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Toronto barista with autism charms customers with dance moves

News staff | posted Tuesday, Jan 26th, 2016

It’s a heartwarming story about a company doing the right thing and a young man making the most of an opportunity.

Sam is a Toronto teen living with autism and a movement disorder, and has had trouble finding a part-time job.

A local Starbucks stepped in and now the “dancing barista” is going viral.

The video was initially posted on YouTube and went viral thanks to Facebook.

Like many high school students, Sam was just looking for work. But unlike many students, his illness caused him to make sudden movements. However, it looked like dancing to manager Chris Ali, who took a chance on Sam. Ali quickly noticed his love of music and so did customers, one of whom posted the video.

It’s meant the world to Sam: After getting the job, he told his parents that his life had meaning.

Walmart Canada introduces five cent charge for plastic bags

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Jan 26th, 2016

TORONTO – Walmart Canada will begin to charge customers for plastic bags as part of its strategy for cutting the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills.

Beginning on Feb. 9, customers will be charged five cents each for plastic bags, with reusable bags available for a discounted rate of 25 cents each.

The company – headquartered in Mississauga, west of Toronto – said that the introduction of a small fee in other countries has helped Walmart to reduce the number of plastic bags by more than half.

Walmart says some of the proceeds from the new charge will go toward supporting recycling initiatives for grocery bags and other thin plastic objects.

The company said it’s also going to improve in-store recycling and collection programs and work with suppliers to find ways of removing plastic from its packaging.

Walmart Canada has 397 stores and serves more than 1.2 million customers per day.

TTC rolling out five new express bus routes in March

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Jan 26th, 2016

The TTC is beefing up its service, adding five new express bus routes to the streets by the end of March.

The five new routes are: 185 Don Mills Rocket, 199 Finch Rocket, 188 Kipling South Rocket, 24E Victoria Park Express and 186 Wilson Rocket.

“The TTC is responding to our customers’ needs and continues to add new and enhanced services across the city,” TTC chair Josh Colle said in a release.

The routes “will provide faster, direct, and more reliable bus service to better connect our customers to their schools and jobs.”

TTC chief customer officer Chris Upfold told The Toronto Star that the express buses should cut trip times by about 20 per cent in some cases.

According to The Star, the new routes won’t necessarily be the busiest in the city, but will cover a growing volume of riders.

The new express buses won’t cost the double fare that it currently charges on its five existing downtown express routes, The Star reports. It will cost the same as a regular bus.

“Somebody could get on the local bus, go to an exchange point and get on an express bus,” Upfold told the newspaper.

The improved service is expected to attract about 400,000 new customers this year and cost $3.4 million annually.

It’s part of the $95 million investment in public transit made by city council in 2015, and is included in the TTC’s 2016 operating base budget.

Route Details

Below is a list of the route details (courtesy of the TTC):

185 Don Mills Rocket
Express service in the Don Mills Road, Overlea Boulevard and Pape Avenue corridor, between Pape Station and Steeles Avenue East. This service will operate during the daytime and early evening, Monday to Friday, and during the daytime on Saturday, Sunday and holidays.

199 Finch Rocket
The 199A will still provide express service between Scarborough Centre Station and Finch Station.

The 199B is a new branch providing express service between Scarborough Centre Station and York University via Finch Station, during the daytime and early evening, Monday to Friday.

The 199C is a new branch, providing express service between Finch Station and Morningside Heights during the morning and afternoon peak periods, Monday to Friday.

188 Kipling South Rocket
Express service will be introduced on Kipling Ave. between Kipling Station and the Humber College campus on Lake Shore Boulevard West, during the daytime from Monday to Friday, when demand is greatest at the college.

24E Victoria Park Express
Express service will be introduced on Victoria Park Ave. between Victoria Park Station and Steeles Ave. E., operating between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

186 Wilson Rocket
Express service will be introduced in the Wilson Ave. corridor between York Mills Station and the north campus of Humber College. This new route will replace the existing 96E Wilson Express branch, and will operate during the daytime Monday to Friday, when demand is greatest at the college.

