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Students feel safer with police presence in certain Ontario high schools: Study

Peter Goffin, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Jan 11th, 2018

A program that places police officers in certain southern Ontario high schools made students feel safer and allowed them to build good relationships with law enforcement, a study released Wednesday suggested.

The study from Carleton University examined the School Resource Officer program at high schools in Peel Region – which is made up of three municipalities west of Toronto – from 2014 to 2017 to determine the value of having officers in the schools.

Researchers conducted nearly 1,300 surveys of Grade 9 students at five Peel schools and conducted interviews with school resource officers, school administrators and community members.

“Every single one of these different groups (said) students feel safer at school,” said Carleton business professor Linda Duxbury, one of the study’s lead researchers. “The goal of the Peel program is to make people feel safer in schools so they can learn more … Every single source of data said it (met that goal).”

The study found students reported being less fearful in school and in the community since the program began more than two decades ago, and schools reported fewer incidents of crime and bullying.

Additionally, officers who build a relationship with a student may be more likely to divert that student towards rehabilitation programs outside the justice system if the student gets in trouble, the study found.

“We’re finding the diversion program really helps people learn from their mistakes and it takes people out of the criminal (system) so they’re not going to have a criminal record when they become an adult,” Peel Regional Police Chief Jennifer Evans said.

The School Resource Officer program costs the regional police force about $9 million per year, according to the report. There are currently 60 school resource officers in Peel Region, and every high school in the region has an officer assigned to it, Duxbury said.

Some advocates who have campaigned against the program in the past criticized the report for being too broad.

Andrea Vasquez Jimenez, co-chair of the Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network, said the study should have focused specifically on students from marginalized backgrounds, who are more likely to feel targeted by police.

“The Peel report makes it seem as if it’s a popularity contest, where they are just looking simply at the majority numbers, whereas if we are looking as these detrimental issues within our schools, and beyond we really have to ? look at who it negatively impacts and put more importance on that,” she said.

“Regardless of any report that attempts to show that having police in our schools makes our schools safer ? it’s really about relationships of students with educators,” Vasquez Jimenez added. “We need properly funded schools (with) an increase in mental health and wellness workers, social workers, community child and youth workers, and we need these educators to look ? like the diverse representation of our students.”

Duxbury said that, because the student surveys were anonymous, researchers were not able to track the race or culture of respondents.

Eight students who were interviewed in person for the report all came from racialized backgrounds, however, and the diversity of Peel schools ensures that the research results likely represent a wide variety of viewpoints, she said.

“One dominant finding is every single group of student benefited and felt safer over time,” Duxbury said.

The Toronto District School Board cancelled its own School Resource Officer program in November after a report by board staff found many racialized students felt harassed, targeted and unsafe when police were in their schools.

U.S. likely to give 6 months’ notice to withdraw from NAFTA: reports

CityNews | posted Thursday, Jan 11th, 2018

Canadian government officials say there’s an increasing likelihood that the U.S. will give six months’ notice to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to separate reports from Reuters and Bloomberg.

The Canadian dollar and the Toronto stock index fell on the news.

The Loonie closed at an average trading price of 80.03 cents US, down 0.27 of a U.S. cent.

The S&P/TSX composite index lost 71.29 points to 16,247.95, with industrials among the main decliners.

The rate on Canada’s two-year government bonds declined seven basis points to 1.73 per cent, dropping from a six-year high reached Tuesday.

CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld says a Bank of Canada interest rate hike next week is not a given.

“The existing Bank of Canada forecast had assumed no change in trade relationships, so this is a negative for their outlook,” said Shenfeld.

Talks to overhaul NAFTA between the U.S., Canada and Mexico began in August but have so far yielded few results. A sixth round of negotiations will begin this month in Montreal.

Toronto Island flood repairs to cost $7.4M

CityNews | posted Thursday, Jan 11th, 2018

Repairing the damage from the flooding in Toronto last year will cost $7.4 million — most of which the city will defer until at least 2019.

That means when you set foot back on the Toronto Islands in a few months, it won’t be fully back to normal.

Melting snow and intense rain last spring caused the worst flooding in Toronto in a century. Lake Ontario reached unprecedented levels which, coupled with high winds, wrecked paths and other infrastructure, eroded shore lines and damaged trees, homes and businesses.

City documents show the preliminary budget only includes $2 million for repairs this year — and that has one city councillor up in arms.

“Last year, the city lost $5 million in revenue because that’s how popular our island is, for people to go there in the summer,” Coun. Paula Fletcher said.

“And we have to make sure that all of the beaches that people use, that we get them restored in 2018.”

Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) said some of the repairs are being delayed precisely because they would prevent people from enjoying the islands.

