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Obama arrives in Cuba for what he calls a “historic visit”

Julie Pace and Michael Weissenstein, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 21st, 2016

Stepping into history, President Barack Obama opened an extraordinary visit to Cuba on Sunday, eager to push decades of acrimony deeper into the past and forge irreversible ties with America’s former adversary. “It is wonderful to be here,” he said.

Obama’s whirlwind trip is a crowning moment in his and Cuban President Raul Castro’s ambitious effort to restore normal relations between their countries. While deep differences persist, the economic and political relationship has changed rapidly in the 15 months since the leaders vowed a new beginning.

Wielding an umbrella on a rainy Havana afternoon, the president stepped off of Air Force One and was greeted by top Cuban officials – but not Raul Castro. The Cuban leader frequently greets major world figures upon their arrival at Jose Marti International Airport, but was absent on the tarmac. Instead, he planned to greet Obama on Monday at Palace of the Revolution.

Obama’s first stop was a Havana hotel, where he greeted U.S. Embassy staff and their families and noted the momentous nature of his visit – the first by a sitting U.S. president since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge arrived in a battleship.

“This is a historic visit, and it’s an historic opportunity to engage with the Cuban people,” said Obama, joined by first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha. Dozens of U.S. lawmakers and business leaders arrived separately for Obama’s visit.

After greeting embassy staff, Obama and his family toured Old Havana by foot, including the Havana Cathedral. They walked gingerly on the slippery wet stones in the square in front of the cathedral. A few hundred people gathered in the square erupted in applause and shouted Obama’s name as the first family stepped forward.

For more than 50 years, Cuba was an unimaginable destination for a U.S. president, as well as most American citizens. The U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s revolution sparked fears of communism spreading to the Western Hemisphere. Domestic politics in both countries contributed to the continued estrangement well after the Cold War ended.

“He wanted to come to Cuba with all his heart,” 79-year-old Odilia Collazo said in Spanish as she watched Obama’s arrival live on state television. “Let God will that this is good for all Cubans. It seems to me that Obama wants to do something good before he leaves.”

Ahead of Obama’s arrival, counter-protesters and police broke up an anti-government demonstration by the Ladies in White group, whose members were taken into custody by female police officers in a scene that plays out in Havana each Sunday. They’re typically detained briefly and then released.

Obama’s visit was highly anticipated in Cuba, where workers furiously cleaned up the streets in Old Havana and gave buildings a fresh coat of paint. American flags were raised alongside the Cuban colours in parts of the capital, an improbable image for those who have lived through a half-century of bitterness between the two countries.

Many Cubans were staying home in order to avoid extensive closures of main boulevards. The city’s seaside Malecon promenade was largely deserted Sunday morning except for a few cars, joggers, fishermen and pelicans.

The president’s schedule in Cuba is jam-packed, including an event with U.S. and Cuban entrepreneurs. But much of Obama’s visit was about appealing directly to the Cuban people and celebrating the island’s vibrant culture.

“I don’t think that the Cuban people are going to be bewitched by North American culture,” Gustavo Machin, Cuba’s deputy director of U.S. affairs, told The Associated Press. “We don’t fear ties with the United States.”

A highlight of Obama’s visit comes Tuesday when he joins Castro and a crowd of baseball-crazed Cubans for a game between the beloved national team and Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays. The president also planned a speech at the Grand Theater of Havana laying out his vision for greater freedoms and more economic opportunity in Cuba.

Two years after taking power in 2008, Castro launched economic and social reforms that appear slow-moving to many Cubans and foreigners, but are lasting and widespread within Cuban society. The changes have allowed hundreds of thousands of people to work in the private sector and have relaxed limits on cellphones, Internet and Cubans’ comfort with discussing their country’s problems in public, for example.

The Cuban government has been unyielding, however, on making changes to its single-party political system and to the strict limits on media, public speech, assembly and dissent.

