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Bus riders demand changes to ‘suicide stop’

CityNews | posted Thursday, Jan 11th, 2018

Frequent users of a TTC bus stop straddling the Markham and Scarborough border say changes are badly needed to the area after a 21-year-old died this week crossing the street.

The stop, just east of Eastvale Drive on Steeles Avenue East, is not lit. Passengers dropped off on the south side of Steeles have a field at their backs and two lanes of busy traffic to dodge to get to the other side.

Craig Harper says drivers can’t see bus users like himself when they are forced to cross Steeles Avenue every night in the dark.

“Even myself when I get off the bus I tell my bus driver you just dropped me off at a suicide stop,” Harper said. “Not knowing one day that something would happen. Well something did happen.”

A 21-year-old woman died Sunday after she was struck crossing Steeles shortly after getting off the bus just east of Eastvale Drive around 10 p.m.

Harper says the incident was particularly disturbing because he brought his safety concerns to the city about the stop back in March 2017, telling them the area needed a stop sign, more lighting or even a crosswalk.

“I was like really? It’s tough,” Harper said. “You see people everyday. You wave at them everyday. ‘Hi, how are you’… and the next day they’re gone.”

“If we would have had the resources at the time, I don’t think this would have happened.”

CityNews has learned the city did perform a traffic study on the area back in 2015. It determined no traffic signals or pedestrian crossover were needed.

CityNews tried to get results of that audit but were told it was an internal report and that the traffic volumes simply didn’t meet the threshold for changes.

Sunday’s incident was the first fatality in this area and the mayor’s office says it is now looking into changes.

“The death of a 21-year-old woman on our roads earlier this week was tragic. We are dedicated as a City to working to prevent pedestrian deaths,” read the statement sent to CityNews. “My office received an email about this incident that raised concerns about the intersection. We have brought those concerns to the attention of City staff. Transportation Services will be reviewing this area and they have asked hydro officials to also look at lighting in the area.”

Newly elected councillor Neethan Shan says something needs to be done to address the phenomenal growth in the Scarborough/Markham border.

“It’s used by a huge amount of cars. It needs to have the lighting. It needs to have the pedestrian safety element to it. And it’s unfortunate we lost a life,” she said.

On Wednesday, the TTC posted an ‘out of service’ sign at the ‘suicide stop’, a day after CityNews inquired into it’s safety.

CityNews has learned they will conduct their own safety assessment. There was no timeline given on when of it service at the stop will resume.


17 dead in California mudslides, more than a dozen missing

Marcio Jose Sanchez and Amanda Lee Myers, The Associated Press | posted Thursday, Jan 11th, 2018


Anxious family members awaited word on loved ones Wednesday as rescue crews searched grimy debris and ruins for more than a dozen people missing after mudslides in Southern California destroyed an estimated 100 houses, swept cars to the beach and left at least 17 victims dead.

“It’s just waiting and not knowing, and the more I haven’t heard from them – we have to find them,” said Kelly Weimer, whose elderly parents’ home was wrecked by the torrent of mud, trees and boulders that flowed down a fire-scarred mountain and slammed into the coastal town of Montecito in Santa Barbara County early Tuesday.

The drenching storm that triggered the disaster gave way to sunny skies, as hundreds of searchers carefully combed a messy landscape strewn with hazards.

“We’ve gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered up with mud,” said Anthony Buzzerio, a Los Angeles County fire battalion chief. “The mud is acting like a candy shell on ice cream. It’s crusty on top but soft underneath, so we’re having to be very careful.”

Buzzerio led a team of 14 firefighters and six dogs in deep debris. They used long-handled tools to search the muck in the painstaking task.

Teams rescued three people Wednesday, but they also discovered two more bodies, raising the death count to 17, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. Seventeen people were reported missing.

A dozen people were hospitalized at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and four were in critical condition, Dr. Brett Wilson said.

“Most injuries we saw were related to fast-moving debris,” Wilson said. “You can’t even fathom what these poor patients went through to finally make their way to the emergency department.”