“When we do our shoreline work, it is very heavy-equipment intensive and that also deters from visitor experience,” Nancy Gaffney of the TRCA said. “So, we want to make sure that those repairs are done after the summer.

“If any emerging issues are identified, I can assure you that the city and the TRCA will work very, very closely and very quickly to address those issues. So, whether or not it’s in the $2 million that’s been presented in budget, we’ll make sure that those repairs are fixed and visitor experience is not hindered.”

Crews will be out in the coming months to fully assess winter’s ravages on top of the damage from 2017.

A repair priority list for 2018 and 2019 is expected after the fall.

In the meantime, the city is taking proactive measures, like laying sandbags ahead of the coming thaw.

‘Crane Girl’ pleads guilty; to pay $100 victim surcharge

CityNews | posted Thursday, Jan 11th, 2018

Toronto’s infamous “Crane Girl” has been given an absolute discharge after pleading guilty last month to mischief and will be required to pay a victim surcharge of $100.

Marisa Lazo, 23, who has been described as a “thrill seeker,” was stranded for hours after scaling a construction crane near Church and Wellesley in the middle of the night back in April of last year.

It’s believed she climbed up the crane, crawled out on to the end of it, and slid down a cable to the large pulley device where she got stranded.


Police said the rescue cost the construction company around $65,000, not to mention the cost of emergency services.

Lazo was charged with six counts of mischief by interfering with property.

She later pleaded guilty to just two of the counts and was given six months to pay the $100 victim surcharge. She was not given community service, or a fine and will not have a criminal record.

Lazo first appeared in mental health court but was found to have no mental health issues.

In the days following the incident, Sara Burton, Lazo’s best friend, told KiSS 92.5’s Maurie Sherman that her friend “teaches her to not take life so seriously.”

“She’s awesome. I love her. She’s super adventurous. She’s a cool person,” Burton said.

Lazo’s Instagram feed showed several other pictures of her “roof topping.”


Bus riders demand changes to ‘suicide stop’

CityNews | posted Thursday, Jan 11th, 2018

Frequent users of a TTC bus stop straddling the Markham and Scarborough border say changes are badly needed to the area after a 21-year-old died this week crossing the street.

The stop, just east of Eastvale Drive on Steeles Avenue East, is not lit. Passengers dropped off on the south side of Steeles have a field at their backs and two lanes of busy traffic to dodge to get to the other side.

Craig Harper says drivers can’t see bus users like himself when they are forced to cross Steeles Avenue every night in the dark.

“Even myself when I get off the bus I tell my bus driver you just dropped me off at a suicide stop,” Harper said. “Not knowing one day that something would happen. Well something did happen.”

A 21-year-old woman died Sunday after she was struck crossing Steeles shortly after getting off the bus just east of Eastvale Drive around 10 p.m.

Harper says the incident was particularly disturbing because he brought his safety concerns to the city about the stop back in March 2017, telling them the area needed a stop sign, more lighting or even a crosswalk.

“I was like really? It’s tough,” Harper said. “You see people everyday. You wave at them everyday. ‘Hi, how are you’… and the next day they’re gone.”

“If we would have had the resources at the time, I don’t think this would have happened.”

CityNews has learned the city did perform a traffic study on the area back in 2015. It determined no traffic signals or pedestrian crossover were needed.

CityNews tried to get results of that audit but were told it was an internal report and that the traffic volumes simply didn’t meet the threshold for changes.

Sunday’s incident was the first fatality in this area and the mayor’s office says it is now looking into changes.

“The death of a 21-year-old woman on our roads earlier this week was tragic. We are dedicated as a City to working to prevent pedestrian deaths,” read the statement sent to CityNews. “My office received an email about this incident that raised concerns about the intersection. We have brought those concerns to the attention of City staff. Transportation Services will be reviewing this area and they have asked hydro officials to also look at lighting in the area.”

Newly elected councillor Neethan Shan says something needs to be done to address the phenomenal growth in the Scarborough/Markham border.

“It’s used by a huge amount of cars. It needs to have the lighting. It needs to have the pedestrian safety element to it. And it’s unfortunate we lost a life,” she said.

On Wednesday, the TTC posted an ‘out of service’ sign at the ‘suicide stop’, a day after CityNews inquired into it’s safety.

CityNews has learned they will conduct their own safety assessment. There was no timeline given on when of it service at the stop will resume.


17 dead in California mudslides, more than a dozen missing

Marcio Jose Sanchez and Amanda Lee Myers, The Associated Press | posted Thursday, Jan 11th, 2018

Anxious family members awaited word on loved ones Wednesday as rescue crews searched grimy debris and ruins for more than a dozen people missing after mudslides in Southern California destroyed an estimated 100 houses, swept cars to the beach and left at least 17 victims dead.

