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March break planning: Travel advice and advisories

Dilshad Burman | posted Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2018

With just a week to go until March break, which comes off the heels of a brutal winter this year, heading off to sunny climes is likely on the agenda for many, but some popular destinations do involve risks, including safety and health concerns.

The recent case of a Richmond Hill man’s brutal robbery while on vacation in Mexico is a harrowing tale for travelers. Mexico is among the destinations where the government of Canada advises visitors to exercise “a high degree of caution” because there are “identifiable safety and security concerns or the safety and security situation could change with little notice.”

Here are the travel advisories issued for five popular March break destinations:


More than 2.1 million Canadians travel to Mexico each year, the vast majority of them without incident, but a high degree of caution is advised nonetheless.

According to the government of Canada’s travel advice and advisories, Mexico not only has high levels of criminal activity, but also protests and occasional illegal roadblocks across the country. All non-essential travel should be avoided across the northern and western states.

Recent security incidents include the detonation of an explosive device on a popular tourist ferry in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, in February. Twenty people, including tourists, were injured. Authorities found another explosive device on a ferry also operating out of Playa del Carmen on March 1. Travelers are advised to avoid tourist ferries in the region until further notice.

  • Theft ranging from pickpocketing and purse snatching to armed robbery is common.
  • Foreigners have been physically and sexually assaulted – in some cases by hotel employees or taxi drivers.
  • Mexico is also included on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are advised to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.



The government of Canada’s travel advice and advisories suggests exercising a high degree of caution when travelling to the Bahamas, especially in Nassau and Freeport.

  • There has been an increase in robberies, home invasions and sexual assault targeting tourists in Freeport and Nassau.
  • Sexual assault occurs frequently, often near hotels, in hotel rooms, casinos, on the beach and on cruise ships.
  • Petty theft and purse snatching is common in tourist areas.



Normal security precautions are advised in Cuba, which means there are no increased or significant security concerns but travelers should still take everyday safety precautions.

  • Pickpocketing, purse snatching and assault can occur – usually in tourist areas, beaches and crowded markets.
  • Cuba is included in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.


Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic reportedly has a high crime rate and a high degree of caution is advised.

  • Petty crimes like pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are common across the country.
  • Theft occurs at hotels and resorts as well as at airports and on public transit. Rental cars are also a common target. Drive-by robberies where thieves snatch valuables while on motorcycles occur frequently.
  • Incidents of crime tend to rise during popular holiday seasons like Christmas, Carnival and Easter.
  • The Dominican Republic is on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.



Jamaica has a high level of violent crime and a high degree of caution is advised. A state of emergency was declared for St. James Parish which includes Montego Bay because of a marked increase in violent crime. Military forces have been brought in to stabilize the situation

  • In larger cities, particularly Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay violent crimes like robbery and murder is a big concern, usually involving firearms.
  • Pickpocketing and bag-snatching are common in major tourist areas and there is a risk of credit card and ABM fraud in Jamaica.
  • Jamaica also features on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers  are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether

While listing them out in quick succession makes traveling to these countries seem daunting, travel expert Barry Choi says it’s important to keep things in perspective.

“These security concerns or incidents are usually very isolated,” he says. “It’s not something to avoid an entire country over, in my opinion.”

Choi says it’s important to keep some basic yet often forgotten tips in mind to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip:

Leaving your hotel

“Don’t just start walking down the street or hail a random cab off the street,” says Choi. Have your hotel book a cab or other type of safe transportation for you. The same applies for when you’re heading back to your hotel – ensure you book ahead and have a safe ride back.

Carrying money

“Never carry huge amounts of cash with you,” says Choi. Also be extra cautious when withdrawing money from an ABM and store any cash in your hotel safe. Choi also advises carrying only a single credit card with you and keep a back-up credit card in your hotel room in case your primary card gets lost.

Tours and excursions

Book excursions and tours of the city through your hotel. Avoid impromptu, unplanned trips or tours offered by unknown or unofficial guides. “I’m sure some of them are very safe, but at the same time you want to do your due diligence and make sure you’re getting a safe trip,” says Choi.

Travel Insurance

“If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel,” says Choi. Travel insurance is a small investment with a big pay off. Medical bills outside Canada can run into thousands of dollars, so it’s essential to cover that base.

Health concerns

“Think about local diseases and vaccinations,” says Choi. There are several different travel vaccinations and it’s important to protect yourself from diseases specific to the region. In addition, while the hysteria might have died down, Zika virus is still very much around and requires special attention.

