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Get merry at Christmas markets in GTA and beyond

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 8th, 2017

European-style Christmas markets seem to be gaining popularity in Ontario, and while the Toronto Christmas Market is the most famous one of them all, there are others in the GTA and beyond.

Click on our interactive map below to find a list of the markets.


Franken announces resignation from Senate amid allegations

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 8th, 2017

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken said Thursday he will resign from Congress in coming weeks following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations and a collapse of support from his Democratic colleagues, a swift political fall for a once-rising Democratic star.

“I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice,” Franken said in the otherwise-hushed Senate chamber.

Franken quit just a day after new allegations brought the number of women alleging misconduct by him to at least eight. Wednesday morning, one woman said he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006, an accusation he vehemently denied. Hours later, another woman said Franken inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009.

“I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonour on this institution,” Franken declared Thursday.

Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” had originally sought to remain in the Senate and co-operate with an ethics investigation, saying he would work to regain the trust of Minnesotans.

“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” Franken said Thursday. “Others I remember quite differently.” Still, he said he could not both co-operate with an investigation and fully carry out his duties to his constituents.

Franken had gained respect as a serious lawmaker in recent years and has even been mentioned in talk about the 2020 presidential campaign.

His resignation means Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, will name a temporary replacement. The winner of a special election in November would serve through the end of Franken’s term in January of 2021. Among the possibilities is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a trusted ally.

“Enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York declared on Wednesday. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”

A torrent of Democrats quickly followed Gillibrand.

“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behaviour,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”

Franken has acknowledged and apologized for some inappropriate behaviour, but he strongly denies the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.

The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that she ducked to avoid his lips but Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”

Franken said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”

The pressure on him to leave mounted this week after Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned following numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Rep Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., faces pressure to resign as well over allegations reported by Buzzfeed that he repeatedly propositioned a former campaign worker.

While Franken is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.

The allegations against Franken began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.

Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.

Calls continue for integrated fare between TTC and local transit agencies

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 8th, 2017

With the new Toronto-York Spadina subway extension to open on December 17, one advocacy group is concerned commuters won’t be changing their habits because they’ll be required to pay two fares – one to ride a York Regional transit bus, and a second fare to hop on the subway.

And that’s renewing calls for an integrated fare system between the TTC and local transit authorities.

“I’m not saying absolutely remove the wall. What I am saying is that there is a fair share that needs to be paid,” said Fred Winegust of the Congestion Relief Committee, South Central York Region.

“That fair share is not only for York region residents going to Toronto, but economic studies have shown that there are people from Toronto who are paying the double fare going into York region.”

TTC and GO Transit riders who use both services will enjoy discounted fares beginning in January. The chair of the TTC says extensive talks need to take place before the TTC could offer fare integration with other local transit agencies.

“We’re getting the PRESTO system in place. That will allow us technically to do fare integration,” said Coun. Josh Colle. “The negotiation will be between all these municipalities, the provincial government and the city to figure out what’s a fair fare integration model so that nobody is financially burdened in one way or another.”

The partnership between the TTC and GO Transit was made possible thanks to provincial funding. Metrolinx, which operates PRESTO and GO Transit, already has fare integration deals in place with several local transit systems — including Mississauga, Brampton, Durham and York region. The provincial transit agency is open to seeing the program expanded.

“If you ask me about integrated fares and when we should have reached a position on integrated fares across the region, I’d say we should have done this years and years and years ago,” said Metrolinx President and CEO Phil Verster.

“This is a very complicated topic though. It includes many decision-makers and we will continue to push this as quickly as possible.”

Suspect in Good Samaritan murder in Hamilton arrested

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 8th, 2017

Police in Hamilton have made an arrest in connection with the death of a 19-year-old Good Samaritan over the weekend.

Yosif Al-Hasnawi was shot and killed when he tried to intervene as two men were accosting an older man in the Main Street and Wentworth Street area.

Dale Burningsky King, 19, was arrested late Thursday afternoon at a home in Hagersville. He has been charged with second degree murder.

Police say a female was also arrested at the time. They say she is related to King and charges are pending against her.

On Monday, police previously arrested James Anthony Robert Matheson and charged the 20-year-old with accessory after the fact to murder.

A vigil is scheduled to be held in honour of Al-Hasnawi on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. at Brock University, where the teen was in his first year of medical sciences studies.