“It’s just waiting and not knowing, and the more I haven’t heard from them – we have to find them,” said Kelly Weimer, whose elderly parents’ home was wrecked by the torrent of mud, trees and boulders that flowed down a fire-scarred mountain and slammed into the coastal town of Montecito in Santa Barbara County early Tuesday.

The drenching storm that triggered the disaster gave way to sunny skies, as hundreds of searchers carefully combed a messy landscape strewn with hazards.

“We’ve gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered up with mud,” said Anthony Buzzerio, a Los Angeles County fire battalion chief. “The mud is acting like a candy shell on ice cream. It’s crusty on top but soft underneath, so we’re having to be very careful.”

Buzzerio led a team of 14 firefighters and six dogs in deep debris. They used long-handled tools to search the muck in the painstaking task.

Teams rescued three people Wednesday, but they also discovered two more bodies, raising the death count to 17, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. Seventeen people were reported missing.

A dozen people were hospitalized at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and four were in critical condition, Dr. Brett Wilson said.

“Most injuries we saw were related to fast-moving debris,” Wilson said. “You can’t even fathom what these poor patients went through to finally make their way to the emergency department.”

The deluge destroyed 100 houses and damaged 300 others, Santa Barbara County authorities said. Eight commercial properties were destroyed and 20 damaged.

Some 500 firefighters and other rescue workers were searching debris spread across a wide swath of Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres.

Helicopters were used to hoist more than 50 people to safety from roofs, where they scrambled to escape the mud or because debris had blocked roads and left them stranded.

At one point, a Coast Guard helicopter rescued a family of five and their two dogs. Video shot from the hovering chopper showed a house surrounded by muck and debris as a mother, muddy from the waist down, handed her infant to two rescuers on the roof and then got help onto it. She and her newborn were hoisted to safety, followed by the rest of the family.

Along Hot Springs Road, where at least two homes were carried off their foundations, bulldozers cleared muck and debris from areas already searched. Utility crews began the laborious task of repairing downed power lines and snapped telephone poles.

The cleanup was going on near where Weimer’s missing parents, Jim and Alice Mitchell, lived. The couple, together for more than a half-century, didn’t heed a voluntary evacuation warning and stayed home Monday to celebrate Jim Mitchell’s 89th birthday. She hoped to find them in a shelter or hospital.

“They’re an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house. That’s their forever home,” Weimer said.

People in Montecito had counted themselves lucky last month after the biggest wildfire in California history spared the town. But it was the fire that led to the mudslide, by burning away vegetation.

“We totally thought we were out of the woods,” said Jennifer Markham, whose home escaped damage in both disasters. “I was frozen yesterday morning thinking, ‘This is a million times worse than that fire ever was.”’

Only an estimated 10 to 15 per cent of residents fled when ordered and much of the damage occurred where evacuations were voluntary.

Marco Farrell, a real estate agent, cited “evacuation fatigue” as his reason not to leave – a decision he wouldn’t make next time. He woke to the sound of pounding rain early Tuesday and went outside to investigate.

He was two blocks from home when he heard a rumble that he realized was the mudslide he feared.

“I ran as fast I could and yelled, ‘Flash flood!’ as I passed neighbours’ homes,” he said.

Farrell warned his parents inside, and within a minute, a boulder plowed through the kitchen door. The mud flow went through the home and burst through a backdoor.

Farrell planned to float his elderly parents to a hillside on a surfboard, but it was unnecessary. The mud never got above their thighs and after about an hour of huddling in a hallway, he led his folks and dog outside where a passing firetruck took them to safety.

The flow was so powerful it swept several homes off their foundations, crushed others and wrapped cars around trees. At least two unrecognizably mangled cars were carried like driftwood all the way to the beach, where they were partly covered in seaweed.

A 30-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 linking Ventura and Santa Barbara was still covered in heavy debris and not expected to reopen until Monday. Because of the closure, boats were used to ferry some employees to Cottage hospital.

Another storm-related death was reported in Northern California, where a man was killed when his car was apparently struck by falling rocks in a landslide Tuesday evening in Napa County.
Myers reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers John Antczak, Michael Balsamo, Frank Baker and Brian Melley in Los Angeles and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Driverless cars could be coming soon to Ontario roads

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2018

Ontario drivers could soon find themselves motoring along the highway next to a car with no one in the driver’s seat.

The province’s Liberal government is proposing to change the rules of its 10-year automated vehicle pilot project to allow for driverless testing. Currently, the testing of fully autonomous vehicles is only allowed with a driver behind the wheel, but the government is seeking public comment on a proposal to scrap that requirement.