Ontario to bring in ‘pay transparency’ bill aimed at closing wage gap

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2018

Ontario plans to introduce legislation Tuesday that aims to close the wage gap between women and men in the province.

If passed, the “pay transparency” bill would require all publicly advertised job postings to include a salary rate or range, bar employers from asking about past compensation and prohibit reprisal against employees who do discuss or disclose compensation.

It would also create a framework that would require large employers to track and report compensation gaps based on gender and other diversity characteristics, and disclose the information to the province.

The pay transparency measures will begin with the Ontario public service before applying to employers with more than 500 employees. It will later extend to those with more than 250 workers.

The government says it will spend up to $50 million over the next three years on the initiative.

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to announce the legislation — called Then Now Next: Ontario’s Strategy for Women’s Economic Empowerment — during a Women’s Empowerment Summit at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

“We know that too many women still face systemic barriers to economic advancement,” Wynne said in a statement. “It’s time for change.”

According to the province, the gender wage gap has remained stagnant over the past 10 years, with women earning approximately 30 per cent less than men.

The government said it looked to other jurisdictions to create the basis of its legislation, including existing laws in Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Wynne has made the themes of fairness and opportunity key planks of her bid for re-election this spring, pitching policies like the province’s increase to minimum wage and expansion of drug coverage for people aged 25 and under as part of those efforts.

Contract staff begin strike at York University

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Mar 5th, 2018

Contract staff at York University in Toronto went on strike Monday at one minute past midnight.

Kevin Wilson with CUPE Local 3903 says there will be two events on Monday, a press conference at 9:30 a.m. at Queen’s Park to provide an update on the status of contact talks, to be followed by a rally at the university’s main entrance at 11:30 a.m.

On Friday the faculty members, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, research assistants and part-time librarians and archivists rejected what the university had said was its “best” offer. However, they did give the membership the authority to resume talks over the weekend in an attempt to avoid a walk-out.

There was no indication by late Sunday when negotiations might resume, however, the union said on its website that picket lines would be set up around the campus beginning Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.

Benefits, job security and summer-funding are some of the sticking points according to the union.

The university has said it will try to minimize the impact of any work stoppage on students, saying the school will be open and any classes not affected will continue as scheduled.

The school’s libraries, restaurants, administrative offices and other services plan to remain open.

However, several departments have called on the university’s Senate Executive to cancel all classes in the event of a strike, citing in part that not all students will continue to attend classes as well as past dangerous incidents on the picket line involving previous labour disputes at the university.

The last strike at the university back in 2015 lasted for 28 days.

Back in 2008-09, a strike at the university lasted 85 days, making it the longest strike in Canadian University history.

Canadian who admitted to plotting terrorist attacks asks for ‘second chance’

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 5th, 2018

A Canadian who admitted to plotting a terrorist attack on New York City is pleading for “a second chance” in a letter submitted to the court ahead of his upcoming sentencing.

In the letter filed to a New York court on Friday, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy of Mississauga, Ont., outlined his personal history with addiction and mental illness, and explained that he felt American airstrikes against the Middle East drove him to jihadism.

The 20-year-old wrote that he felt that Americans were trying to disrupt the lives of people in the Middle East with airstrikes and he thought “it was appropriate to use similar methods back until and unless they stop.”

The 24-page hand-written letter, addressed to the judge in his case and partially redacted, is part of a package his lawyers submitted ahead of his sentencing for multiple terrorism-related charges that he pleaded guilty to last year.

El Bahnasawy described his disenfranchisement with western society, including “so-called democracy and freedom.”

He said he chose to go to the U.S. to carry out the plan because Canada had recently stopped its airstrikes, “and it didn’t make sense to transgress back against them in such a way.”

Police secretly arrested El Bahnasawy, then 18, in what they said was a plot by Islamic State sympathizers to attack New York City concert venues, subway stations and Times Square. He was arrested after travelling from Canada to New Jersey in 2016. The records in his case were sealed for over a year as police tried to hunt down his accomplices.

Authorities announced the charges against him after two other suspects were arrested in Pakistan and the Philippines.

The Canadian didn’t discuss the specifics of the plot in the letter, instead focusing on why he decided to go to such extremes.

“My detailed reasons about this is in no way a justification for it, I merely am explaining my thought process at the time,” he wrote, adding that he no longer believes extremism is the answer.

“There are many issues in this world but I don’t want to lose my life or freedom to try fixing them, and I definitely do not want to resort to violence or harm to fix them. I sincerely apologize for my (behaviour) and I only ask for a second chance.”

