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King Street pilot project extended until end of July

CHRISTINE CHUBB | posted Friday, Dec 14th, 2018

The controversial King Street pilot project will continue well into 2019 after city council voted on Thursday to approve its extension.

By a vote of 19 to three, councillors approved the continuation of the project for another seven months — until July 31.

Councillors Mike Ford, Stephen Holyday and Jim Karygiannis voted against the motion.

City staff had recommended council vote in favour of the extension. Last month, on the one year anniversary of its launch, a study found the project has meant a much improved experience for transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians.

A vote will take place next year to decide if the project will become permanent.

The pilot project, which started in November 2017, restricts vehicle traffic to driving the length of one block on King Street both ways from Jarvis Street to Bathurst Street.

Ontario plans to expand sale of booze to corner stores

NEWS STAFF | posted Friday, Dec 14th, 2018

Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario government is planning to expand the sale of alcohol to corner stores.

The government has released a survey to obtain people’s opinions and plan to release the findings in spring 2019.

The survey is open until February 1.

Premier Ford has already implemented the buck-a-beer program and has expanded the hours when alcohol can be sold (9 a.m. to 11 p.m.), to align with Ontario’s private retail recreational cannabis stores.

Province offers buyouts to non-union public service staff to cut costs

PAOLA LORIGGIO, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Dec 14th, 2018

A memo sent to Ontario public service employees says the government is offering buyout packages to thousands of workers in an effort to cut costs without resorting to layoffs.

The memo, obtained by The Canadian Press and other media outlets, says the offer is part of the Progressive Conservative government’s plan to address its fiscal challenges.

The document notes a buyout package has been available to unionized employees since 2013 but is now temporarily expanding to include other, non-union employee groups such as Crown counsel. Another similar package is being created for management, the memo says.

Those seeking to apply must do so between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, and successful applicants must leave the public service before the end of next year.

The government did not immediately reply to a request for comment but Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly vowed that not a single job would be lost through government cost-cutting.

The buyouts memo was written by the head of the public service, Steve Orsini, and also sent to Ford as well as his chief of staff, Dean French.

“As part of the government’s comprehensive plan to address its fiscal challenges, the government is exploring measures to manage its compensation costs in a way that ensures vital services to citizens are not compromised while avoiding involuntary job losses,” the document reads.

Opposition legislators and labour groups said the premier is breaking his promise not to cut jobs.

“The Ford government’s memo to thousands of workers makes it clear that Ford is eliminating jobs, and cutting the public services that everyday people count on,” NDP legislator Sara Singh said in a statement.

“Doug Ford has not told Ontario families what services are being cut, or how many jobs he plans to cut. He has clearly been planning to slash jobs all along — but has been making things up to hide it.”

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union raised concerns the buyouts were only the beginning.

“I think we’re up next, I have no doubt in my mind. I do worry about it a lot,” said the union’s president, Warren “Smokey” Thomas.

“I’m just quite concerned that they’re going to keep cutting programs and keep cutting the front line by attrition and I tell you, the front line of the government has been cut to the bone.”

Christmas spirit and festivities continue as the big day draws near

SAMANTHA KNIGHT AND PATRICIA D'CUNHA | posted Friday, Dec 14th, 2018

Christmas Day is two weeks away, and the merriment continues this weekend in Toronto. There are so many events to choose from, you will need to make a list — which is what we’ve done for you.

Holiday windows charity auction
The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is getting into the festive spirit with its first-ever holiday windows. Each of the eight windows was created by a local artist, whose designs reflect not only the holidays but also the multicultural background of the city. At the end of the season, each artwork will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the Daily Bread Food Bank. The windows will be on display until January 14.

A weekend of Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis fans will be taking over the Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles this Saturday night for a 30th anniversary screening of Die Hard. The event will celebrate the cult classic film with holiday themed pre-show games, a themed cocktail, popcorn and prizes. Although this event is sold out, you can still catch Bruce Willis all weekend long in The Fifth Element at the Cinesphere at Ontario Place. The actor will make another appearance at the Cinesphere December 21-23 with screenings of Die Hard.

Fan-favourite holiday movies
There are regular Christmas movies and then there are the classic ones — the ones you can watch over and over again. Starting on Friday and until New Year’s Eve, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is showing several fan favourites that will put you in the holiday spirit. Three movies will be shown this weekend including Love Actually. Some of the other movies over the two weeks include It’s a Wonderful LifeHome Alone (quote-along edition), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and The Big Lebowski.

