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GTA realtors can now publish home sales data on their websites

TARA DESCHAMPS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Aug 24th, 2018

The Supreme Court of Canada’s refusal to hear an appeal from the country’s largest real estate board enables its member real estate agents to publish home sales data on their websites, setting a precedent that could usher in a new era of transparency for home buyers and sellers nationwide, industry experts said Thursday.

Canada’s top court announced Thursday it has dismissed the application from the Toronto Real Estate Board, which represents more than 50,000 Ontario agents, ending a years-long battle.

The fight centred around a 2011 application from the Competition Bureau, a federal watchdog designed to protect consumers by investigating business policies and mergers, challenging the Toronto Real Estate Board’s policy preventing the publication of such information on password-protected websites, arguing the policy restricts competition and digital innovation.

TREB fought back claiming the publication of such data was a privacy and copyright concern, but the Competition Tribunal and later the Federal Court of Appeal sided with the bureau instead, so TREB took its battle to the Supreme Court.

The top court’s refusal to hear the case is significant because it was likely TREB’s last chance to prevent the publication of the data. It is a sign of hope for realtors in regions across the country who want to open up data to their clients, real estate experts said.

“A lot of these local real estate boards were waiting to see what happened with this decision,” said John Andrew, a real estate professor at Queen’s University.

“That’s going to spread to other boards across Canada. They are no longer going to try to resist this kind of demand from their own members who would like to release this kind of information and other kinds.”

He’s anticipating a flood of realtors will race to post data in 60 days when required under the Competition Tribunal’s order. That will allow buyers and sellers to more easily educate themselves on how to price homes and negotiate, keeping them from relying on agents to send them sales information.

However, Andrew doesn’t think that giving the public an easier route to finding out what homes sold for will jeopardize the livelihood of realtors or significantly change the market.

Christopher Alexander, the executive vice-president and regional director of RE/MAX Integra’s Ontario-Atlantic business, agreed.

Both said they don’t believe the decision will be an industry killer based on their observations of the United States housing market, where real estate agents remained in demand even after a similar case enabled consumers to access enhanced information for the last 13 years.

“Good, experienced realtors are a lot more valuable than having sold information,” said Alexander.

Those currently seeking sold information predominantly turn to real estate agents and brokers, who have access to the Multiple Listing Service database, where sales data is compiled when deals close. Others rely on online property value services like Teranet or local land registry offices, which charge a fee for the public to access sales data.

The TREB case largely dealt with allowing publication of the data through virtual office websites (VOWs), which are password-protected and are usually open to a realtor’s clients or people who subscribe to their website.

Now that publication will be allowed through those sites, Andrew believes the market will see a push for realtors and other companies to be able to publish the data online without using VOWs.

Interim Competition Bureau commissioner Matthew Boswell refused to speculate on whether the country will see a new fight to allow publication outside of VOWs, but said he knows real estate boards across the country were watching the case.

“This is their opportunity to look at their policies and procedures and make sure they are in compliance with the Competition Act, that they are not abusing their dominant position in their respective markets as TREB was found to have done in this case,” he told The Canadian Press.

Boswell said he considered the Supreme Court’s choice not to hear the case as “a decisive victory for competition, innovation and for consumers.”

TREB chief executive officer John DiMichele said he “respects the decision” and noted that the board will be studying “the required next steps to ensure such information will be protected in compliance with the tribunal order,” which he noted will come into effect in 60 days if it is not modified.

The Canadian Real Estate Association, which represents 125,000 realtors across the country, was also reviewing the order to determine its potential impacts.

Neither immediately said whether they were looking for a way to change the order.

Hooray for another fun weekend in Toronto

PATRICIA D'CUNHA | posted Friday, Aug 24th, 2018

Bad news if you like summer: Fall arrives in about a month. Good news if you hate the intense humidity in the summer that messes up your skin and hair: Fall is around the corner.

Despite the tug of war between fans of summer and fall, everyone can agree that we all like to relax and have fun. Good thing there are weekends. For those planning to roam the city but not sure what to do yet, below are some events to help you along.

There are road closures and a partial subway shutdown this weekend — but not to worry, just plan ahead for them.