Former privacy watchdog concerned about PRESTO card privacy

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 8th, 2017

Ontario’s former Information and Privacy Commissioner is voicing concern over Metrolinx’s policies governing how police and law enforcement are able to access the data on commuters’ PRESTO payment cards.

The provincial transit agency has recommended several revisions aimed at providing greater transparency and clarity regarding the sharing of information of PRESTO user data. But Metrolinx will still provide rider data to law enforcement agencies without a warrant in several situations — including when there are immediate health and safety concerns, or during the investigation of a possible crime that occurred on a transit vehicle.

“For us, it really is important to get the balance right between personal privacy as well as to what’s in the public interest,” said Metrolinx President and CEO Phil Verster.

“Quick release of information that can affect incidents that are very serious on our own transit network can help to resolve issues, such as missing persons or an attack on someone.”

Under Metrolinx’s proposed new guidelines, a court order would still be required in most cases when authorities are investigating a crime that wasn’t committed on transit.

But that isn’t acceptable to Ontario’s former privacy watchdog.

“What is the distinction between on transit and not on transit? It doesn’t make sense,” Ann Cavoukian told CityNews.

“You should have a baseline protection that the information on your PRESTO card will not be accessed by law enforcement unless they have probable cause and they’ve gotten a warrant. If it’s an emergency, that’s something else, everyone accepts that. But you can’t say everything is an emergency. We should be able to have both privacy and security.”

Metrolinx says they will notify individuals whenever possible if their information has been disclosed to law enforcement. The organization also plans to release the number of requests made every year, with their first report coming in February. A spokesperson told CityNews the amount of requests is currently very low and that about half of them relate to missing persons.

Metrolinx has sent their updated PRESTO information-sharing practices to the Information and Privacy Commissioner for input. A response is expected later this month.

City council votes to regulate short term rentals like Airbnb

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 8th, 2017

Toronto city council has passed a long list of regulations and controls on short-term rentals, like Airbnb.

The new regulations prohibit residents from listing any secondary suite other than their primary residence as a short term rental. The regulations also cap the number of nights in a calendar year in which a full unit can be rented at 180 days, or about six months.

Secondary suites are units that have their own bathrooms and kitchen facilities — so renting out a basement apartment for a few nights a week, isn’t allowed. Residents will only be allowed to rent rooms out of the home that they live in, their primary residence.

One of the arguments is that short term rentals contribute to an already growing problem of shortages and affordability when it comes to finding a home.

” We have a rental housing crisis in this city where we need 16 thousand new rental housing units just to make our rental housing affordable the risk of losing a single unit is not worth the potential gain of a few bucks for a property owner,” said Councillor Joe Cressy.

“Homeowners who are sharing their secondary suites now on our platform, are sharing the space for typically three months of the year. Those are units that are never going to go back on the long term rental market. They are being used by the families. That’s what this is about. So a city saying now we can’t use that causes harm to families who are trying to make ends meet and trying to live here in the City and that’s what’s also being talked about and is really important for the cit to consider today,” said Alex Dagg, Manager of Public Policy at Airbnb Canada.

The regulations mean anyone choosing to rent out rooms or their entire home on a short term rental website or online would need to be registered with the city and pay an annual fee of 50 dollars. Short-term accommodations companies , like Airbnb, would have to pay the city a licensing fee of $1 for each night booked on their platform as well as a one-time registration fee of $5,000.

Flu cases appearing earlier than usual, could be sign of bad season: experts

CityNews | posted Thursday, Dec 7th, 2017

The influenza season in Canada could be shaping up to be a potentially nasty one, with a mixed bag of viruses already circulating in much of the country, say infectious diseases experts.

There are also concerns that this year’s flu shot may not be all that effective in preventing the respiratory illness.

“There’s all kinds of speculation going on because of the experience in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the BC Centre for Disease Control, referring in particular to Australia.

“They had quite a substantial epidemic due to H3N2, so there’s a lot of speculation that that’s foreboding a severe season for us also,” she said from Vancouver.

H3N2 is a subtype of influenza A, viruses which tend to cause more severe disease in some segments of the population, specifically the elderly and young children.

At the end of its flu season in mid-August, Australia had more than 93,000 laboratory-confirmed cases – almost 2.5 times the number of infections and double the number of hospitalizations and deaths compared to the previous year, the country’s disease surveillance system reported.

