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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.”

Redshirting kindergarten: New data on when to start school

Tim Johnson | posted Friday, Mar 17th, 2017

Many parents of kids with late birthdays consider redshirting Kindergarten—and now, the nation’s largest school board is saying that they just may be right to do so. The concept of redshirting is this: if your child has a late-month birthday, they may be better off starting school an entire year late, thus making them one of the oldest kids in the class, versus the youngest, and therefore more ready to enter Kindergarten. (The term “redshirting” is borrowed from U.S. college sports, for a student-athlete who foregoes her first year on the field or court in lieu of an extra season of eligibility later on, when she’s older and stronger and more skilled.)

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has just released new data showing the distinct advantages of redshirting kindergarten for kids with birthdays in the last three months of the year, noting that these children experience troubles with the emotional strength and maturity necessary for success at school at more than twice the rate of kids born in the first three months of the year. The data also show lopsided numbers on elements such as language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge, and physical health and well being—with early-month children always performing much better than their younger peers.

Dr. Charles Ungerleider adds that the TDSB findings are consistent with other studies. “The literature seems to suggest that it’s advantageous to hold your child back from entering school if they would be young in relation to their peers—and that’s particularly true for boys,” says the professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and former B.C. deputy minister of education. “I’d certainly advise parents to pay attention to the body of evidence.”

The TDSB data show that the gap remains relatively wide into Grade 3 and persists into Grade 6. In the United States, as many as nine percent of parents now redshirt their children, and in Alberta, where schedules and curriculum are more flexible, some school boards have begun pushing back overall enrolment age in order to respond to the trend.

For their part, the TDSB is reminding principals to tell parents whose kids have late birthdays that they’re free to enroll later—while Kindergarten is voluntary, Ontario’s Education Act states that if a child’s birthday falls after the first day of the school year, he can begin Grade 1 the following year.

Other studies have been far less conclusive on the long-term benefits of redshirting—and the TDSB’s own data show that the gap vanishes by high school. There are plenty of other factors for parents to weigh as well:

Too far ahead
And, while it may seem counterintuitive, some have suggested that older kids may actually be bored in a class of younger peers, and fail to develop proper study skills. In addition, many Canadian provinces employ a play-based approach to Kindergarten—making it easier for young ones to catch up.

Friends and social life
Dr. Ungerleider also encourages parents to consider the social impacts of holding their kids back. “Friendship patterns are important,” he says, noting that disrupting these (if a child has playmates before school but won’t be entering the class at the same time as them) can have a negative impact on them socially as well as academically, especially if they get the idea that they’re somehow lacking in areas that their friends are not. “That’s not a message you want to send.”

With daycare costs for preschoolers an average of $1,033 a month, many parents are willing to roll the dice that their younger kindergartener will keep up with peers in order to avoid paying for yet another year of full-time childcare.

Dogs can deceive to get what they want, study finds

STELLA ACQUISTO | posted Friday, Mar 17th, 2017


Does your dog have the ability to deceive you to get what it wants? According to a study published in Animal Cognition, it does.

The Swiss study was conducted on a number of dogs of different breeds.

The animals were introduced to two women. One was cooperative; the other, competitive.

During the test, researchers placed three boxes before the dogs — one with food they liked, one with food they disliked and one empty.

On the first day, when the dogs led the women to the preferred food box, the cooperative woman gave the dog the food, while the competitive woman kept it for herself.

On the second day, researchers found the dogs would often lead the competitive woman to the empty box and the cooperative woman to the food.

The author of the study went on to suggest dogs are able to “adjust their behaviour and that they are able to use tactical deception.”

Owner and head trainer Caryn Liles at the Toronto Centre for Canine Education said such behaviour is natural for canines, but she doesn’t think they have the ability to be deceptive.

“I think the wording was interesting,” she said. “Dogs have the intelligence level of a two- to three-year-old child.

“They lack things like spite and guilt and they don’t have a moral compass, which we often mistake … So, it’s not that they are lying because they don’t have that moral compass, but they operate on their environment in order to achieve whatever goal they have.”

Don’t let the mumps ruin your St. Patrick’s Day festivities

CityNews | posted Friday, Mar 17th, 2017

Tetanus and Mumps 20150601

Bars across the city will be hopping with St. Patrick’s Day revelers on Friday, some as early as 11 a.m.

But, before you share that drink with a friend, Toronto Public Health wants to remind the public that the mumps virus is still kicking around town.

The outbreak started last month after 14 cases were confirmed involving people between the ages of 18 and 35 who had visited bars in the western part of the downtown core.

Health officials would not release the list of the bars, saying it wasn’t the bars themselves that was the issue, it was the behaviour of the patrons in the bars.

The mumps virus is found in saliva and sweat and is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing and coming into contact with a person’s saliva by sharing drinks or utensils or by kissing.

Since the initial discovery, the number of cases has climbed to 43, four of them in schools.

Toronto Public Health is asking the public to take the following precautions:

1) Check vaccination records for you and your child

Two doses of mumps vaccine (MMR, MMRV) are recommended for all individuals born in 1970 or later. Children receive one dose after the first birthday (MMR) and a second dose at 4 to 6 years of age as part of Ontario’s Publicly Funded Immunization Schedule; check your child’s yellow immunization card. Individuals born between 1970 and 1992 may have received only one dose as a child. If an adult is unsure about their vaccinations or has only received one dose of mumps-containing vaccine, a booster dose is recommended.

2) Watch for symptoms of mumps

The mumps infection causes fever, swelling of one or more salivary glands, loss of appetite, tiredness, and headache. If you or your child have symptoms of the mumps and are ill, please contact your health care provider and do not attend work or school.

