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Displaced residents slowly going back home after racquet club fire

CityNews | posted Thursday, Feb 16th, 2017

Residents of six condo buildings that were evacuated at the height of Tuesday’s massive six-alarm fire in midtown Toronto are slowly being allowed back in on Thursday. However, many are going to be dealing with smoke damage.

More than 120 firefighters were called to the Badminton and Racquet Club of Toronto around 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday and were met head-on by a ravenous fire that was quickly spreading. The fire forced the evacuation of surrounding buildings and businesses. Firefighters were using condo balconies to douse the hot spots and monitor any potential flare-ups.

Thousands of litres of water were poured onto the fire, flooding basements and parking garages in many of the surrounding buildings.

It could be weeks before some of the businesses can reopen.

Video: Evacuees return to homes, businesses after massive racquet club fire. Click here to view on mobile.

It’s not yet known what started the blaze, which broke out on the second floor of the racquet club at 25 St. Clair Ave. W., but Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop said on Wednesday it didn’t appear suspicious.

He said it could take weeks or months to determine the cause.

The fire was burning for over 12 hours, Jessop said. Crews had to use seven elevated devices, something he has not seen for more than 20 years. He said the damage is expected to be more than $1 million.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries in the fire and have since been released from hospital.

In terms of road closures, all roads are open except the curb lane of southbound Yonge Street from St Clair Avenue to Rosehill Avenue.

The original building that houses the racquet club was built in the late 1800s by the Toronto and York Railway company. In 1921, the TTC took over the building and used it as a streetcar house. Then in 1924, it became the Toronto Badminton and Racquet Club.

Video: Yonge and St. Clair fire destroys a part of Toronto’s history. Click here to view on mobile.

Smoke Alarm Safety: 5 things you need to know

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Feb 15th, 2017

Many fatal fires start at night, and the smoke alone will not wake you up. In fact, the fumes could actually put you into a deeper sleep. The best defence? A properly working smoke alarm. Here are five things you need to know about your smoke alarm to protect yourself and your family from a fire.

  1. You need a smoke alarm on every level of your home. For single level homes and apartments, opt to have a smoke alarms near the kitchen and all sleeping areas.
  2. Test your alarm monthly by pushing the test button. You can also use a cigarette or incense to test that it is working.
  3. Batteries should be replaced twice a year or when you hear the intermittent beeping. Avoid using rechargeable batties as they lose their charge without emitting a warning signal.
  4. Replace all smoke alarms every five years with new ones.
  5. Have a fire home safety plan and practice it regularly.

Fire home safety plans

In addition to a working smoke alarm, a well-rehearsed plan and knowing what to do in the event of a real emergency is an important step in fire safety, even for your home.

To get started, The Canada Safety Council recommends:

  • Have a floor plan of your house
  • Plan two ways out of each room
  • Establish a meeting spot outside the house
  • Be sure everyone in the house is aware and understands the plan and escape route
  • Post your fire escape plan somewhere visible (the fridge, bulletin board etc.)
  • Practice a fire drill at least once a year

Ontario to cap kindergarten classes, give teachers raises in tentative deal

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Feb 15th, 2017

Ontario’s Liberal government has agreed to cap full-day kindergarten classes at 30, according to a copy of a tentative contract extension agreement with elementary teachers obtained by The Canadian Press.

If ratified, elementary teachers will get a four-per-cent raise over two years. That’s the same compensation offered to English Catholic teachers and French teachers, according to several other media reports.

Currently, each school board must have an average full-day kindergarten class size of 26, but there is no cap.

The terms in the tentative deal, which would still require regulatory amendments, would set a cap at 30 for the 2017-18 school year and 29 for the following year.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario wouldn’t comment on the deal until it is ratified, but it has long pushed for smaller class sizes.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter wouldn’t comment on the deal before it’s ratified, but said in general there were certain principles the government had going into talks.

“It’s important that we have the resources in place on behalf of students and as we work together with our unions we’re ensuring that we’re meeting the needs of our students in Ontario,” she said Tuesday.

The government has secured two-year contract extensions for all central education unions except the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, giving the unions deals until 2019 and giving the Liberals labour peace with the teachers ahead of the provincial election next year.