El Bahnasawy also used the letter to outline his struggles with addiction and mental illness, including several trips into hospital psychiatric wards and rehab centres. He said he spent a month in a psych ward in Kuwait, and eight months in rehab in Egypt. Court records show he also spent time at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

“I want to experience life away from drugs and away from war and violence,” he wrote.

He wrote that he wondered where he would be if anyone who knew about his plans had encouraged him to find a more productive way to fight the injustice he saw in the world.

The young man’s lawyers, in a submission included in the package with the letter, requested the judge impose a sentence “no greater than necessary to comply with (the law).”

They suggested that his release might coincide with “the onset of Abdulrahman’s mid-twenties when his cognitive development will be complete.”

El Bahnasawy’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 9.

‘The Shape of Water’ highlights Canada’s night at the Oscars

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 5th, 2018

Toronto producer J. Miles Dale won the best picture award at Sunday’s Academy Awards but almost missed out on delivering his very first Oscar speech.

Dale shared the Oscar with “The Shape of Water” director Guillermo del Toro but found his microphone was cut off when it was his turn to say a few words.

But he was saved by host Jimmy Kimmel, who went up to Dale and asked: “What did you want to say? I’ll tell them.”

Dale was able to briefly salute del Toro’s work on the film, saying: “this is his heart and it’s everything.”

This is the first Oscar win for Dale, who also worked with del Toro on the 2013 film “Mama” and the horror drama series “The Strain.”

The two are now working on new projects, including a film for Fox Searchlight and a Netflix series.

Dale got his start as a producer largely in the TV world, with credits including “RoboCop” and “F/X: The Series.” He then focused largely on films, with other titles including “Pontypool,” “Love Happens,” “The Vow” and 2013’s “Carrie.”

Earlier in the night, Toronto’s growth into a film and TV production powerhouse was touted by a trio of Canadians as they won an Oscar for best production design on “The Shape of Water.”

Canadians Paul Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau shared the trophy for crafting the look of the Cold War-era merman romance.

Austerberry is credited for production design while Melvin and Vieau did the set decoration.

Speaking to reporters backstage, Vieau noted that Toronto’s screen community had a huge year not only with the leading 13 Oscar nominations for “The Shape of Water,” but also the accolades for TV’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was shot in the city.

“Toronto (was) above and beyond with everyone in North America with ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Shape of Water,’ we really came out on top,” Vieau said. “It’s a really big thing.”

Melvin said after decades of growth, Toronto’s TV and film industries are truly “world-class.”

“I have 35 years in the business now and worked in Toronto almost exclusively, so I’ve worked with and watched the business grow in Toronto and go from children’s television to Academy Award-winning films,” said Melvin, who is based in Toronto.

“It started with ‘Good Will Hunting,’ ‘Chicago,’ now us…. We want to keep it that way and keep going.”

As they accepted their trophies onstage, the trio thanked their colleagues back home in Toronto.

“Thanks to all the Canadian crew who are partying right now at the Palais Royale in Toronto – this is for you,” said Austerberry, who was born in Toronto and grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“Thank you to the academy. Guillermo – may you keep dreaming up your monsters and their wonderful stories so people like us can help shape their worlds.”

It was the first Oscar nomination for the trio, who also won in the same category at the recent British Academy Film Awards.

Besides del Toro and the film’s cinematographer, most of the crew who worked on the movie was Canadian.

Meanwhile, the winners of the best visual effects award for working on Quebec director Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” thanked their “friends in Montreal,” saying: “Merci beaucoup, this is for you.”

“Thank you to Denis Villeneuve, whose guts are seen in every frame of this film, especially the visual effects,” said John Nelson, who won alongside Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover.

Villeneuve also got a shout-out onstage from Roger Deakins as he accepted the Oscar for best cinematography on “Blade Runner 2049.”

Jordan Peele won for his script to his horror sensation “Get Out,” becoming the first African-American to win for best original screenplay. Peele said he stopped writing it “20 times,” skeptical that it would ever get made.

“But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone would let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it,” said Peele. “So I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie.”

In a year lacking a clear front-runner the awards were spread around. Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic “Dunkirk” landed three awards, all for its technical craft: editing, sound editing and sound design.

Things went expected in the acting categories, where Frances McDormand won her second Oscar for her performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” McDormand asked all the attending female nominees stand up in the theatre.

“Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects that need financing,” declared McDormand. “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen, Inclusion Rider.”

Three widely admired veteran actors won their first Oscars. Gary Oldman won for his Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) took best supporting actress, and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards”) won best supporting actor. Oldman thanked his “99-years young” mother. “Put the kettle on,” he told her. “I’m bringing Oscar home.”