3) Planning to travel

Ensure that your immunizations are up-to-date for you and all your family members before travelling.

White House resists GOP pressure, stands by wiretap claim

Eileen Sullivan, The Associated Press | posted Friday, Mar 17th, 2017

The White House on Thursday stood by President Donald Trump’s unproven accusations that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper, despite growing bipartisan agreement that there’s no evidence to back up the claim and mounting pressure to retract the statement.

Angrily defending the president’s statement, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Trump “stands by” the four tweets that sparked a firestorm that has threatened Trump’s credibility with lawmakers. Spicer denounced reporters for taking the president’s words too literally and suggested lawmakers were basing their assessments on incomplete information.

Spicer’s comments were a rebuttal to the top two members of the Senate intelligence committee, who released a statement earlier Thursday declaring there is no indication that Trump Tower was “the subject of surveillance” by the U.S. government before or after the 2016 election. Spicer suggested the statement from Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mark Warner, D-Va., was made without a full review of the evidence or, incorrectly, a briefing from the Justice Department.

“They are not findings,” he said.

Related stories:

House intel leaders see no evidence supporting Trump’s wiretap claim
Conway suggests surveillance of Trump went beyond phones
Obama denies unfounded Trump claim president had phones wiretapped

The standoff between the White House and lawmakers came four days before FBI Director James Comey is slated to testify before Congress, when he will inevitably be asked whether the president’s accusations are accurate. The White House’s refusal to back down raised the stakes for Comey’s appearance before the intelligence committee on Monday.

Trump tweeted earlier this month that President Barack Obama “was tapping my phones in October” and compared the incident to “Nixon/Watergate” and “McCarthyism.”

Trump, in an interview Wednesday with Fox News, said he’d learned about the alleged wiretapping from news reports referencing intercepted communications, despite the fact that he and his advisers have publicly denounced stories about government agencies reviewing contacts between Trump associates and Russians.

Trump said there would be “some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

In the two weeks since the tweets, the White House has tried to soften the statement, but not disavowed it.

Spicer on Thursday asserted that Trump meant to broadly refer to “surveillance,” rather than a phone wiretap.

“The president’s already been very clear that he didn’t mean specifically wiretapping,” he said.

In an attempt to bolster his case, the spokesman spent nearly 10 minutes angrily reading from news reports which he said pointed to possible evidence of surveillance. The list included a report from The New York Times, which Trump has dubbed “fake news,” as well as conservative commentary, a little-known blog and several reports based on anonymous sources, which Trump has said cannot be believed.

Among the items he quoted from was a transcript of a recent appearance by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano on the network, in which Napolitano suggested GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, had helped with the alleged tapping. Obama, he claimed, “went outside the chain of command” so there were “no American fingerprints on this.”

The agency, which rarely comments on allegations about intelligence matters, flatly denied the claim, responding with a statement calling the allegations “nonsense.”

“They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored,” read the statement, which was issued on condition that it be attributed to an anonymous spokesperson to protect the identity of agency staff.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the senators’ statements Thursday.

Burr and Warner were among eight senior congressional leaders briefed by Comey on March 10. A Senate aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the senators’ private briefings, said Spicer was incorrect in claiming Burr and Warner had not been briefed on the matter.

“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Burr and Warner said in a one-sentence joint statement Thursday afternoon.

The phrasing of the statement left open the possibility that tenants or employees working in the tower may have been monitored. In response to Trump’s claims and a request from the House intelligence committee, the Justice Department is doing its own review of whether Trump or any of his associates were the subject of surveillance. The department is slated to provide a response to the committee by Monday.

Burr and Warner are leading one of three congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, including whether Trump associates were in contact with the Kremlin.

The senators joined a growing, bipartisan group of lawmakers who have publicly disputed Trump’s accusation in the lead up to Comey’s testimony.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin pushed back on the accusations as well.

“We’ve cleared that up,” Ryan said, adding that he’d received a briefing and seen no evidence of Trump’s wiretap claims.

But the issue is unlikely to pass as quickly as some Republicans hope.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that he still believes the FBI or Justice Department should comment publicly in “a simple statement that goes to the heart of the matter – without jeopardizing classified information.”

“I believe such a statement would serve the public well, and I fear that without an official answer this issue will continue to linger,” Graham said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had not given Trump any reason to believe he was wiretapped by Obama. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said he had seen no information to support the claim and then went further. He suggested the U.S. president’s assertion should not be taken at face value.

“Are you going to take the tweets literally?” Nunes said. “If so, clearly the president was wrong.”

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Student fined $25,000 for accessing personal health info

The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Mar 17th, 2017

An Ontario student has been fined $25,000 for accessing personal health information, which provincial officials say is the highest penalty of its kind ever in Canada.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office says the masters of social work student was on an educational placement with a family health team in Central Huron when she accessed the information without authorization.

A statement says the student, who was not named, pleaded guilty to accessing the personal health information of five individuals contrary to the Personal Health Information Protection Act.

As part of her plea she acknowledged she accessed the personal health information of 139 individuals between September 9, 2014 and March 5, 2015.

The commissioner’s office says it was told the person was illegally accessing the records of family, friends, local politicians, staff of the clinic and other individuals in the community.

The statement calls $20,000 fine and $5,000 victim surcharge handed to the student the highest fine to date for a health privacy breach in Canada and Ontario Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish hopes it sends a message.

“Health care professionals need to know that this kind of behaviour, whether it’s snooping out of curiosity or for personal gain, is completely unacceptable and has serious consequences,” Beamish said in a statement. “Patient privacy is vital if Ontarians are to have confidence in their health care system.”

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