“Ontario is well-positioned to be a global leader in the development, testing and deployment of connected and automated vehicles and is taking steps to secure that role,” Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said in a statement.

The province was the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow on-road testing of automated vehicles when the pilot project launched in 2016. There are currently seven participants, including BlackBerry’s QNX, Magna, Uber and the University of Waterloo.

A Highway Traffic Act exemption would be introduced to make the driverless testing legal, and participants would have to meet certain conditions, such as having a law enforcement interaction plan and vehicle communication with a remote operator.

The government said when its original pilot launched that the requirement of a driver was a safety measure in case a person needed to take control over an automated vehicle if “an unexpected event occurs.”

Tuesday’s statement from Del Duca didn’t specifically address the proposed change or safety measures, but the government proposal says allowing driverless testing “will ensure that Ontario’s AV testing regime is responsive to the needs of industry, while maintaining road safety and aligning with other jurisdictions, as well as aligning with Ontario’s broader transportation goals.”

The proposal also would allow the testing of platooning, which is when vehicles — particularly commercial ones — with smart technology communicate with and closely follow one another.

“Preliminary research suggests that platooning may lower fuel consumption, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help to improve road safety and efficiency,” the government writes in its regulatory registry posting. “This proposal would more closely align Ontario with other jurisdictions that currently permit commercial vehicle platooning, and respond to industry interest.”

Ontario is earmarking $80 million over five years to establish the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network project to support industry-led research and development, including a demonstration zone in Stratford.

Flu case numbers spiking across Canada, heralding peak of epidemic: experts

Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2018

The number of flu cases is continuing to rise across Canada, suggesting the peak of infections with one of the dominant circulating strains could come within a few weeks — or even sooner, say infectious diseases experts, who describe this influenza season as “unusual.”

“We really haven’t seen a season quite like this in a little while,” said Dr. Michelle Murti of Public Health Ontario, referring to the mix of two primary strains making people sick during this year’s epidemic.

The dominant influenza A strain is H3N2, a nasty virus that tends to infect the elderly in greater numbers, with concurrent circulation of a B strain, a type that typically causes less severe illness. Influenza B can also affect older people and is the strain that most often infects children.

“Normally in a season, we’ll see a peak of influenza A happening some time towards the end of December or through January,” Murti said Monday. “And as that is coming down toward the end of February, that’s when we start to see that peak of influenza B activity into the spring and later season.”

But this year’s B strain, known as B/Yamagata, began circulating in the fall, much earlier than is usually the case.

British Columbia, for example, is seeing an atypical 50-50 mix of H3N2 and B/Yamagata, although other regions in Canada may have different ratios of the two strains affecting their populations, Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the BC Centre for Disease Control said from Vancouver.

“The spike in influenza activity that we’re experiencing now is not unusual,” she said. “In fact, such a sharp increase in activity is a signature feature of influenza that distinguishes it from other respiratory viruses that have a more prolonged, grumbling activity through the winter period.”

Skowronski described graphs illustrating flu activity as looking like a church steeple — with a sudden rise, a peak and then a sharp decline.

“We are currently spiking, but whether we have passed the peak or are continuing to rise, it’s still too early to tell,” she said, adding that peaks may arrive at varying times across the country as regions and communities experience major upticks in cases at different points in the epidemic.

In its weekly FluWatch report, the Public Health Agency of Canada says there were 11,277 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu across the country as of Dec. 30 — about 70 per cent attributed to H3N2 — with more than 1,000 influenza-related hospitalizations and 34 deaths.

However, Murti said those figures are an underestimate of the actual number of cases, as most people don’t seek medical attention for flu and, therefore, aren’t tested. As well, not all provinces and territories keep track of hospitalizations due to influenza.

“Looking at our numbers over the last couple of weeks and knowing there’s a bit of a reporting delay, we’re certainly on the upswing right now in terms of increasing activity for flu,” she said of Ontario. “So probably in the next few weeks, we’re going to continue to see increased activity.”

Murti predicts the province’s peak — for H3N2 cases, at least — will likely come in the next few weeks.

“But you really don’t know the peak until you’re coming down the other side,” she said.

In the meantime, Skowronski advises that people at risk for influenza complications, including the elderly and those with underlying heart and lung conditions, seek immediate medical attention if they develop flu-like symptoms so they can be treated with an antiviral medication to reduce their risk for hospitalization and death.

To be effective, the drugs must be taken in 12 to 48 hours from onset of symptoms, which include cough, muscle aches and fever.

“Given the expectation of low vaccine effectiveness this season, especially for H3N2, that advice about getting early care for those with high-risk conditions applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people,” she said.

Canada’s flu shot contains the same vaccine components as that used by Australia during the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season that ended in August, which was found to have only 10 per cent effectiveness in preventing H3N2.

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