But many of the show’s most powerful moments came in between the awards. Ashley Judd, Anabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek – who all made allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein – together assembled for a mid-show segment dedicated to the #MeToo movement that has followed the downfall of Weinstein, long an Oscar heavyweight. They were met by a standing ovation.

“We work together to make sure the next 90 years empower these limitless possibilities of equality, diversity, inclusion and intersectionality,” said Judd. “That’s what this year has promised us.”

Host Jimmy Kimmel opened with a monologue that mixed Weinstein punchlines with earnest comments about reforming gender equality in Hollywood. And of course, Kimmel – returning to the scene of the flub – dove straight into material about last year’s infamous best-picture mix-up.

“I do want to mention, this year, when you hear your name called, don’t get up right away,” said Kimmel. “Give us a minute.”

But while Kimmel spent a few moments on the fiasco known as Envelopegate, he expended far more minutes frankly and soberly discussing the parade of sexual harassment allegations in the wake of the revelations regarding Weinstein. Kimmel cited the industry’s poor record for female directors and equal pay.

“We can’t let bad behaviour slide anymore,” said Kimmel. “The world is watching us.”

Gesturing to a giant statue on the stage, he praised Oscar, himself for keeping “his hands where you can see them” and for having “no penis at all.” But Kimmel introduced the broadcast as “a night for positivity,” and cited, among other things, the box-office success of “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman.”

“I remember a time when the major studios didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie – and the reason I remember that time is because it was March of last year,” said Kimmel.

Several cinema legends won their first Oscar. James Ivory, 89, won best adapted screenplay for his script to the coming-of-age drama “Call Me By Your Name,” becoming the oldest winner ever. After 14 nominations, revered cinematographer Roger Deakins finally won for his photography on “Blade Runner 2049.” In the category, Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) became the first woman nominated for best cinematography.

Later, Pixar’s colorful ode to Mexican culture “Coco” won best animated film as well as best song for “Remember Me.” Best foreign language film went to Chile’s “A Fantastic Woman,” Sebastian Lelio’s drama starring transgender actress Daniela Vega.

“The biggest thank you of all to the people of Mexico,” said director Lee Unkrich to loud applause. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.”

Netflix scored its first feature-film Oscar, with best documentary going to “Icarus,” Bryan Fogel’s investigation into doping in sports, aided by the assistance of Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory who candidly discussed the doping scheme under Vladimir Putin. Fogel dedicated the award to Rodchenkov, “our fearless whistleblower who now lives in grave danger.”

“Darkest Hour” won for best makeup. The period romance “Phantom Thread” won for costume design.

The ceremony was the crescendo of one of Hollywood’s most turbulent awards seasons ever – one that saw cascading allegations of sexual harassment topple movie moguls, upended Oscar campaigns and new movements launched to improve gender equality throughout the industry.

No Golden Globes-style fashion protest was held by organizers of Time’s Up, the initiative begun by several hundred prominent women in entertainment to combat sexual harassment. Their goals go beyond red carpets, organizers said in the lead-up to the Oscars. “We did the dress code thing and now we’re doing the work,” said #MeToo founder Tarana Burke on the red carpet.

McArthur murder investigation to be updated on Monday

News Staff and The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 5th, 2018

Toronto police will have the latest update in the ongoing investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur on Monday morning.

According to the CBC, police have found the remains of a seventh person at a Leaside property where McArthur worked as a landscaper.

Police reportedly found the remains inside garden planters seized from the home.

Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga will provide an update at 10:30 a.m.

Last month police charged McArthur with a sixth count of first-degree murder in the death of 40-year-old Skandaraj Navaratnam, who disappeared from the city’s gay village in 2010.

Navaratnam’s remains were among those of six people recovered from planters at a home on Mallory Crescent.

Three of the six sets of remains have now been identified using fingerprint analysis and dental records, Idsinga said, adding other confirmed victims are 49-year-old Andrew Kinsman and 50-year-old Soroush Mahmudi.

McArthur has also been charged with first-degree murder in the presumed deaths of 44-year-old Selim Esen, Majeed Kayhan, 58, and Dean Lisowick, either 43 or 44.

Sources told 680 NEWS investigators have found photos of eight possible victims on McArthur’s computer. Idsinga would not comment on those claims.