The deluge destroyed 100 houses and damaged 300 others, Santa Barbara County authorities said. Eight commercial properties were destroyed and 20 damaged.

Some 500 firefighters and other rescue workers were searching debris spread across a wide swath of Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres.

Helicopters were used to hoist more than 50 people to safety from roofs, where they scrambled to escape the mud or because debris had blocked roads and left them stranded.

At one point, a Coast Guard helicopter rescued a family of five and their two dogs. Video shot from the hovering chopper showed a house surrounded by muck and debris as a mother, muddy from the waist down, handed her infant to two rescuers on the roof and then got help onto it. She and her newborn were hoisted to safety, followed by the rest of the family.

Along Hot Springs Road, where at least two homes were carried off their foundations, bulldozers cleared muck and debris from areas already searched. Utility crews began the laborious task of repairing downed power lines and snapped telephone poles.

The cleanup was going on near where Weimer’s missing parents, Jim and Alice Mitchell, lived. The couple, together for more than a half-century, didn’t heed a voluntary evacuation warning and stayed home Monday to celebrate Jim Mitchell’s 89th birthday. She hoped to find them in a shelter or hospital.

“They’re an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house. That’s their forever home,” Weimer said.

People in Montecito had counted themselves lucky last month after the biggest wildfire in California history spared the town. But it was the fire that led to the mudslide, by burning away vegetation.

“We totally thought we were out of the woods,” said Jennifer Markham, whose home escaped damage in both disasters. “I was frozen yesterday morning thinking, ‘This is a million times worse than that fire ever was.”’

Only an estimated 10 to 15 per cent of residents fled when ordered and much of the damage occurred where evacuations were voluntary.

Marco Farrell, a real estate agent, cited “evacuation fatigue” as his reason not to leave – a decision he wouldn’t make next time. He woke to the sound of pounding rain early Tuesday and went outside to investigate.

He was two blocks from home when he heard a rumble that he realized was the mudslide he feared.

“I ran as fast I could and yelled, ‘Flash flood!’ as I passed neighbours’ homes,” he said.

Farrell warned his parents inside, and within a minute, a boulder plowed through the kitchen door. The mud flow went through the home and burst through a backdoor.

Farrell planned to float his elderly parents to a hillside on a surfboard, but it was unnecessary. The mud never got above their thighs and after about an hour of huddling in a hallway, he led his folks and dog outside where a passing firetruck took them to safety.

The flow was so powerful it swept several homes off their foundations, crushed others and wrapped cars around trees. At least two unrecognizably mangled cars were carried like driftwood all the way to the beach, where they were partly covered in seaweed.

A 30-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 linking Ventura and Santa Barbara was still covered in heavy debris and not expected to reopen until Monday. Because of the closure, boats were used to ferry some employees to Cottage hospital.

Another storm-related death was reported in Northern California, where a man was killed when his car was apparently struck by falling rocks in a landslide Tuesday evening in Napa County.
Myers reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers John Antczak, Michael Balsamo, Frank Baker and Brian Melley in Los Angeles and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Driverless cars could be coming soon to Ontario roads

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2018


Ontario drivers could soon find themselves motoring along the highway next to a car with no one in the driver’s seat.

The province’s Liberal government is proposing to change the rules of its 10-year automated vehicle pilot project to allow for driverless testing. Currently, the testing of fully autonomous vehicles is only allowed with a driver behind the wheel, but the government is seeking public comment on a proposal to scrap that requirement.

“Ontario is well-positioned to be a global leader in the development, testing and deployment of connected and automated vehicles and is taking steps to secure that role,” Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said in a statement.

The province was the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow on-road testing of automated vehicles when the pilot project launched in 2016. There are currently seven participants, including BlackBerry’s QNX, Magna, Uber and the University of Waterloo.

A Highway Traffic Act exemption would be introduced to make the driverless testing legal, and participants would have to meet certain conditions, such as having a law enforcement interaction plan and vehicle communication with a remote operator.

The government said when its original pilot launched that the requirement of a driver was a safety measure in case a person needed to take control over an automated vehicle if “an unexpected event occurs.”