Forcillo guilty of attempted murder, not guilty of second-degree murder

The Canadian Press and News staff | posted Monday, Jan 25th, 2016

Toronto police Const. James Forcillo has been found guilty of attempted murder and aggravated assault, but not guilty of more serious charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the 2013 streetcar shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim.

A conviction for attempted murder with a firearm carries a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison.

Jurors ultimately found that Forcillo was justified in firing the first volley of shots which felled Yatim, but he was guilty when he fired a second series of shots when the teen was already gravely wounded on the floor of the streetcar.

Jurors reached their verdict on Monday morning on the sixth day of deliberations.

Forcillo’s lawyer, Peter Brauti, called it a “trial by YouTube” and said he would seek a stay of proceedings, and likely an appeal in March or April.

In the meantime, Forcillo will be free on bail.

“There are no words to describe the pain I have endured as a father, losing my only son at the hands of a police officer,” said Bill Yatim in an email statement.

Yatim’s father said that his son was troubled that night and “his actions were out of character.”

He added that his son had tried to borrow a cell phone to call him.

“I often wonder what would have happened if he had been able to reach me and if the police response had been different,” he said.

The trial has been taxing for the father and he said he’s relieved that Forcillo “has been found guilty.”

Yatim’s father thanked the SIU, legal team, the jury and the public and media.

He ended the statement by saying “this simply cannot happen again.”

Brauti suggested that the jury may have been tainted by watching widely-shared video evidence of the shooting which was posted online by a bystander.

“Within seven minutes of it taking place it was posted to YouTube,” he said.  “I think we started behind the eight-ball on this one. That’s why we asked for a change of venue…I’m concerned about a compromised verdict in this case.”

Brauti’s request for a change of venue out of Toronto was denied. So was his attempt to launch a “suicide by cop” defence.

“We were shocked that we weren’t allowed to put that to the jury,” he added. “I believe it would have changed the outcome on the attempt murder charge.”

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said Forcillo was “shocked and disappointed” by the verdict, which sends a “chilling message” to front-line officers.

“Are they going to hesitate when they should take action?” McCormack asked. “Is it going to cause a safety concern for us and our front-line officers and the public?”

McCormack said Forcillo’s defence team would move forward on a stay of proceedings on the grounds that he was following his training when he shot Yatim.

He also said the case would prompt a review of police training.

In his instruction to the jury earlier this week, Justice Edward Then said the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Forcillo was guilty of second-degree murder.

During the trial, which got underway in October of last year, the jury heard Yatim had taken the drug ecstasy before boarding a streetcar.

Videos and audio played at the trial have shown that Forcillo arrived on the scene, yelled repeatedly at Yatim to drop the knife, and after a 50-second confrontation fired nine bullets at the teen.

Forcillo, who testified in his own defence, said he “never wanted to kill anybody.” He testified he feared an attack from the knife-wielding Yatim, which was why – in accordance with all his police training – he fired his gun.

Only 11 police officers have ever been charged with second degree murder or with manslaughter and with each case they were all found not guilty.

Facts from the case:

THE VICTIM: Sammy Yatim. Evidence at the trial has shown that the 18-year-old had ecstasy in his system when he boarded the streetcar on which he died. A jury has heard Yatim exposed himself and pulled out a small knife while he was sitting at the back of the vehicle, sparking a panicked exodus.

THE ACCUSED: Const. James Forcillo, a 32-year-old police officer who had been with the force for three and a half years when he killed Yatim. He was released on bail shortly after his arrest and has been working at Crimestoppers since February 2014 after his suspension was lifted.

THE CONFRONTATION: The interaction between Yatim, who was on an empty streetcar, and Forcillo, who was on the street, lasted about 50 seconds. Forcillo pointed his gun at Yatim and repeatedly yelled at the teen to drop the knife he was holding. Yatim refused and hurled expletives at police. Forcillo fired after Yatim, who had taken a few steps into the body of the streetcar, moved back to the spot at the top of the vehicle’s stairs, where he had been standing before.