Obama will spend some time talking with Cuban dissidents. The White House said such a meeting was a prerequisite for the visit. But there were no expectations that he would leave Cuba with significant pledges from the government to address Washington’s human rights concerns.

A major focus for Obama was pushing his Cuba policy to the point it will be all but impossible for the next president to reverse it. That includes highlighting new business deals by American companies, including hotel chains Starwood and Marriott and online lodging service Airbnb.

AP writers Josh Lederman, Andrea Rodriguez and E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report.

Spring is here but Mother Nature ignoring calendar

News staff and The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 21st, 2016


Spring arrived over the weekend, but the remnants of winter are still lingering around.

Chilly temperatures greeted elementary and high school students heading back to class after March Break. And before the first official week of spring is over, the GTA could get some significant snow.

There is a chance of flurries or showers on Monday with a high near 4 C. The low Monday night will be a chilly -2 C. Showers are expected to continue on Tuesday but the temperature will be a warmer 8 C.

680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor said things could get really interesting Wednesday night and into Thursday morning.

“At this point, the confidence is pretty high with this second system moving through, this Colorado low, that could bring us 10-plus centimetres of snow as we head through Thursday,” Taylor said.

Snow is also a possibility in April, she said. So, don’t put away your winter boots once March is done.

“This time of year [is] very transitional. Winter is battling it out with spring. Winter doesn’t want to leave us, so it’s not out of the ordinary to have accumulating snow at this time of year.”

As for right now, Thursday is expected to be a windy day with periods of snow and a high near 1 C.

The Easter weekend forecast doesn’t look too bad. It will be mainly cloudy on Good Friday with a high hear 2 C. Partly cloudy conditions continue on Saturday and Easter Sunday with highs near 4-7 C.

Mother Nature seems to be ignoring the calendar across Eastern Canada too.

The Maritimes are bracing for another blast of winter, with Environment Canada warning that parts of New Brunswick, northern Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island can expect up 20 centimetres of snow Monday.

The storm system will head to Newfoundland Monday night with a mix of snow, rain, ice pellets and freezing rain, along with winds gusting up to 100 kilometres an hour.

With files from Jaime Pulfer

Car theft involving 3-month old ends without incident

CityNews | posted Monday, Mar 21st, 2016


A frantic search for a 3-month old, which sparked a provincial-wide Amber Alert after he disappeared in a stolen car, has ended without incident.

Police say the infant was discovered, along with the car, more than three hours after he was taken by a male suspect from a parking lot of a Rexdale flea market. An employee of a hotel in the nearby Dixon and Martin Grove area saw the gray/silver 1997 Toyota Camry, which had been the subject of an intense manhunt Sunday afternoon. The employee called police who discovered no keys in the car but the infant was safe and sound.

“A father (who) had been at the flea market had got out of his vehicle to go inside for whatever reason and had left his three-month-old infant in the back seat,” said Toronto Police Const. Craig Brister. As the father came out of the market, an unknown man was driving away with his car.

“I just left the baby in the car and walk away, somebody came and grab it,” said father Vakil Yosufi. “By the time I try to get it, it was gone.”

Police say the suspect is described as a white male, between 40 and 45 years of age, 5’11”, short blonde hair and medium build. They will be dusting the car for fingerprints and checking for any surveillance footage from the hotel parking lot in hopes of tracking down the thief.

Yonge-University line closed this weekend between St. George and Lawrence West

Patricia D'Cunha | posted Friday, Mar 18th, 2016


Subways won’t be running on Line 1 (Yonge-University) from St. George to Lawrence West stations on Saturday and Sunday due to track work and signal upgrades.

Shuttle buses will stop at all stations except Eglinton West, Glencairn and St. Clair West stations for Metrolinx and TTC work.

Due to the Metrolinx work, the shuttle bus will stop at Eglinton Avenue West and Bathurst Street. Also, the 63/363 Ossington and 109 Ranee buses will also divert in the area. At Glencairn Station, TTC crews will prepare for the upcoming installation of new fare lines.