Skateboarders with ugly sweaters
It will be a sea of ugly Christmas sweaters at Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre this weekend. Impact Skateboard Club is hosting its first annual holiday party, the Ugly Sweater Skate Session from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m on Sunday. The event will feature free intro lessons for beginners, an arts and crafts table, a raffle and prizes for ugliest sweater. Guests are asked to bring a donation of new, clean socks, to help support Skate for Change, an international network of skateboarders who help give back to their communities.

Sugar snacking while reading
What goes well with reading a book? A cookie, or two. If reading and baked goods is your idea of heaven, then the Holiday Book and Bake Sale is for you. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Better Living Centre. Browse for books to read or give as gifts, while there, you won’t be able to resist the holiday treats. If you are looking to offload some of your book collection (before you buy more books), you can donate them at the sale on Friday.

Christmas at the aquarium
Some lucky kids will get the chance to have breakfast with Santa this weekend at Ripley’s Aquarium. The meal gets underway at 8 a.m. and includes scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, French toast sticks, waffles, home fries and more. Admission includes a family photo with Santa, access to the aquarium and complementary coat check. Even though Santa is all booked up for this weekend, he will return to the aquarium on December 23-24.

Charity run with Santas
Hundreds of people will be taking to the streets in nothing more than a bathing suit and a Santa hat for the annual Toronto Santa Speedo Run. The event began back in 2005 and raises money for the toys and games fund at SickKids Hospital. The run kicks off at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday from Hemingway’s Restaurant on Cumberland Street and has a less than three kilometre route. Post-run celebrations and awards will be held after the event.

Freeland to meet with U.S. officials over detained Canadians in China

NEWS STAFF AND THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Dec 14th, 2018

Canada’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs and National Defence will be meeting with their American counterparts in the U.S. capital on Friday.

The topic expected to be featured prominently on the agenda is the two Canadians currently detained in China.

Chrystia Freeland and Harjit Sajjan will hold a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis.

Entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig have been detained by the Chinese government for what it calls “suspicion of endangering national security.”

This came after the Chinese government threatened grave consequences if Canada did not release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is now out on bail.

The meeting is set to begin just after 1 p.m.

If courts decide to extradite Huawei exec, justice minister will make call

MIKE BLANCHFIELD, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Dec 13th, 2018

Canada’s justice minister will have the final say on whether to send a Chinese business executive to face fraud charges in the United States, she said Wednesday, which could make Canada’s spot between two economic superpowers even more difficult.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s musing about interfering in the case of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is fuelling Beijing conspiracy theories about Canada’s true intent behind detaining the company’s top executive.

Canada has maintained that the rule of law is separate from politics, that the case against Meng will be judged fairly and independently. But if a court says someone should be extradited to faces charges in another country, the ultimate decision is up to a politician.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday that she takes her “extradition responsibilities and obligations very seriously,” and if Canada’s courts approve Meng’s extradition, “then as the minister of justice, I will ultimately have to decide on the issue of surrender of the person sought for extradition.”

Therefore, Wilson-Raybould said in a statement, she wouldn’t say any more because that “would risk undermining both the independence of the court proceedings and the proper functioning of Canada’s extradition process.”

“In order to safeguard due process and to respect the independence of the courts, it is essential that the Crown’s position in this matter, as in all court proceedings, be presented in the courtroom where it can be properly considered,” she said.

But Trump complicated that position — one his own ambassador to Canada also advocated on Tuesday morning — when he told Reuters Tuesday evening he would “certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary” in Meng’s case, if it would help him forge a trade deal with China.

China’s state-run media was already ridiculing Canada’s assertion that Meng would be dealt with fairly and transparently by an independent judiciary, the same view U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft put forward.

“I think we’re lonelier than we’ve been in a long, long time,” said David Mulroney, who served former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper as his first foreign-policy adviser and later as ambassador to China. “(Trump) gave credibility to an outrageous Chinese accusation — that the RCMP basically works as an extension of the U.S. government to capture a hostage who can be used in their trade negotiations.”

Roland Paris, who was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first foreign-policy adviser, said Canada has for decades enjoyed the luxury of operating in “a very comfortable international context” but not any more.

“Now, a lot of the assumptions that have guided our foreign policy are in question, including whether the United States has our back,” said Paris, a University of Ottawa international-affairs professor.

Mulroney and Paris agree Canada has only one choice: stay true to its adherence to the rule of law and hope that Trump’s involvement can somehow be treated as one more impromptu comment by an unpredictable president.