THE CHARGES: Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder in Yatim’s death. He pleaded not guilty.

THE VERDICT: Guilty of attempted murder and aggravated assault. Not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter

Milos Raonic beats Stan Wawrinka, advances to quarters at Aussie Open

Bill Scott, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Jan 25th, 2016

Milos Raonic reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the second year in a row by defeating 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 Monday in a marathon match lasting three hours, 44 minutes.

The 25-year-old 13th seed becomes the first Canadian in history to get to the quarter-finals of all four Grand Slam tournaments.

Tennis Canada tweeted several congratulations to Raonic:

Tory meeting with World Expo officials to explore potential 2025 bid

CityNews | posted Monday, Jan 25th, 2016

Mayor John Tory will be meeting with officials on Monday to explore a potential bid for the 2025 World Expo.

The Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions oversees the world exposition. Its secretary-general, Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales, is holding an information session for the mayor and councillors.

The event is held every five years in a different city. A Toronto Expo would last six months and attract more than 40 million tourists, according to a report in the Globe and Mail.

The cost of holding the event would be between $1-3 billion, but it could generate over $8 billion for the local economy, according to a 2014 Ernst & Young report.

The Toronto Board of Trade will also be holding a panel discussion on the benefits of playing host to such an event.

The last Canadian Expo was held in Vancouver in 1986.

Any formal bid for the Expo would have to be made by November of 2016.

A new, and dangerous, kind of distracted driver

Anne Kingston | posted Monday, Jan 25th, 2016

Working in traffic enforcement for a quarter of a century has exposed RCMP Cpl. Chris Little to bad driving in all of its manifestations. Recently, though, he’s noticed a concerning, and deadly, trend: the self-preoccupied driver in a steel-and-glass bubble, oblivious to the outside world. The telltale texter (head down, stopped on a green light) is the least of it. Little, an officer with Strathcona Traffic Services in Strathcona County, Alta., has pulled over drivers brushing their teeth, applying makeup, even reading a novel. “A 300-page book, balanced on the steering wheel,” he says. Car-as-mobile-kitchen is another theme: he pulled over one man eating a bowl of cereal while trying to drive with his knees; another man was eating waffles from a plate with a knife and fork. Then there was the solo female driver taking driver distraction to a new level: “A call came in that a vehicle was driving erratically,” Little says. When I pulled her over, her clothing was around her knees and she was flushed. You get the picture.” She was charged with careless driving.

It’s a roadscape familiar to Angelo DiCicco, general manager of Young Drivers of Canada (GTA). A driving instructor for three decades, DiCicco is also director of operations at Young Drivers’ new five-acre advanced driving centre in Markham, Ont., which offers rehab for drivers involved in serious crashes and also focuses on the perils of distracted driving, or, as DiCicco puts it, “to prove to people that multi-tasking is a lie.” People are far more stupid than they think, he says: “Just having your eyes open isn’t enough to see a dangerous situation; your brain has to be engaged.”

The fact that distracted driving now accounts for more fatal car accidents than impaired driving hasn’t made a dent in driving habits, says DiCicco, who sees the rise of “assertive” and now “aggressive” driving over the past 15 years as equally narcissistic and dangerous. It’s not unusual for impatient drivers behind a nervous novice trying to turn left to pull ahead and cut the new driver off, he reports.

Such “me-first” behaviour—disregard for traffic signs, failing to signal, lane-hogging, crowding intersections, sailing through red lights—has led to a culture of driving entitlement squarely at odds with the spirit of co-operation needed to navigate the impromptu societies that occur when motor vehicles share space. That has made driving, the most dangerous and behaviourally complex activity most people engage in on a daily basis, a cultural menace that affects not only drivers but pedestrians and neighbourhoods as the spillover effects puts cyclists on sidewalks and pedestrians at peril.