“But we cannot say we will go on to experience the kind of severe season Australia had, in part because we ourselves had a fairly severe epidemic due to H3N2 in 2016-17,” Skowronski said. “And that may dampen down the contribution of H3N2 this season, which would be a good thing.”

However, Australia also experienced significant cases of influenza B, said Skowronski, and parts of Canada appear to be mimicking that pattern in the early months of the Northern hemisphere’s flu season.

In B.C., for instance, low levels of H3N2 infection have been confirmed since the beginning of the season in late August, but a strain known as B/Yamagata has also been found circulating within the population.

“And this is very early. We’re having about five times the amount of influenza B pickup during the autumn period in British Columbia than we typically have,” she said. “We don’t normally see this kind of influenza B uptick until February, so this is quite unusual.

“If this persists, there could be kind of a double-barrelled threat with B/Yamagata and influenza A/H3N2.”

In its weekly FluWatch report, the Public Health Agency of Canada says the annual sneezing-coughing season began early this year – especially with illness due to influenza B – and the percentage of laboratory-positive tests for flu is higher at this point on the calendar compared with previous seasons.

As of Nov. 25, almost 2,100 lab-confirmed cases had been detected in various parts of the country, of which 84 per cent were influenza A. Those infections resulted in 371 hospitalizations, including 21 ICU admissions, and eight deaths, the report says.

Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said lab testing in Ontario is turning up “quite a lot of B isolates, nearly as many Bs as H3N2.”

But she said it’s too early to predict what strain will predominate or how severe the season will be.

“This prediction ahead of time is a mug’s game, but I think it’s probably not going to be an H1N1 season,” McGeer said. “But whether it’s going to be a B or H3N2 or mixed is still open.”

Added to that uncertainty is the question of how effective this season’s vaccine may be in preventing people from getting the flu.

This year’s shot is the same as the one used in 2016-17, containing components for three major strains: A/H1N1, A/H3N2 and B/Victoria, based on a recommendation by the World Health Organization made in February.

However, the shot does not provide exact matches for the H3N2 and the B strains now circulating, said Skowronski.

In the case of H3N2, the vaccine component has been genetically altered somewhat as a result of the manufacturing process, which involves growing vast quantities of the virus in eggs.

And the B strain circulating isn’t a Victoria lineage as predicted by the WHO, but a Yamagata known as B/Phuket.

Last year in Canada and the U.S., the vaccine was found to be only 35 per cent effective in preventing cases of H3N2 influenza, she said. And in Australia, which used the identical vaccine as Canada’s this past season, its effectiveness against H3N2 infection was far less – only about 10 per cent.

“So given that, particularly for the H3N2 component, the vaccine effectiveness we’re anticipating will be low,” predicted Skowronski.

Despite those misgivings, she encourages the elderly and those with underlying heart and lung conditions or with suppressed immune systems, who are vulnerable to influenza and its complications, to get their shot to obtain “all the protection you can get.”

Health-care workers and people whose close contacts have underlying medical conditions have additional impetus to get inoculated against the flu, she said.

“But for others, healthy young adults with no comorbidity and no close contacts with such conditions, it’s a personal choice. And this isn’t the season to be thumping the pulpit over that.”

Still, McGeer said there’s good evidence accumulated over time that getting the flu shot every year “is a safer and healthier thing to do for myself and better for my patients and my family.”

And while it may not work well against H3N2, she said it’s worth getting the shot for protection against infection with H1N1 and even the B strain (the B/Victoria components may offer cross-protection against B/Yamagata).

“Yeah, it’s not a great vaccine, but it’s a lot better than nothing.”

Additional shelter beds approved amid emotional debate at City Hall

CityNews | posted Thursday, Dec 7th, 2017

With the colder weather moving in, Toronto City Council approved a proposal Wednesday to open 400 more shelter beds as soon as possible.

The motion, which was approved 39-3, was originally brought forward by Mayor John Tory and called for spaces to be made available in existing shelters and even hotels if necessary.

Toronto’s shelter system was filled to 95 per cent capacity on Tuesday night with less than 300 beds available.

Things got emotional at one point with several councillors putting forth a motion that would have seen the city petition the federal government to open the Fort York and Moss Park armouries.

However, that motion was ultimately defeated 25-19.

The move to open 400 beds this winter will cost about $10-million with the money coming from the city’s reserve fund.

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