The contracts with teachers and support staff had been set to expire this August, so these new deals would last until August 2019 – well after the June 2018 election.

In the elementary teachers’ new tentative deal, they will get a 1.5 per cent raise on Sept. 1, followed by one-per-cent increases on Sept. 1, 2018 and Feb. 1, 2019, and a further half per cent on Aug. 31, 2019. They will also get a lump sum payment by Nov. 1 of 0.5 per cent of their wages earned in this school year.

“ETFO agrees that it will conduct a survey of its members on the usage of these funds and provide the results to the Crown,” the agreement says.

Ontario also agreed to invest $50 million over the two years of the deal for school boards to hire special education teachers. The province agreed to invest a further $39 million for one day in each year of the contract extension for occasional teachers’ professional development, early years special education support, and support for Indigenous students, at-risk students and English-language learners.

The deal also extends local deals, which were bargained separately under a new system during the last round of negotiations.

The last central round of education negotiations were contentious, with support staff and elementary teachers staging work-to-rule campaigns and the government threatening to dock their pay.

The government also took heat during the last set of talks for the costs incurred during the lengthy bargaining, as three unions were promised $2.5 million to cover their negotiation costs.

Auston Matthews scores twice as Leafs dominate Islanders 7-1

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Feb 15th, 2017

Auston Matthews scored twice and Frederik Andersen won his 100th career game as the Toronto Maple Leafs emerged with a 7-1 win and two key points over the surging New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

The Leafs entered the affair just one point up on the Islanders for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, increasing that cushion to three (63 to 60) with the victory. Toronto had dropped six of its previous eight games. The Islanders had scooped up points in 10 of the first 14 games (8-2-2) under interim coach Doug Weight.

Matthews scored his 26th and 27th goals in the win while Andersen stopped 33-of-34 shots to capture the milestone victory.

Josh Leivo had a career-high three points (one goal and two assists) in the win, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander also chipped in with two points apiece (goal and assist). Toronto (26-18-11) hit a season-high for goals this season in the win, Tyler Bozak and Matt Hunwick both finding the net as well.

Jason Chimera scored the lone goal for New York (25-20-10). Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube yielded seven goals on 41 shots in defeat.

Starting slow in their previous two games (both losses), the Leafs decided to change up their routine ahead of the game, opting not to hold a morning skate as usual.

“We just thought it was the best thing for us,” head coach Mike Babcock said.

The switch-up spurred the desired result against the Islanders, the Leafs racing out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Leivo started the scoring just past the midway point of the period, ripping a shot from the top of the left circle past Greiss. The 23-year-old Leivo, scoring his first goal of the season, capitalized when the passing attempt of Islanders defenceman Adam Pelech went astray.

Leivo was getting a chance to play with rookie winger Nikita Soshnikov sidelined.

Kadri added to the lead with 32 seconds left in the period, the 26-year-old inadvertently deflecting a Nikita Zaitsev point shot into the empty cage behind Greiss. The goal was Kadri’s first in the past 10 games and 21st of the season, setting a new career-high.

New York, which won the first two meetings between the teams this season (including a 6-5 overtime defeat one week earlier), had its share of decent opportunities early on, twice hitting posts on shots from Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey.

Toronto made it 3-0 midway through the second when Kadri fired a puck on goal from along the wall as he rushed down the left side of the ice. Greiss made a stick save, but shuffled it right to Nylander crashing the net. The puck bounced off the right knee of the 20-year-old Swede for his 15th goal this season, even with Mitch Marner for second among Leafs rookies behind Matthews.

From there Andersen took over.

With the Leafs shorthanded the 27-year-old shut down John Tavares and then Bailey moments later. After a three-on-one for Toronto came up empty — one pass too many for the trio of Marner, Bozak and James van Riemsdyk — Andersen denied Chimera on a breakaway.

The Leafs were penalized on the play, Matt Hunwick deemed to have stymied Chimera’s progress — a seemingly marginal call. The veteran winger was awarded a penalty shot and he beat Andersen high-blocker to cut the Toronto lead to 3-1.