Some solace for drivers can be taken from Transport Canada statistics that reveal a decrease in deaths from automobile accidents over the past decade, in good part due to improvements in car design that reduce the impact of rear-end collisions. But it has never been a more dangerous time to be a pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist; for them, deaths from automotive collision have risen in the same period. Even standing on the sidewalk isn’t safe; last year, four people were taken to hospital when a car plowed into a bus station in a Toronto suburb.

Aggressive, thoughtless driving is not new, says psychologist Leon James, a pioneer in the field of “driver psychology.” References to “road rage” date to ancient Rome, which had a law against “furious driving,” the University of Hawaii professor says. Comparison between North American driving habits and an empire in decline are appropriate. As James sees it, the rise of a selfish roadway culture is not only dangerous but culturally corrosive: “It’s anti-social, even immoral to expose others to risk.”

The evidence is plentiful. Consider Sheryl Sandberg’s widely circulated Facebook post written last year after her husband died of a heart attack; the Facebook COO recounts the “unbearably slow” trip to the hospital in an ambulance because drivers refused to get out of the way. She implored drivers to do what is both legally and morally required: yield way to emergency vehicles. Cars blocking emergency vehicles is a huge problem on Canadian roads as well, says Little. “And it’s getting worse.”

No tale illustrates the spirit of driver entitlement better than that of Jourdan Bancroft, a 25-year-old woman pulled over at 8:20 p.m. on an Ontario highway last July for driving 150 km/h in an 80 km/h zone; she was charged with road racing. Her explanation for putting her life and others at risk? She told the arresting officer she wanted to get to her cottage to “see the sunset.” The story elicited outrage. But in a small way, every driver could relate.

How we behave on roads is culturally determined, says James—a confluence of technology, economics, sociology and psychology. A major factor is car design itself, specifically “improvements,” even at the low end, that make cars feel like safe, screen-filled, multi-tasking way stations, a place to text, chat on the phone, eat, even be entertained; in late December, Ontario Provincial Police stopped a man driving over 160 km/h on Highway 401 near Brockville, Ont., watching a movie on a screen taped to his dashboard. He was charged with distracted driving and stunt driving.

One telling casualty is the stick shift, a driving feature requiring hands-on focus. Only nine per cent of cars sold in Canada have manual transmissions, down from 35 per cent in 1980, according to IHS Automotive. Only 3.6 per cent of new car buyers in Canada request it. The new logic is laid out in a much-circulated 2013 video, an audition for a Canadian reality TV show, featuring a candid Dawn Muzzo: “I had a six-speed Porsche but I couldn’t wear my heels, have a cigarette, and drink my coffee whilst shifting,” she says. “So it had to be traded in for an automatic.” (Our ability to drive and multi-task is less than we think, according to a 2015 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report that found a phone conversation via hands-free or Bluetooth, which is legal, is mentally demanding and associated with moderate to high levels of cognitive distraction.)

No vehicle better symbolizes the altered road dynamics than the SUV; the behemoths’ popularity has given rise to an “if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them” mentality. Even James, whose research in the early 2000s found female SUV drivers far more aggressive that male SUV drivers, drives one. His wife convinced him, he says. “Women drive them because they feel safer, protected,” he says. “They’re higher up.”

But research also reveals that the aura of safety and impenetrability created by driving an SUV or light truck can foster what Reuben Aitchison of the Australian Automobile Manufacturing Industry calls an “illusion of superiority . . . that leads them to believe they should be getting somewhere faster than everybody else.” That can lead the SUV driver to take risks that the Smart car driver does not.

The fact almost two-thirds of SUV drivers are women aged 25 to 49 and men aged 50 or older has reframed the stereotype of road menace: it’s not the male teenager in a souped-up muscle car that poses risk, but the middle-aged woman in a black SUV. Last October, four-year-old Arisa Ahmed was killed and her seven-year old sister seriously injured while crossing the street in front of their school in Markham, Ont., as their mother watched; they were struck by a black Mercedes SUV driven by a 39-year-old woman, who was later charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing injury.