Tuesday’s statement from Del Duca didn’t specifically address the proposed change or safety measures, but the government proposal says allowing driverless testing “will ensure that Ontario’s AV testing regime is responsive to the needs of industry, while maintaining road safety and aligning with other jurisdictions, as well as aligning with Ontario’s broader transportation goals.”

The proposal also would allow the testing of platooning, which is when vehicles — particularly commercial ones — with smart technology communicate with and closely follow one another.

“Preliminary research suggests that platooning may lower fuel consumption, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help to improve road safety and efficiency,” the government writes in its regulatory registry posting. “This proposal would more closely align Ontario with other jurisdictions that currently permit commercial vehicle platooning, and respond to industry interest.”

Ontario is earmarking $80 million over five years to establish the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network project to support industry-led research and development, including a demonstration zone in Stratford.

Flu case numbers spiking across Canada, heralding peak of epidemic: experts

Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2018


The number of flu cases is continuing to rise across Canada, suggesting the peak of infections with one of the dominant circulating strains could come within a few weeks — or even sooner, say infectious diseases experts, who describe this influenza season as “unusual.”

“We really haven’t seen a season quite like this in a little while,” said Dr. Michelle Murti of Public Health Ontario, referring to the mix of two primary strains making people sick during this year’s epidemic.

The dominant influenza A strain is H3N2, a nasty virus that tends to infect the elderly in greater numbers, with concurrent circulation of a B strain, a type that typically causes less severe illness. Influenza B can also affect older people and is the strain that most often infects children.

“Normally in a season, we’ll see a peak of influenza A happening some time towards the end of December or through January,” Murti said Monday. “And as that is coming down toward the end of February, that’s when we start to see that peak of influenza B activity into the spring and later season.”

But this year’s B strain, known as B/Yamagata, began circulating in the fall, much earlier than is usually the case.

British Columbia, for example, is seeing an atypical 50-50 mix of H3N2 and B/Yamagata, although other regions in Canada may have different ratios of the two strains affecting their populations, Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the BC Centre for Disease Control said from Vancouver.

“The spike in influenza activity that we’re experiencing now is not unusual,” she said. “In fact, such a sharp increase in activity is a signature feature of influenza that distinguishes it from other respiratory viruses that have a more prolonged, grumbling activity through the winter period.”

Skowronski described graphs illustrating flu activity as looking like a church steeple — with a sudden rise, a peak and then a sharp decline.

“We are currently spiking, but whether we have passed the peak or are continuing to rise, it’s still too early to tell,” she said, adding that peaks may arrive at varying times across the country as regions and communities experience major upticks in cases at different points in the epidemic.

In its weekly FluWatch report, the Public Health Agency of Canada says there were 11,277 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu across the country as of Dec. 30 — about 70 per cent attributed to H3N2 — with more than 1,000 influenza-related hospitalizations and 34 deaths.

However, Murti said those figures are an underestimate of the actual number of cases, as most people don’t seek medical attention for flu and, therefore, aren’t tested. As well, not all provinces and territories keep track of hospitalizations due to influenza.

“Looking at our numbers over the last couple of weeks and knowing there’s a bit of a reporting delay, we’re certainly on the upswing right now in terms of increasing activity for flu,” she said of Ontario. “So probably in the next few weeks, we’re going to continue to see increased activity.”

Murti predicts the province’s peak — for H3N2 cases, at least — will likely come in the next few weeks.

“But you really don’t know the peak until you’re coming down the other side,” she said.

In the meantime, Skowronski advises that people at risk for influenza complications, including the elderly and those with underlying heart and lung conditions, seek immediate medical attention if they develop flu-like symptoms so they can be treated with an antiviral medication to reduce their risk for hospitalization and death.

To be effective, the drugs must be taken in 12 to 48 hours from onset of symptoms, which include cough, muscle aches and fever.

“Given the expectation of low vaccine effectiveness this season, especially for H3N2, that advice about getting early care for those with high-risk conditions applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people,” she said.