The home side grew further frustrated with the officiating when Kadri was dinged for hooking Tavares. He exited the box full of fury after a successful Leafs penalty kill, delivering a hard hit on Islanders forward Alan Quine which caused a scrum between the teams as the horn sounded to end the second.

Fans at the Air Canada Centre booed the officials when they entered the ice for the third.

Andersen had been sitting on career win No. 99 for two weeks, his last victory coming on Feb. 4. He’s scuffled in the new year, entering the night with a .893 save percentage in 16 starts since Jan. 1.

Matthews increased the Leafs lead back to three early in the final frame, flipping a backhand rebound past Greiss on the power play. The 19-year-old added another a short while, depositing a Connor Brown feed from behind the goal.

Matthews leads all NHL rookies with 27 goals this season, now just three behind Sidney Crosby for the overall lead (30).

The Leafs head to Columbus on Wednesday to complete their 13th back-to-back of the season. The club is 9-2-2 on the first night and only 4-7-1 on the second.

New TCDSB app allows students to anonymously report bullying

Amanda Ferguson | posted Wednesday, Feb 15th, 2017

Students at Toronto Catholic high schools will soon be able to submit their concerns about bullying with just a tap of a finger.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) is rolling out the Anonymous Alert app to all of its secondary schools starting next month.

The program allows students to anonymously message to their school’s principal on a range of issues, including bullying, weapons and other safety concerns.

“It’s simply a tool for students to use if, for whatever reason, they don’t feel comfortable reporting to a caring adult,” Nadia Adragna, of the TCDSB’s Safe Schools department, explained.

The app’s development came out of the board’s annual Safe Schools Report – that composes its findings from a survey that students fill out each year.

The 2015-2016 findings revealed 18 per cent of secondary students have been bullied one to three times that academic year. Only 27 per cent said they reported the incidents to school staff.

Video: How the new TCDSB’s Anonymous Alert app works. To view on mobile click here.

For those witnessing bulling, rates of coming forward were even lower. The survey found 25 per cent of students reported witnessing bulling, despite nearly half saying they saw or heard a form of bullying in school.

Faye Mishna, a professor and dean of social work at the University of Toronto and contributor to PREVnet, Canada’s authority on bullying prevention, said all too often kids don’t come forward until bullying reaches a critical point.

“We have to make it easy for kids to tell, not necessarily anonymously, but to tell before it’s a big deal,” Mishna said.

The TCDSB’s pilot project of the Anonymous Alert app showed similar student reactions.

Of the three schools involved in a two-month test period, only five student complaints were submitted.

“For some reason they’re not telling. It could be that they’re scared it’s not anonymous,” Mishna said. “I think a lot of times a lot of the stuff has become normalized.”

The app will be made available to all Catholic high school students on March 1.


Firefighters continue to douse hot spots in midtown racquet club fire

News Staff and The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Feb 15th, 2017

Nearly 20 hours after first arriving on scene, firefighters continue to pour water on a massive six-alarm fire in midtown Toronto that forced the evacuation of surrounding buildings.

An excavator was tearing down debris late into the night to help firefighters reach hot spots.

More than 120 firefighters were summoned to the Badminton and Racquet Club of Toronto near Yonge and St. Clair at around 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday. They were greeted by a ravenous fire that was quickly spreading.

Firefighters were ordered out of the building, so fire crews had to tackle the blaze from the balconies of neighbouring buildings.

Video: St. Clair fire social media video. To view on mobile click here.

There’s no indication at this point what started the blaze, which broke out on the second floor of the racquet club at 25 St. Clair Ave. W.

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said the excavator work is a “very slow operation” and that firefighters would be on the scene into Wednesday morning.

Pegg said evacuation orders remained in effect and he hope to have a better idea in the morning as to when the orders would be lifted.

Mayor John Tory said late Tuesday night that people displaced by the fire should prepare for an extended evacuation.

In terms of road closures, St. Clair east of Yonge is open in both directions, as is Yonge in both directions north of St Clair.

However, the eastbound lanes of St. Clair west of Yonge will remain closed from Avenue Road to Yonge, and Yonge in both directions from St. Clair to Woodlawn Avenue is closed.