Perceived time crunch has added to road stress. DiCicco routinely hears stories from people who have had licences pulled or were involved in serious crashes. “Women say, “I had to pick up the kids; daycare charges by the minute,’ ” he says. Men are more likely to be ferrying kids from school to practice with dinner at a drive-through in between. Soaring housing prices have also fed frustration, says DiCicco, by pushing many buyers outside of city cores, which increases commute times.

DiCicco sees three distinct driver personalities: the “adult”’ who understands that everyone wants to get home and that one crash could mean hundreds of people are late; the “child” (unrelated to actual age), subject to peer pressure who engages in “my car is faster than your car” behaviour without thinking through consequences; and the “domineering parent” who wants to teach someone a lesson by tailgaiting, giving the finger or blocking a car trying to pass on a shoulder. “There are very few homicidal maniacs out to kill you. And very few people are suicidal in the car,” he says. “To be involved in a crash you have to not do a lot of things.”

He wants drivers to learn what he calls “traffic emotions management” and to see “good driving” redefined: “It isn’t just vehicle dynamics—lane change, parking, motor skills. It’s mastering the psychology of driving, of realizing more drivers are taking up a finite amount of space and you need to look out for your neighbour and keep space for the other driver who makes a mistake; then you can graciously allow them the space in front of you or move up quickly so they don’t rear-end you.” James agrees. “Being a good driver isn’t just, ‘How many accidents did you cause?’ ” he says. “It should be: ‘How many people have you blown off? How many people have you insulted?’ That should be the measure.”

Without a seismic change in driver attitudes, the situation will only worsen, says James: “Every generation is going to be more aggressive, more competitive and more selfish, taking risks and putting people at risk.”

Rising awareness of distracted-driving risks has led to an increase in penalties, which vary wildly across Canada—from $115-$145 in Quebec to $300 to $1,000 in Ontario. (Nunavut is the only region with no distracted driving penalty). This year, Alberta raised its fine to $250 plus three demerit points. Those enforcing the law say it’s not enough to act as a deterrent and that courts fail to recognize the severity of the crime. The woman charged with “road racing” 70 km over the speed limit to “see the sunset,” for example, received a reduced charge of “speeding”; she paid $812.50 and got six demerit points.

“We’re fighting a losing battle,” says Little, who believes Canada doesn’t take driving offences seriously. “We understand first-degree murder and gang violence. But driving infractions? We’re too warm and fuzzy. We can’t suspend a licence for life. People think driving is a right, but it’s a privilege.”

The call to attach the same stigma now associated with impaired driving to distracted or entitled driving is gaining traction. Pioneering activists exist, including the family of Josh Field, a 17-year-old driver killed in London, Ont., in 2009 when he took his eyes off the road to answer his phone. The Field family recently teamed with #DriveToStayAlive, an initiative launched by 17-year-old professional racecar driver Parker Thompson to teach high school students about the life-changing consequences of texting or talking on a cellphone while driving. “It’s far easier to teach youth,” says Sgt. Wade Davidson, who works in traffic services for the Lethbridge police force. “The group hard to reach is adult drivers who have been doing things the same way for years; they set the example for their kids.”

Frustrations are also evident on a rash of driver-shaming websites and YouTube “Bad Driver” channels, which has created a market for dashcams not only to record bad drivers but damage to a vehicle in a hit-and-run when it’s parked. Their presence has a self-monitoring effect, says Alex Jang, the Vancouver-based founder of dashcam company BlackboxMyCar. “Studies show drivers with dashcams drive more responsibly because they know they’re being filmed.”