Canada’s flu shot contains the same vaccine components as that used by Australia during the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season that ended in August, which was found to have only 10 per cent effectiveness in preventing H3N2.

Fur real: Wannabe rabbit and cat cuddlers flood city with applications

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2018


The city has received a huge response to its call for volunteer rabbit and cat cuddlers — leaving it spoiled fur choice.

The Toronto Animal Services put out a request for volunteers to cuddle its rabbits and cats and more than 900 residents responded.

The shelter says cuddling helps socialize the animals and improves their physical and mental well-being. As a result, it also helps them get adopted.

If you were hoping to volunteer for the program, it’s no longer pawssible. The program now has enough volunteers.


Mayor Tory announces initiative to draw people to King Street

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2018


Toronto Mayor John Tory has announced a series of measures aimed at boosting business on King Street West that’s at the centre of the complex pilot project that prioritizes transit over cars.

Tory says he has heard concerns from business owners along King who say they have been suffering since the year-long project began eight weeks ago.

The King Street pilot project in Toronto has banned cars from travelling straight through a busy stretch of the road that cuts through the city’s financial and entertainment districts, with only a few exceptions.

Tory says there will be a competition to design and build new public spaces in the curb lanes along the street that could include patios and cafes.

Michael Thompson, the chair of the city’s economic development committee, says the city will also add ice sculptures, art installations, fire performers and warming centres in an effort to draw people to the area.

Tory says the pilot project is a success from a transit perspective, saying commute times on the stretch’s streetcar routes are down and traffic hasn’t spilled over to parallel streets.

Rising minimum wages could speed up automation not relocations: labour leaders

Ross Marowits The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2018


MONTREAL — Companies might not be able to dodge rising minimum wages by relocating even their most mobile workforces to lower wage provinces, but higher costs could accelerate the pace of automation.

“It would be foolish of some employers to think that they can escape temporarily by moving their operations,” said Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff.

While companies may get a short-term benefit, he said the reality is that minimum wages across the country are going to keep increasing.

Unifor president Jerry Dias said pressure is being placed on every province to boost entry wages that mostly affect retail and service sectors, where relocation is not an option.

“This is spreading across the country like a very good epidemic and so they can run but they can’t hide,” he said in an interview.

Some businesses have criticized the pace of wage hikes in Ontario and Alberta.

On Jan .1, Ontario boosted hourly minimum wage by 20 per cent — from an $11.60 to $14. The rate will rise to $15 an hour in 2019. Alberta is expected to raise its minimum wage to $15 later this year.

But the union leaders argue that higher wages will ultimately help businesses as low income earners are more apt to spend all they earn and boost the economy.

Jobs that can easily be done from any location, such as call centre work, are theoretically most likely to shift locations. But the reality is that many of these positions pay much higher than entry wages, said Rob Campbell, president of ContactNB, which represents New Brunswick’s large contact centre community.

Air Canada and WestJet Airlines say they have adjusted the wages of their call centre positions and have no plans to move these jobs to other provinces.

Some companies may move jobs say from Ottawa to Gatineau, Que., but the numbers will be very small, said Fabian Lange, associate professor at McGill University’s Department of Economics.

But don’t expect provinces to woo businesses with the promise of lower wages.

He said it would be “politically problematic” for provinces with lower minimum wages to run big campaigns that emphasize how many low wage workers they have.

“It would be political suicide to do that because ultimately they’re all going to be at $15,” added Dias.

Provinces cannot guarantee that their minimum wages won’t unexpectedly rise, said University of Alberta economics associate professor Joseph Marchand.

“No one really saw Alberta’s $15 minimum wage coming. In 2014, it was one of the three lowest minimum wage provinces,” he said.

Marchand said rising minimum wages could speed up a growing trend to automate with the addition of ATMs, restaurant order screens and grocery self-checkout lines.

“It’s happening because technology is moving at a constant rate so that’s making capital cheaper year by year, but then if you have a drastic shift in labour costs that’s only going to speed up the process.”

A report from the Brookfield Institute on the Canadian jobs most at risk of automation found employees in the lowest-paid sectors, such as cashiers and food and beverage servers, are most vulnerable.