Have a wonderfully blissful weekend.


Events

Eat, drink, and be merry
If you are a cider, beer, or bourbon connoisseur, the perfect place to enjoy some is outside while summer is still in our corner.

Starting Friday and into the weekend, the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival at Ontario Place will serve up craft beers, bourbon cocktails and tasty dishes from the grill. You can also listen to some live country music, try your feet at some line dancing, or ride the mechanical bull. Also starting Friday is the Toronto Cider Festival at Sherbourne Common, features more than 100 types of cider from Canada and around the world. Admission to both these events is restricted to 19-plus.

Last but not least is the Leslieville Beer Festival, which takes over Dundas Street East from Logan to Carlaw avenues on Saturday. More than 50 brewers and food vendors will dish out the best in local fare, and artisans will also on-hand.

Tickets are required to attend the three events. If you plan on attending any of them, please don’t drink and drive.

Around the world in Toronto
Learn about Filipino cuisine and culture at the Mabuhay Philippines Festival at Nathan Phillips Square, taking place Saturday to Sunday. Afterwards, stroll onto Queen Street and to Yonge-Dundas Square for the Pan American Food and Music Festival. This year, the focus will be on Ecuadorian food and music, but the event will also highlight the food and culture from other Pan American countries. If you are in the east end this weekend, stop by the Scarborough Civic Centre for the Afro-Carib Fest. There will be music and dance, delicious food, various vendors, and a raffle draw.

Books, bikes and street festivals
“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.” Whether you have a bike or know how to ride a bike, everyone is invited to join Books & Bikes on the Bloor Viaduct on Sunday. Explore the history of the Bloor and Danforth, starting at Bloor Street in the west, across Bloor and the Danforth to Woodbine Avenue — either on a bike or on foot. See these neighbourhoods from your own perspective or through the words of authors. There will also be free pizza served at the start location. The event is free but you need to register.

Pedestrian Sundays is also back for another edition in Kensington Market on Sunday. The free festival features live music, street food, an outdoor art fair and spontaneous dancing. The next one is on Sept. 30, which will be the second-last one before Halloween.

Bloor Street from Dufferin Street to Montrose Avenue will be shut down to vehicles on Saturday for the Bloorcourt Festival— one of the city’s largest gathering of artists and artisans. Check out all the arts and crafts, browse the sidewalk sales, hang out on the patio, and listen to live music. The kids will also have their sort of fun with inflatables and interactive activities. Admission to the event is free.

Always time for a movie
Sometimes just getting out of the house to see a movie can make a world of difference. But if you like a twist in your movie-watching experience, here are a couple of options. Starting Friday and until Sept. 6 the Cinesphere at Ontario Place is showing 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can buy tickets here.

For those to love to be outdoors, the 2016 revamp of Ghostbusters will be playing at Sorauren Park on Saturday. The free movie show starts at 8:30 p.m. with pizza served from an outdoor oven ahead of the show.

TTC and road closures

Partial Line 1 shutdown
The TTC will be upgrading its subway signal system this weekend, which means trains won’t be running on Line 1 between Finch West and Lawrence West stations. Shuttle buses will be running.

Road closures
Toronto Tamil Festival: Markham Road between McNicoll and Passmore avenues will be closed from 10 p.m. on Friday to 5 a.m. on Monday

Bloorcourt Festival: Bloor Street West from Dufferin Street to Montrose Avenue will be closed from 7 a.m. to midnight on Saturday

Leslieville Beerfest: Dundas Street East between Logan and Carlaw avenues will be closed from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday

Pedestrian Sundays: Several closures will be in effect in Kensington Market from noon to 10:30 p.m. on Sunday

GTA school boards predict no school bus driver shortages in September

MIKE VISSER AND FAIZA AMIN | posted Thursday, Aug 23rd, 2018

With students getting set to head back to class after Labour Day, most school boards in the Greater Toronto Area say the bus driver shortages that saw hundreds of children stranded in recent school years are a thing of the past.