Reminders of roadside perils are now entrenched in urban landscapes, with poignant “ghost bike” memorials for cyclists as well as the “Slow Down, Kids at Play” signage organized in 2014 by residents of a Toronto neighbourhood after the death of seven-year-old Georgia Walsh, killed by a van rolling through a red light. Some 15,000 signs have been distributed from Victoria to Charlottetown, says organizer Meghan Sherwin: “Interest tends to be spurred by a recent child pedestrian death and/or frustration with the lack of traffic-calming measures.”

In a telling detail, many of the streets boasting the signs already have traffic-calming bumps. Also telling is the sentencing in the case. The driver, who pleaded guilty to careless driving, received a two-year driving prohibition, a $2,000 fine and 200 hours of community service. The judge explained he didn’t give jail time after seeing the depth of the man’s remorse, his reported psychological trauma and the forgiveness of the victim’s family. “This was an avoidable accident but an accident nevertheless,” he said. “His inattention was momentary.” Yet in that momentary inattention, a young life was gone.

Make your weekend a great one with travel, design, and a winter run

Patricia D'Cunha and Amber LeBlanc | posted Friday, Jan 22nd, 2016

Are you dreaming of a fun weekend? Don’t waste your time dreaming about what your weekend could be when you can make it a great one.

There are plenty of things to do around the city that will inspire you to make the most of your down time.


Toronto’s Ultimate Travel Show
If you’re like this writer, you contemplate your next trip while flying home from the previous one.

The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland. 680 NEWS/Patricia D'Cunha.
The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland. 680 NEWS/Patricia D’Cunha.

If you need the “ultimate” inspiration for your next vacation, head on down to the travel show at Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place this weekend. Whether you are planning a winter getaway to a tropical destination, or springtime fun in Europe, there’s always room for travel in your life.

At the show, travellers can check out the various exhibitors and also take part in several giveaways. Free admission.

MEC Winter Run
Want to kick start your fitness? You can get a great winter workout this weekend with one of the first outdoor runs of the year.

Mountain Equipment Co-op is hosting a winter run. The races start at 9 a.m. on Sunday and runners can do either a 5K or 10K on the Martin Goodman Trail.

Interior Design Show
Just bought a home or renovating your space and looking for decorating ideas? Maybe you have a design outline in mind but don’t know how to see it to fruition? Then this annual interior design showis just for you.

Living room of a rustic house. GETTY IMAGES.
Living room of a rustic house. GETTY IMAGES.

The show, which is Canada’s largest design event, showcases the best talents from around the world. It’s being held at the Metro Convention Centre from Thursday to Sunday, but only open to the public on Saturday and Sunday.

It’s not just a place to spot the latest design trends or leading brands, but also to listen to expert advice from prominent and rising designers. Click here for a list of exhibits.

Ballet auditions
Calling all aspiring ballerinas! Does your child dream about performing in The Nutcracker? He or she can keep the dream alive by auditioning at Canada’s National Ballet School on Sunday.

Students entering Grades 6-12 in September 2016 can try out and students in Grade 5 can audition for the Introductory Summer School. High school students who want to be professional dancers are also encouraged to try out.

If you can’t make it this weekend, another audition will be held on Feb. 7.

Something Strange Circus Sideshow Festival
Calling all freaks, geeks and weirdos! The Something Strange Circus Sideshow Festival takes place at the Mod Club on Saturday and Sunday.

Organizers say it will showcase unique human oddities and harken back to a time when the sideshow was the greatest show in town. The host is Mysterion, Canada’s famous mentalist and magician. Tickets are available here.

Transit info

GO Transit online outage
GO Transit riders who check their train or bus schedules online on Saturday will be out of luck.

Real-time information like schedules, service updates, system map and the fare calculator will be offline for system maintenance from 5 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

GO Transit discusses Monday's delays & cancellations

Riders will be able to access Triplinx.ca, but it won’t show real-time trip information or service updates. Also, electronic signs that show train and bus information at stations and terminals will be blank except at Union Station.

For up-to-date information, riders can sign-up for On The GO Alerts or follow @GOTransit.

Click here for a list of affected services.

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