The TTC said streetcars are up and running along St. Clair, and St. Clair Station is also open to subways when service begins at 6 a.m. The 97 Yonge bus will be on diversion around St Clair.

Police said they anticipate the fire scene to remain active for at least the next 24 hours.

The original building that houses the racquet club was built in the late 1800s by the Toronto and York Railway company. In 1921, the TTC took over the building and used it as a streetcar house. In 1924, it became the Toronto Badminton and Racquet Club.

After encouraging Trump meeting, firms now eyeing Canada-EU trade outcome

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Feb 14th, 2017

Feeling a sense of relief following Donald Trump’s remarks on the future of U.S. trade with Canada, business leaders are now hoping for a second wave of positive news out of Europe.

Corporate Canada is shifting its focus to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip across the Atlantic later this week.

Trudeau’s visit is expected to coincide with the European Union’s ratification vote on its free-trade deal with Canada, an agreement nearly scuttled last fall due to opposition from a small region in Belgium.

“The prime minister is now off to hopefully put (the Canada-EU free trade deal) in his pocket and bring it home from Europe, which would also be good news,” John Manley, the president of the Business Council of Canada, said in an interview.

Canada is expected to ratify the deal after the European Parliament gives its OK.

The deal will still need the approval of the EU’s 28 national parliaments as well as some regional governments. But 90 per cent of the deal is expected to come into force under what is known as provisional application.

Perrin Beatty, head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, agreed that it’s important for the federal government to finalize the deal with the EU.

Business leaders in Canada said they were somewhat comforted by Trump’s comments Monday after his first face-to-face meeting with Trudeau.

In particular, they highlighted the president’s remark that the U.S. was in favour of “tweaking” the North American Free Trade Agreement, rather than ripping up or dramatically changing the deal, as Trump had vowed to do during the election campaign.

“We’ll be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries,” Trump told reporters at a joint news conference in Washington with Trudeau.

“We will co-ordinate closely to protect jobs in our hemisphere and keep wealth on our continent.”

There are expectations in Canada that the president’s words will help lift business confidence after weeks of companies wondering what the future will hold.

But while Manley expected Canadian firms to be “somewhat placated” with regard to their concerns about the unknowns of Canada-U.S. trade, he said many key economic questions remain unanswered.

“There still has to be meat put on the bones – we don’t know what tweaking NAFTA really means,” said Manley, a former Liberal cabinet minister.

He said firms are still looking for clarity on the future of the congressional Republicans’ proposed border-adjustment tax, which could have serious negative effects on Canadian exports to the U.S.

Manley, whose group represents around 150 chief executives, also pointed to the possibility that Trump’s promised infrastructure program could be fraught with Buy America provisions, which could force Canada to respond with similar measures.

However, the joint statement from Trudeau and Trump after Monday’s meeting suggests vaguely that both leaders might be envisaging an open border when it comes to government infrastructure.

“Given our shared focus on infrastructure investments, we will encourage opportunities for companies in both countries to create jobs through those investments,” the statement reads.

Beatty said the uncertainty has created a “chilling effect” among his members, who have been telling him that they want to know the rules of the game before they make any multimillion-dollar investments in Canada.

Some of those fears have eased, he noted.

“I think that people, as of today, have confidence that the relationship is fundamentally sound,” said Beatty, who, however, expects firms to seek more clarity going forward.

“Again, I think everybody recognizes that there are contentious issues that we have to deal with between the two countries and it won’t always be easy.”

Rona Ambrose, the Conservative interim leader, said late Monday that the Liberals must make domestic changes to remain competitive.

Trump, she pointed out, has vowed to reduce energy costs, lower corporate and personal taxes and loosen regulations in the U.S.

Ambrose accused the Liberals of introducing policies that have raised costs for Canadians – from a carbon tax, to an income-tax hike for top earners, to higher payroll costs for employers through the expanded Canada Pension Plan.

“We need to reassess the fact that we are leading this country down an uncompetitive path,” Ambrose told reporters in Ottawa.

“We have to reassess what we’re doing up here, and you know, as a lot of people have said, recalibrate and think about what impact this is going to have on us and our ability to create jobs.”