Both point to the fact that just hours before Trump sounded off, Craft was extolling the same separation of the law and politics as the Trudeau government.

“Trump’s statements are as disconnected from the workings of the U.S. government as they are from reality,” said Mulroney. “We’re dealing with highly professional U.S. officials who are as committed to the rule of law as we are.”

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to double down on Trump’s line on Wednesday in a televised interview with Fox and Friends.

“We always have to balance American interests. Any time there’s a law enforcement engagement, we need to make sure we take foreign-policy … considerations into effect,” said Pompeo. “It’s totally appropriate to do so. The president’s mission is very clear. It’s America First, right?”

Paul Evans, a China expert at the University of British Columbia, says the Chinese are listening and taking note.

“From a realist Chinese perspective, the Trump comment and the followup from Pompeo signal that law and politics are not separable, something they know in their bones,” said Evans. “Here in Canada, abiding by the rule of law is a way of detaching the government from taking a position on a US-China conflict that they desperately want to duck. In this case we are neither hypocritical nor naive.”

Trudeau reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to the rule of law again on Wednesday, “regardless of what goes on in other countries.”

The prime minister simply has no alternative, despite the current hard realities, said Mulroney. “The alternative is we’re completely at the mercy of larger powers, who basically enforce our own laws on our territory.”

Canada simply can’t abandon its reliance on the rules-based international order, no matter how hard that becomes because of rising authoritarianism, and the fact “the U.S. is a less reliable partner,” said Paris.

“Canada has limited leverage in this emerging great-power struggle,” he said. “But we also have an interest in co-operation in maintaining co-operation with China where it’s mutually beneficial. Striking that balance will be increasingly difficult if the United States adopts a with-us-or-against-us attitude on China.”

2nd Canadian missing in China after questioning by authorities: Freeland

ANDY BLATCHFORD, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Dec 13th, 2018

A second Canadian is missing in China after alerting Global Affairs Canada that he was being questioned by Chinese authorities, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday.

Michael Spavor, the founder of a non-profit that organizes cultural-exchange trips to North Korea, “is presently missing in China,” according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada.

The information comes mere days after the Beijing Bureau of State Security rounded up Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat who is on a leave from his job, in a move that escalated a tense diplomatic dispute between the two countries.

Freeland told reporters Wednesday evening that the government has been unable to make contact with Spavor — whom she did not identify at the time — since he raised concerns with officials. She said the government does not know his whereabouts and that she has raised the case with Chinese authorities.

Freeland added that Ottawa is in touch with the missing man’s family, but declined to say anything more about his situation.

“It’s a situation that’s, perhaps, delicate,” she said in French. “And I want to respect this individual and his family.”

Hours later, Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Berube confirmed in an email that the second missing Canadian is Spavor.

“We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we continue to raise this with the Chinese government,” Berube added.

The website for Paektu Cultural Exchange, the organization Spavor founded, says it is “dedicated to facilitating sustainable co-operation, cross-cultural exchanges, tourism, trade, and economic exchanges between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and international organizations, businesses, and individuals.”

The website says Spavor is originally from Calgary, although he has spent more than 20 years living in both North and South Korea. It says he speaks Korean and French fluently and is learning Chinese.

“In 2013 and 2014, he organized the Dennis Rodman visits, and the basketball match between the DPRK and former NBA players, where he also became friends with the country’s leader Marshal Kim Jong Un,” the website states.

On Monday, China took Kovrig into custody after Beijing warned Ottawa of severe consequences for its recent arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of tech giant Huawei. Meng was arrested in Canada earlier this month at the request of the United States, which is hoping to have her extradited over allegations she tried to bypass American trade sanctions on Iran and lied to U.S. banks about her actions.

A senior government official said China confirmed to Canada very early Wednesday that the Beijing Bureau of State Security had detained Kovrig. Ottawa, however, doesn’t know what the allegations against him are nor does it know where he is, the official said.

The Beijing News has reported that Kovrig “was suspected of engaging in activities that endanger China’s national security.”

A former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, who was Kovrig’s boss in China, said he would have been under the close watch of Chinese authorities years ago as he travelled the country and talked to dissidents on behalf of Canada’s government.

Kovrig took on political-reporting assignments on highly sensitive subjects, Guy Saint-Jacques said in an interview.

Saint-Jacques said Kovrig tried to “get the pulse” of many groups, such as displaced Tibetans scattered around China and Muslim minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused by the international community — including Canada — of mass detentions.