“We have seven school bus operators that cover 12 divisions throughout the city. Last week we asked them specifically if they have sufficient drivers to start September, and the overwhelming answer was, yes, they have sufficient drivers not only for the routes, but also for their spare pool of drivers,” said Kevin Hodginson, General Manager of the Toronto Student Transportation Group.

A spokesperson for the Peel District School Board tells CityNews that all 1,500 school bus routes serving over 400 schools are staffed. The board doesn’t anticipate any significant staffing challenges aside from minor start-of-year delays as drivers and families get adjusted to their routes.

The situation is similar in Durham Region, where the school board handles transportation of roughly 30,000 students.

“All our routes are covered and we are not anticipating any driver shortages,” wrote Peter Blake, Communications Manager for the Durham District School Board.

The one exception could be Hamilton, where school board officials confirm they’re anticipating a driver shortage for a third straight year.

Hodginson says the problems over the past two school years can be chalked up to a new contract that saw many drivers switch routes, transfer to different bus companies, or retire altogether.

“Two years ago it was a new contract. The routes were moved around, there were new companies,” said Hodginson. “Those issues that were around there led to probably higher than normal levels of drivers leaving the industry.”

The president of one major bus company says bus driver shortages have been a problem at several points over the past 20 years, and that the major issue isn’t recruiting new drivers – it’s holding on to them.

“Retention is always a challenge because it’s a part-time job,” acknowledges Glenn Attridge, President of Attridge Transportation.

While most school boards say their routes will be fully staffed come September, Attridge says there’s a possibility that could change.

“A lot of operators will be reporting that their routes are covered, but come the last week or the first few days of school, somebody who has been trained, they get out on the road and they actually experience it, they unfortunately come back in sometimes and say ‘here’s the keys, it’s not for me.’ ”

CityNews contacted the Ministry of Education regarding the staffing levels of school bus drivers. A spokesperson says $961.4 million has been provided through a Student Transportation Grant to help cover the increased costs of transportation for school boards.

“While the government funds student transportation, school boards are responsible for developing their own transportation policies and work with their local student transportation consortia to deliver transportation services to its eligible students.

The government is also supporting a school bus driver retention bonus program to help school bus operators with the retention and recruitment of school bus drivers,” wrote Heather Irwin, Senior Media Relations Coordinator for the Ministry of Education.

Dash-cam video captures two-car collision in Richmond Hill

DILSHAD BURMAN | posted Thursday, Aug 23rd, 2018

A shocking crash in Richmond Hill was captured on dash-cam video on Wednesday morning.

Police responded to the scene on Highway 7 near Red Maple Road around 9 a.m.

David Ursino told CityNews he witnessed the crash while on his way to work and it was recorded on his car’s dash-cam.

“It was a really loud impact,” says Ursino. “It sent the white car careening into the air.”

Ursino says the white vehicle landed on a right turn ramp and fortunately no other vehicles were on it at the time.

Following the collision Ursino and a few others went to check on the victims. He says he was only able to get to the driver in the white car, who was the sole occupant of the vehicle.

“The person in the white car was unconscious. Someone said the engine was on fire and I saw a lot of smoke coming from the engine,” says Ursino.

They believed the car might catch fire, so Ursino and two other men decided to help the driver out of the car.

“I had to undo his seat belt and we had to crack his door open because it was stuck,” said Ursino “I grabbed him from under his arms and I started pulling him out and I had someone else holding his neck and his head … and I asked a third guy to help with his legs because his legs were stuck below the dashboard.”

After removing the man from the vehicle, Ursino says he was in and out of consciousness. He was awake and coherent by the time paramedics arrived to take over the scene.

Police and paramedics say three people were injured in the collision. Two victims were sent to a local hospital while a third was sent to a trauma centre.

Ontario asks court to toss application from Tesla over electric vehicle rebates

The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Aug 23rd, 2018

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has asked the province’s Superior Court to throw out a petition from the Canadian arm of Tesla Inc. that claims the U.S. company has been treated unfairly in the government’s cancellation of an electric vehicle rebate program.

The provincial government’s ministry of transportation said in a response filed Tuesday that there is no merit to the electric car maker’s application for judicial review, arguing the decision is government policy that does not fall within the court’s jurisdiction.