When it comes to “tweaking” NAFTA, she warned that Trudeau must be careful to protect a target of U.S. officials in the past: Canada’s protectionist, supply-managed dairy sector.

Later this week, Trudeau will leave on a four-day European tour that will take him to Strasbourg, France where he will address the European Parliament, which is expected to vote to ratify the Canada-EU free trade deal.

Trudeau will also meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is arguably Europe’s most influential politician.

Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn resigns

Julie Pace, Eric Tucker and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press | posted Tuesday, Feb 14th, 2017

President Donald Trump’s embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned following reports he misled Vice-President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russia. His departure upends Trump’s senior team after less than a month in office.

In a resignation letter, Flynn said he gave Vice-President Mike Pence and others “incomplete information” about his calls with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. The vice-president, apparently relying on information from Flynn, initially said the national security adviser had not discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, though Flynn later conceded the issue may have come up.

Trump named retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as the acting national security adviser. Kellogg had previously been appointed the National Security Council chief of staff and advised Trump during the campaign. Trump is also considering former CIA Director David Petraeus and Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a U.S. Navy SEAL, for the post, according to a senior administration official.

The Trump team’s account of Flynn’s discussions with the Russian envoy changed repeatedly over several weeks, including the number of contacts, the dates of those contacts and ultimately, the content of the conversations.

Late last month, the Justice Department warned the White House that Flynn could be in a compromised position as a result of the contradictions between the public depictions of the calls and what intelligence officials knew to be true based on recordings of the conversations, which were picked up as part of routine monitoring of foreign officials’ communications in the U.S.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press that Flynn was in frequent contact with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Russia for election-related hacking, as well as at other times during the transition.

An administration official and two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed the Justice Department warnings on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. It was unclear when Trump and Pence learned about the Justice Department outreach.

The Washington Post was the first to report the communication between former acting attorney general Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, and the Trump White House. The Post also first reported last week that Flynn had indeed spoken about sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

Trump never voiced public support for Flynn after that initial report and continued to keep his national security adviser close.

But White House officials sent contradictory messages about Flynn’s status. Counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn, while press secretary Sean Spicer said the president was “evaluating the situation” and consulting with Pence about his conversations with the national security adviser.

Asked whether the president had been aware that Flynn might have planned to discuss sanctions with the Russian envoy, Spicer said, “No, absolutely not.”

The Kremlin had confirmed that Flynn was in contact with Kislyak but denied that they talked about lifting sanctions. On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers mounted a fierce defence of Flynn.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, said in a post on Facebook that firing a national security adviser for his contacts with Russia is “not just paranoia but something even worse.” Kosachev also expressed frustration at the Trump administration.

“Either Trump hasn’t found the necessary independence and he’s been driven into a corner … or russophobia has permeated the new administration from top to bottom,” he said.

Kosachev’s counterpart at the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, Alexei P ushkov, tweeted shortly after the announcement that “it was not Flynn who was targeted but relations with Russia.”

Flynn’s discussions with the Russian raised questions about whether he offered assurances about the incoming administration’s new approach. Such conversations would breach diplomatic protocol and possibly violate the Logan Act, a law aimed at keeping citizens from conducting diplomacy.

Administration officials said that misleading Pence was ultimately Flynn’s downfall, though they insisted he resigned and was not fired by Trump.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Flynn’s resignation “does not end questions over his contacts with the Russians.” He said the White House has yet to be forthcoming about whether Flynn was acting at the behest of the president or others.

Flynn’s resignation comes as Trump and his top advisers seek to steady the White House after a rocky start. The president, who seeks input from a wide range of business associates, friends and colleagues, has been asking people their opinions on his senior team, including Spicer and chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Flynn was a loyal Trump supporter during the campaign, but he was viewed skeptically by some in the administration’s national security circles, in part because of his ties to Russia. In 2015, he was paid to attend a gala dinner for Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed television station, and sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the event.

Flynn apologized to Pence about the matter on Friday, according to an administration official. The official said Pence was relying on information from Flynn when he went on television and denied that sanctions were discussed with Kislyak.

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Matthew Daly in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.

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