St. Clair West Station will remain open but shuttle buses will stop at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West.

A TTC report proposing numbered subway lines was presented at a board meeting on Oct. 23, 2013. TTC

The TTC is also planning partial subway shutdowns on Line 1 and Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) next month. Click here for a full list of scheduled subway closures.

Temporary service change on 501
The 501/301 Queen streetcar will not be running west of the Sunnyside Loop until 5 a.m. on Monday. TTC crews will be upgrading the overhead wire system at Humber Loop and replace a sub-station transformer on Lake Shore Boulevard West.

Click here for shuttle bus details.

Minimum wage increasing to $11.40

CityNews | posted Friday, Mar 18th, 2016


The general minimum wage in Ontario is being raised by 15 cents on October 1.

Currently, minimum wage is $11.25 and will jump up to $11.40 keeping Ontario’s wage the highest of any province in Canada.

“It’s important for people to know that there is a consistent, transparent and fair approach to setting the province’s minimum wage that ensures workers receive annual increases that keep up with inflation,” said Kevin Flynn, Minister of Labour in a press release.

Liquor servers, students under the age of 18, hunting and fishing guides and homeworkers minimum wage will also increase at the same time.

The wage for liquor servers will rise by 10 cents to $9.90 and student under 18 that are working less than 28 hours a week will make $10.70 an hour, up from $10.55.

The last pay increase was from $11 per hour to $11.25.

This increase is the tenth minimum wage increase since 2003.

Spike Lee calls Donald Trump’s beliefs “un-American”

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Mar 18th, 2016

Spike Lee calls Donald Trump’s beliefs “un-American”

Renowned director, Spike Lee, calls on Americans to register to vote and believes it will be a step backward if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. “I don’t know how we say we’re going forward, in my opinion, if Donald Trump is going to be the nominee for The Republican Party, I don’t think that’s going forward.” Lee said.

Lee, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, called Sanders ‘”very progressive” and appreciates that he has “no ties to Wall Street”. Despite Sanders’ results from Super Tuesday 3, Lee said ‘I will not be voting for Donald Trump, that’s for sure.” He calls Donald Trump’s hate and beliefs about women, Muslims and Mexicans “un-American” and says Americans should come together and vote.

Watch Lee’s interview with Dina Pugliese.

Ford family quashes online rumours of Rob Ford’s death

CityNews | posted Friday, Mar 18th, 2016


The family of Toronto councillor Rob Ford has refuted reports of his death.

After rumors began circulating on social media that the former mayor had died, his office issued a brief statement saying Ford was currently in hospital battling cancer, surrounded by family.

“The Ford family asks for privacy during this difficult time, and thank the people of Toronto and around the world for their ongoing prayers and support,” read the brief statement.

Ford’s chief of staff later told CityNews that his condition is unchanged and he’s not in “imminent peril,” adding that the statement was released to quell the online rumours.

Ford originally underwent surgery last spring after being diagnosed with a liposarcoma in his abdomen.

Last October, he returned to hospital after revealing he had been diagnosed with a growth on his bladder.

Late last month, Ford was again admitted to hospital for continued treatment on his bladder.

Canada hits population record, California still has more people

THE CANADIAN PRESS AND NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Mar 17th, 2016


The agency estimated Canada’s population at 36,048,500 on Jan. 1, up 62,800 from on Oct. 1, 2015.

Population growth slowed slightly to 0.95 per cent in 2015 compared with 1.04 per cent in 2014. The increase in the fourth quarter was due in part to 95,300 births compared with 67,900 deaths, based on preliminary estimates.

Net international migration was 35,400, up 600 from the same quarter in 2014.

Population growth was positive in all provinces and territories, except the Yukon.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 38.8 million people in California, the most populous U.S. state. No other state comes close, with Texas a distant second at just over 27 million.

China and India both have over a billion people, while the United States is No. 3 with a population of just over 300 million. Indonesia is the fourth most-populated country, with 234 million people.

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