear from a central Alberta zoo being taken through a fast-food drive-thru and being hand-fed ice cream by the restaurant’s owner.

The video, posted on social media by the Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, shows a one-year-old captive bear named Berkley leaning out the driver’s side of a truck’s window for her treat at the local Dairy Queen.

“We’ve got Berkley in the drive-thru testing out some ice cream so she can pick out her birthday cake,” says a man identified as Mark in the video. “We’ve added some peanuts to this batch and she seems to like it – so I think we’ve got a winner here.”


Officials with the province said they are investigating the video and the terms of the zoo’s permit, which is regulated by Alberta Environment and Parks.

“Public safety is a top priority for our government,” said spokesman Brendan Cox. “The content of the video in question is disturbing and both Environment and Parks, and the Fish and Wildlife enforcement branch are actively investigating this incident.

“The involvement of Discovery Wildlife Park in this matter is also subject to investigation. If non-compliance is found, action will be taken.”

Bear experts are calling the video irresponsible and disrespectful.

“It’s a challenge every day out there in our parks and protected areas to try to teach people who are visiting these places or live here in Alberta that we don’t feed wildlife, that we don’t feed bears,” said Kim Titchener, who runs a business called Bear Safety & More.

“We need to conserve and protect them, and respect them.”

Serena Bos, a trainer at Discovery Wildlife Park, said there was no safety concern because the bear was on a chain in the truck the entire time.

“There was never any public present. It was done long before the Dairy Queen even opened,” she said. “Berkley is a captive bear, so not a wild bear in any way.”

Bos said the bear, which is a sub-species of the grizzly bear, came from another facility in the United States and has been well-trained.

“We have put out hundreds of conservation messages on social media over the years,” said Bos, who noted the park uses its animals as ambassadors to get those messages out.

The message in the video with the bruin in the truck is about the importance of staying inside a vehicle when a bear is on the side of the highway because they have a keen sense of smell, she said.

Mark Kemball, owner of the Dairy Queen, said he was never concerned about his safety as he fed the bear.

“This bear is as tame as any animal I have ever seen,” he said. “She is as gentle as can be. She has never been in the wild.”

Kemball added that he was happy to help get the message out about bears.

“Those are bears that can never be released in the wild,” he said. “They (wildlife park) do bear safety. They do education around bears. They do education around wolves. The whole underlying theme of their park is to provide education to the public.

“It does grab people’s attention and then obviously they can try to get their message out.”

A second video posted on social media shows the same bear being fed a Dairy Queen ice-cream cake on its birthday.

Titchener said the videos go against everything experts are trying to teach people about grizzly bears.

“This is not the message that we want to get out there,” she said.

It’s “not part of their natural diet nor is it natural for a bear to be eating an ice-cream cake in the middle of winter when they should be sleeping.”

TTC planning new shuttle buses to connect riders to Mimico GO station

CityNews | posted Friday, Jan 19th, 2018


Getting to the GO station could soon be a lot easier for residents of Humber Bay Shores and the Mystic Point neighbourhoods.


On Thursday the TTC unveiled plans for a new community shuttle bus, connecting tens of thousands of people to the Mimico GO station.

The frequency, and costs of the run, are still being worked out while the community has a chance to provide input, but the goal is to have it running by the summer.

“We are going to try to get this thing going hopefully by the summer. This will get people to and back from the GO station Mimico,” Mark Grimes, councillor for Etobicoke-Lakeshore told CityNews.

Although there are tens of thousands of people living in the largely vertical neighbourhoods, there is currently no transit connection to the GO station — forcing people to park illegally on side streets to catch the GO or get in their cars to commute downtown.



“Transit is seriously lacking,” area resident Sandra Dundek says. “It’s always congested — even when it’s not rush hour.”

To make matters worse, even more people are moving into the area. There are over a half dozen developments under way in the Mystic Point / Humber Bay area, with several others in the works in nearby Mimico.

In 2016, Mimico station had an average weekly ridership of 3200 passengers — making it the 6th busiest station on the Lakeshore West line. But Grimes believes ridership would be much higher if the station was located closer to the higher density neighbourhood of Humber Bay Shores.



“Transit is seriously lacking,” area resident Sandra Dundek says. “It’s always congested — even when it’s not rush hour.”

To make matters worse, even more people are moving into the area. There are over a half dozen developments under way in the Mystic Point / Humber Bay area, with several others in the works in nearby Mimico.

In 2016, Mimico station had an average weekly ridership of 3200 passengers — making it the 6th busiest station on the Lakeshore West line. But Grimes believes ridership would be much higher if the station was located closer to the higher density neighbourhood of Humber Bay Shores.


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