“While framed as a judicial review of an ostensibly administrative decision, the application is essentially an attack on a core policy decision made by Ontario’s Cabinet,” it said in the court filing.

“Such a decision is not reviewable by the court and is not a basis to quash the decision.”

In July, the government announced the cancellation of the rebate program but said that incentives would be honoured for vehicles ordered through a dealership if they are delivered and registered by Sept. 10.

Tesla sells vehicles directly to customers rather than through a dealership, making its vehicles ineligible for the incentives under the new rules.

Tesla Motors of Canada said in its application that the decision by Premier Doug Ford’s government to halt the program left hundreds of its customers no longer eligible for rebates they expected to get when they ordered their vehicles.

It claims Tesla was also left out of a program that allows purchasers of other brands to receive rebates during a transition period and that the government has given it no reason for its exclusion.

Tesla said the government’s decision has “already inflicted substantial harm” on the company in the form of lost sales and potential damage to its reputation because it leaves the impression that Tesla “may be singled out for future arbitrary treatment.”

It asked the Ontario Superior Court to quash the government’s move.

However, the government’s response said the decision to revoke the rebate program was made for “valid public reasons.”

The government said it decided to include only independently owned franchised dealerships in the transition funding in order to minimize negative impacts to the largely small or medium-sized businesses and that such dealerships may have vehicle inventory or made orders with manufacturers that could not be returned.

“Tesla Canada is effectively asking this court to make a declaratory order at the behest of its customers to provide them a grant from public funds.”

No tolerance for teachers using a repealed sex ed curriculum, warns Doug Ford

SHAWN JEFFORDS AND PAOLA LORIGGIO, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Aug 23rd, 2018

Teachers who use the repealed sex-education curriculum when students return to school next month will face consequences, Ontario Premier Doug Ford warned on Wednesday as he invited parents to anonymously report their concerns about education to his government using a website critics dubbed a “snitch line.”

Ford also announced broad consultations on education reforms to be launched in September, but said that until a new sex-ed document is drafted, teachers should use a “revised interim curriculum” his Progressive Conservative government has posted online.

“We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games,” Ford said in a news release. “Make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act.”

The warning drew the scorn of the province’s largest teachers’ unions, which have vowed to defend educators who continue to use the modernized version of the sex-ed curriculum updated under the previous Liberal government in 2015.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, slammed the move as an attack on educators and accused the government of “manufacturing a crisis” instead of addressing issues like school underfunding.

“Having a Ministry of Education ‘snitch line’ that bypasses the systems already in place to deal with issues at the school level will prohibit parents and educators from addressing classroom concerns constructively,” he said. “As we’ve seen from social media, anonymous portals and comment threads are toxic and counter-productive to improving any situation, in this case school culture.”

The Tory government’s plan to scrap the 2015 sex-ed curriculum was announced last month, fulfilling a Ford campaign promise. The lesson plan included warnings about online bullying and sexting, but opponents, especially social conservatives, objected to parts addressing same-sex relationships, gender identity and masturbation.

Ford said in the news release that a public interest committee would be set up through legislation to ensure “curriculum-based misconduct issues are fairly dealt with” by the Ontario College of Teachers.

The province has also set up a website where parents can report any teacher who is “jeopardizing their child’s education by deliberately ignoring Ontario’s curriculum,” a government news release said.

“Our government will be prepared to take regulatory and legislative action to ensure that the rights of parents are protected,” Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement. “Our end goal across all of these activities is simple: create an education system that respects parents while preparing our students for success.”

Ford said in a statement that the public consultations on education would include an online survey, telephone town halls across the province and a submission platform where the government would accept detailed proposals. It would also seek parental feedback on issues that include math scores, cell phone use, financial literacy and how best to prepare students with needed job skills.

The province said it will also create a “Parental Bill of Rights” to ensure parents are respected during and after the consultation process, but gave no details about what it would contain.

The public consultation will inform changes to the curriculum for the 2019-2020 school year, Thompson said.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the government’s handling of the issue is creating “additional anxiety” for teachers as they prepare for the school year.