“He went to remote locations trying to meet with people from these communities to try and understand what they were going through, in terms of the challenges they faced, protecting their cultures,” Saint-Jacques said in an interview. “So, all of this, obviously, would have attracted the attention of security people.”

The former ambassador added that Chinese authorities have extensive files on all diplomats in China, especially those, like Kovrig, who speak fluent Mandarin.

Kovrig gave up diplomatic immunity when he took an unpaid leave of absence from Global Affairs Canada in late 2016 at the end of his posting. A senior government official, briefing reporters Wednesday on condition of anonymity before Freeland spoke, said he remains a federal government employee.

Saint-Jacques said Kovrig, who served under him in China between 2014 and 2016, loved the country and chose to stay.

In February 2017, Kovrig continued reporting on some of the touchiest subjects involving China after he joined the International Crisis Group as an adviser. His work for the non-governmental organization has covered a range of subjects, including the North Korean nuclear crisis, China’s relationship with the U.S. and its expanding presence in Africa.

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said earlier in the day that the International Crisis Group, where Kovrig has been a Hong-Kong-based analyst, is not registered in China and alleged its activities in the country are illegal.

Because Kovrig’s group is not registered as a non-governmental organization in China, Lu Kang added that “once its staff become engaged in activities in China, it has already violated the law.”

Lu also repeated China’s demand for Meng’s immediate release.

Based on his experience observing past cases, Saint-Jacques said he believes Kovrig is already enduring long interrogations by Chinese authorities.

He said they typically take detainees to secret locations, where they are monitored 24 hours a day with the lights always kept on. Saint-Jacques said Kovrig will likely face sleep and food deprivation as well as interrogations at all hours.

“They try to create as much psychological pressure as possible to make you crack,” said Saint-Jacques. “This will go on until they are satisfied, until they extract a confession. We have known people who are ready to admit to anything just to get out of there.”

He added that Kovrig likely won’t be officially charged and arrested until after this process, which can take months or more.

“In the Chinese system, once you are officially charged — in 99.9 per cent of the cases you are also found guilty,” he said. “So, the odds are against you.”

Should Toronto wards be allowed to ban cannabis dispensaries?

DILSHAD BURMAN | posted Thursday, Dec 13th, 2018

Since recreational cannabis became legal in October, individual provinces and municipalities have been working to iron out the finer details of what the new regime will look like in their jurisdictions.

In Ontario, municipalities have until January 22 to decide whether or not they will permit the sale of cannabis at privately-owned retail stores in their communities.

Markham announced its intention to opt out of selling cannabis back in August and council confirmed the decision with a vote Wednesday. The City of Mississauga also announced Wednesday that it is choosing to opt out of having cannabis retail stores in the city.

In Toronto, some city councillors want the choice to be further individualized, by giving each city ward the option to choose whether cannabis dispensaries can operate within their boundaries.

Scarborough-Agincourt councillor Jim Karygiannis says he will introduce the motion at Thursday’s council meeting.

“If municipalities are permitted to ‘opt out’, then wards, which are the size of many of these municipalities, should also have that option,” Karygiannis said in a statement issued Wednesday.

First-time Toronto councillor Mike Colle has also stated that his first order of business is to ensure Toronto has a say on where cannabis stores are allowed to set up shop.

“We have no say. I’m worried about these shops opening up everywhere — next to libraries, playgrounds, mental health facilities. We have to have a say in where these retail outlets go,” he told CityNews last week.

Mayor John Tory says he feels Toronto should allow cannabis stores in the city, but agrees that more municipal control is needed over where they are allowed to operate.

“I think it is better for us to opt in because it leaves less control in the hands of organized crime and other people who presently control that market, but better that we should have a degree of ability to regulate it to a closer extent so that we can protect neighbourhoods and families,” he said at a Heritage Toronto event Wednesday.

Tory also said he has expressed his concerns in the past and wants the City of Toronto to have “greater latitude to regulate, within the context of the provincial rules, the location of cannabis stores.” However, he admits that it likely involves a change to provincial law, which he does not see as forthcoming.

Referring to Coun. Karygiannis’ motion, Tory said it will be a tough-sell to the province.

“That is something that is also, I think, going to be a difficult proposition to sell to the province of Ontario. I think they’ve already said that they have a negative reaction to that,” he said, while adding that he hopes the province will listen to their suggestions.

The motion is set to be debated in city council on Thursday.

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