Toronto’s birthday celebrations among the fun for first weekend of March

Patricia D'Cunha and Samantha Knight | posted Friday, Mar 2nd, 2018

March has arrived and while the weather may be unpredictable this month, one thing is constant: there is no shortage of fun taking place every weekend. There is so much to do, you may need to take a power nap.

Happy Birthday, Toronto
A four-day party will be held at Nathan Phillips Square to celebrate Toronto’s 184th birthday on Tuesday. The party starts on Saturday and continues until the big day. The extravaganza includes skating parties, food trucks, a market in the square, interactive activities and a photo contest, to name a few. Toronto was incorporated on March 6, 1834, and William Lyon Mackenzie was elected the city’s first mayor. The year 1834 was also an important year for Canada, as slavery was abolished in British North America that summer.

Toronto-run spring and summer fun
Get ready! Registration starts this weekend for spring/summer programs and summer camps at Toronto Parks and Recreation. Registration for Etobicoke York is on Saturday, Scarborough on Sunday, North York on Tuesday and Toronto and East York on Wednesday — it starts at 7 a.m. on each date. The city says registering online is the best way to sign up for programs, but residents can also register by phone. Before registering, you will need family and client numbers. If you don’t have those, call customer service at 416-338-4386.
Click here to get more information about the registration process.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors
The highly anticipated Infinity Mirrors exhibition is making its debut at the AGO this weekend. The exhibition features the works of Yayoi Kusama. Guests can immerse themselves in six kaleidoscopic environments where they will be endlessly reflected within fantastic landscapes. Kusama’s drawings, her early Infinity Net paintings and sculpture objects will also be on display. Infinity Mirrors starts Saturday and will be on display until May 27.


Toronto Storytelling Festival

The second-oldest arts festival returns to the city this Friday. The Toronto Storytelling Festivalfeatures local, Canadian and international storytellers. Indigenous storytellers are also a big part of this year’s event, with Yukon Indigenous comedy duo Susie and Charlie, bringing their hilarious take on elder wisdom. Some of the city’s top storytellers will be featured in venues including the Bata Shoe Museum, Artscape Wychwood Barns and the Toronto Reference Library. The festival runs from Friday to Sunday, and then March 19-25.

Toronto Irish Film Festival
The best in Irish cinema will be showcased at this weekend’s Toronto Irish Film Festival. The festival opens on Friday with A Date for Mad Mary, a drama-comedy about love and redemption. It won best film at the 2017 Irish Film and Television Academy and Awards. Some of the other films being screened are Maze, which is based on the 1983 prison breakout of 38 IRA prisoners from the infamous prison in Northern Ireland and the documentary In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America, narrated by Liam Neeson, which is about Derry politician John Hume who worked to create peace in Northern Ireland.

Video credit: YouTube/TOIrishFilmFest

Rogers Hometown Hockey heads to Markham
Each weekend during the hockey season, the *Rogers hometown tour travels to a different city in Canada. Starting Friday and into the weekend, it will be in Markham. Fans can check out the Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit and the Toronto Maple Leafs fan zone, take part in various activities including a friends and family skate, and watch the Maple Leafs take on the Washington Capitals at a view party on Saturday. There will also be special appearances by NHL alumni. On Sunday, a live broadcast will be hosted by Ron MacLean and Tara Slone, ahead of the game between the Winnipeg Jets take and the Carolina Hurricanes.

Winter Brewfest
Sample more than 150 beers crafted from brewers across Ontario and Quebec this weekend at the third annual Winter Brewfest. The festival is being held at Enercare Centre’s Heritage Court on Friday and Saturday. While sampling the craft beers, guests can enjoy gourmet food from the city’s best food trucks.

Toronto International Bicycle Show
Bicycle enthusiasts will be flocking to the Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place this weekend for the Toronto International Bicycle Show. The event kicks off Friday and runs through Sunday. It features over 175 exhibitors, a retail marketplace, and bicycle frame building. Highlights include the 2,000-foot test track for every type of bike, a new X-JAM course and a bike polo competition.


*Rogers is the parent company of this station and website.

Loblaw recalling cooked shrimp; packages may also contain raw shrimp

The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Mar 2nd, 2018

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is recalling certain pre-packaged cooked shrimp due to the potential presence of raw shrimp, which may contain harmful bacteria.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the shrimp is sold in 300-gram packages containing 56-65 shrimp per pound.

It was sold across the country at Loblaw banner stores such as Fortinos, No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, Dominion and Provigo.

The CFIA says consumers who have this product should toss it out or return it to the store where purchased.

The agency says the recall was triggered by the company and there have been no reported illnesses linked to eating this product.

Click here for more information on the recall.

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