“This is an absolutely unprecedented approach to policy or curriculum implementation within the education sector, where the release of a curriculum document is accompanied by an implicit or perhaps almost explicit threat of discipline if it’s not followed,” he said, adding the union will continue to advise members to exercise their professional judgment.

Bischof noted that teachers are not employed by the province but by school boards, and it’s the boards that have the power to discipline educators, along with the Ontario College of Teachers. It appears the government is trying to co-opt the college into its process, he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Ford government’s “rigged consultation” process will hurt students, teachers and parents.

“Today’s announcement makes it clear that vital issues like consent, LGBTQ families, and gender identity are being almost completely eliminated from Ontario’s elementary sex ed curriculum to appease a vocal minority of radical social conservatives who helped secure the Conservative leadership for Doug Ford,” she said in a statement.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the consultations show the Tory government is putting ideology before student well-being.

“When children in Ontario start school in under two weeks, they’ll be learning a sexual-health curriculum from the last century,” he said. “I cannot believe that the premier and the minister of education want teachers to pretend the online world of social media and sexting doesn’t exist. I cannot believe they want teachers to be silent on gender diversity, putting the safety and mental health of our LGBTQ+ youth at risk.”

Key decision coming in battle over GTA real estate data

TARA DESCHAMPS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Aug 23rd, 2018

The end might be near for a seven-year battle that has kept the public from easily finding sales data for homes in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Supreme Court of Canada said it will announce on Thursday morning whether it will hear an appeal from the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) that would keep TREB’s members from publishing home sales data on their password-protected sites.

TREB’s fight began in 2011 when the Competition Bureau, a federal watchdog designed to protect consumers by investigating business policies and mergers, challenged TREB’s policy preventing the publication of such information, saying it impedes competition and digital innovation.

TREB, Canada’s largest real estate board which represents more than 50,000 Ontario agents, argued at the Competition Tribunal that posting that data would violate consumer privacy and copyright.

The quasi-judicial tribunal ruled in the bureau’s favour in April 2016 and later the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the tribunal’s ruling, so the board recently headed to the Supreme Court to try to protect the data.

Those currently seeking home sale data usually turn to real estate agents and brokers, who have access to the Multiple Listing Service database, where sales data is compiled when deals close. Others rely on online property value services like Teranet or local land registry offices, which charge a fee for the public to access sales data.

TREB refused to comment on the forthcoming decision, but a spokesperson for the Competition Bureau said if the Supreme Court dismisses TREB’s request to appeal the decision, it will be “an important win for consumers.”

If the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, real estate lawyer Alan Silverstein thinks TREB will have likely exhausted all the ways of fighting the publication of the data.

“I would think this is the last straw,” he said.

If the data is made available online, buyers and sellers will be able to more easily educate themselves on how to price homes and negotiate and won’t have to rely on realtors for getting information, said Silverstein.

The case also stands to affect real estate businesses that have held back publicizing sales data, including online listing site REW.ca.

In mid-May, REW.ca started making British Columbian data available online, but general manager Allen Moon said TREB’s court battle has made it difficult to bring the service to Ontario.

He sees TREB’s fight against publicizing data as “a defense strategy to protect the industry” from losing business to innovators and said it prevents transparency around the biggest investment most people will make.

“(When) I want to buy a laptop or a TV, I can do a price comparison and see what they are selling for, but when I want to buy a house — something I will probably be in debt for or pay a mortgage for for the rest of my life — I have to trust someone else for that information and trust that I am getting the full picture,” he said.

“It shouldn’t be this hard in an on-demand generation, where everything else is accessible.”

REW.ca’s B.C. sales data launch took five years to arrange, mostly because the province’s datakeepers wanted the company to demonstrate that it would be “good stewards of data,” but also because realtors feared the public would misinterpret such numbers, said Moon.

He’s found Ontario’s real estate industry to be even more resistant towards those wanting to publish data because he believes the sector feels the data gives them an edge and widening access to it would put their revenues at risk.

Lauren Haw, the chief executive officer of real estate site Zoocasa, said several companies have already published such data quietly, but they have been served with cease-and-desist orders by TREB.