Canadian retailers such as Dollarama Inc. and Metro Inc. have said they are speeding up studies of automation as they consider options for offsetting the pending wage increase.

But the shift to automation over the last couple of decades has little to do with wage hikes, said labour representative Yussuff.

“There is recognition that more and more automation is coming to a lot of sectors in society and that’s long before the minimum wage has been increased.”

North Korea to send delegation to Winter Olympics in South

The Associated Press | posted Tuesday, Jan 9th, 2018


North Korea agreed Tuesday to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Seoul officials said, as the bitter rivals sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to co-operate in the Olympics and improve their long-strained ties.

The Koreas’ first talks in two years were arranged after North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un recently made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea after a year of elevated tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs. Critics say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North.

During the talks, the North Korean delegation said it would send an Olympic delegation, which includes officials, athletes, cheerleaders, journalists and others, South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters, according to media footage from the border village of Panmunjom, the venue for the talks.

The South Korean delegation, for its part, proposed North Korea send a big delegation and conduct a joint march during the Feb. 9-25 Game’s opening and closing ceremonies, Chun, one of the five South Korean negotiators, said.

He said South Korea also suggested resuming temporary reunions of families separated by war and offering military talks designed to reduce animosities in frontline areas. South Korea also stressed the need to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Chun said.

North Korea responded by saying the two Koreas must try to promote peace and reconciliation through dialogue, he said.

The two sides were to continue their negotiations later Tuesday at Panmunjom, the only place on the tense border where North and South Korean soldiers are just feet away from each other. A North Korean soldier late last year defected to the South across Panmunjom amid a hail of bullets fired by his comrades. He was hit five times but survived.

The meeting began with an amicable atmosphere Tuesday morning, with chief North Korean delegate Ri Son Gwon saying he hopes the talks would give “a New Year’s first gift — precious results (of the talks) to the Korean nation.” Ri’s South Korean counterpart, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, said he also hopes they would come up with a “good gift” for people in both Koreas.

The overall prospect for the negotiations was still unclear. The two Koreas have a long history of ending key talks without any agreement and failing to follow through with rapprochement accords.

An agreement on the North’s Olympic participation had been widely expected before the talks began, but the Koreas remain sharply at odds over how to improve their overall ties.

North Korea is expected to demand rewards in return for South Korea’s offer for family reunions and military talks, like Seoul halting propaganda broadcasts and scaling back or halting military drills with the U.S., observers say.

Suspension of the military drills would be unacceptable for Seoul because that would seriously undermine the alliance with its chief ally the United States, which wants to put more pressures on Pyongyang. The North views the drills as a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

President Donald Trump on Saturday expressed hope for some progress from the talks and said he was open to talking with Kim himself. But U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley later said the U.S. administration isn’t changing its conditions regarding talks with North Korea, saying Kim would first need to stop weapons testing for a “significant amount of time.”

In his New Year’s Day address, Kim said there is an urgent need to improve inter-Korean ties and that he is willing to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games. He urged Seoul to halt the military drills with the U.S. and said he has a “nuclear button” to launch missiles at any target in the United States.

South Korean liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favours dialogue as a way to defuse the North Korean nuclear standoff, welcomed Kim’s outreach and proposed talks at Panmunjom. Kim quickly accepted.

“As President Moon has said, the improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea’s nuclear program,” Brian Hook, a chief adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, told reporters in a conference call late Monday Washington time. “And so, we remain focused on our global pressure campaign. That campaign is designed to bring Kim Jong Un to the table for meaningful negations.”

The Trump administration agreed last week to delay springtime military drills with South Korea until after the Games. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis insisted the delay was a practical necessity to accommodate the Olympics, not a political gesture.

Trump and Kim traded bellicose warlike rhetoric and even crude insults last year, as the North conducted it sixth and most powerful nuclear detonation and three tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The International Olympic Committee said Monday it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the Games. IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the registration deadline has been extended and that the Switzerland-based committee supports North Korean athletes in the qualification process, while respecting U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

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