Zoocasa, which is a TREB member, will make the data public if the board allows it because Haw thinks it will make buyers more educated earlier on in the buying process.

She doesn’t think increased transparency will negatively impact the industry too much because a similar U.S. battle caused little turmoil for realtors and “being the keepers of sold price information is not what we see is the value that an agent brings to the transaction.”

“Any agent that feels that their only reason for being is providing sold data won’t survive long in this industry.”

Cities will have short window for opting out of hosting pot shops

TERRY PEDWELL, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Aug 23rd, 2018

With just weeks before legalization of cannabis for recreational use takes effect across Canada, municipalities are raising concerns over how pot sales will be regulated and who will foot the bill for added policing and other costs.

In Ontario, cities likely won’t know until after this fall’s municipal elections how much time they have to decide whether to allow brick-and-mortar cannabis shops in their communities, a provincial official told municipal leaders Wednesday.

The province’s Conservative government announced last week that municipalities would be given a one-time opportunity to “opt out” of hosting retail pot outlets.

But a final opt-out date has not been set, said Nicole Stewart, who heads the provincial finance ministry’s cannabis retail implementation project.

That means newly elected municipal politicians could have a very short window of time to decide whether they want to allow pot shops in their communities.

But even before then, candidates stumping for votes will have to decide whether they support the opening of local cannabis stores.

“This has now made it an election issue,” said Joy Hulton, solicitor for the Regional Municipality of York.

“It doesn’t give (candidates) very much time to figure out what their position is, what their community wants.”

Ottawa city councillor and deputy mayor Mark Taylor, who is not running for re-election, predicted it could fast become a top issue for electors.

“I think what we’re going to quickly see is a question being asked to candidates all across Ontario as they knock on doors: ‘Are you in or are you out?”’ said Taylor, who moderated a panel discussion about legalized cannabis at the close of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s annual conference.

“Although it really hasn’t been an election issue to date, I think that’s going to change with the question that the province is really thrusting on municipalities.”

Municipal elections are to be held Oct. 22 in Ontario — five days after the federal Liberal government’s cannabis legalization measures go into effect.

While municipalities can decide not to endorse private marijuana shops, provincial officials say they will be able to opt in at a later date.

Ontario residents 19 and over will be able to purchase cannabis online through the Ontario Cannabis Store as of Oct. 17, but sales at physical stores won’t start until April 2019.

In the meantime, the Ontario government has promised $40 million over two years to help defray the costs associated with the changing legal status of cannabis, such as policing and courts. Quebec has pledged $60 million over the same period to support municipal and regional governments under its jurisdiction.

But so far, they are the only two provinces that have agreed to transfer some of the excise taxes from pot sales that the federal government has agreed to share, said Vicki-May Hamm, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

“It’s becoming a very urgent situation,” said Hamm, whose organization has posted a check list of sorts for municipalities outlining the many hurdles they face as cannabis legalization comes closer to reality.

Municipalities will have to come to grips with issues that they may not have even thought about yet, such as how homegrown cannabis will affect water treatment systems or waste disposal, Town of Greater Napanee, Ont., chief administrative officer Ray Callery told the AMO conference.

What happens when a truck load of garbage containing discarded cannabis crosses the Canada-U.S. border under contract with a private disposal company, Callery asked. Then there’s the question of how to compost large amounts of plants in municipalities where industrial cannabis growers are located, he said.

“We need to be asking a lot of questions,” said Callery.

“So we need to be taking a look at, from a wide variety of departments, how we deal with the implementation and how it affects us.”

A police official, meanwhile, told the AMO gathering that police services across the province will be ready for legalization before Oct. 17.

But municipalities have to put issues surrounding cannabis into perspective compared with other, arguably more urgent legal and health concerns, said Bryan Larkin, the chief of police for Ontario’s Waterloo region.

“The more pressing concern for policing is really the opioid crisis,” said Larkin, who has served on chiefs of police associations federally and provincially.

“People are dying across Canada (from opioid overdoses),” he said.

“There are fairly significant ties to organized crime, illicit trafficking, preying on the vulnerable, it’s tied to mental health issues, housing issues.”

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