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Walk off the Earth keyboardist Mike Taylor dies

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Dec 31st, 2018

The Burlington, Ont.-based band Walk off the Earth has announced the death of keyboardist and vocalist Mike Taylor.

In a post on various social media sites Sunday evening, the band says Taylor died “peacefully from natural causes last night in his sleep.”

His bandmates express their “deepest sympathies” for Taylor’s two children and ask for privacy for his family.

Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward also expressed her condolences on Twitter, calling Taylor’s death a “tragic loss.”

“Our city’s condolences go out to the family, friends and bandmates of Mike. We are thinking of you,” Meed Ward tweeted.

Walk off the Earth shot to fame in 2012 when their cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” went viral.

A YouTube video for the song featured all five band members simultaneously playing a single guitar and singing in harmony.

The band was scheduled to kick off a 2019 world tour with a New Year’s Eve show in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Monday night.

A representative for Walk off the Earth says they won’t be performing, but the show itself – which also features The Sheepdogs and Burton Cummings – will go on.

Outgoing Kelly says Trump backed away from wall months ago

ZEKE MILLER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Monday, Dec 31st, 2018

President Donald Trump long ago backed away from his campaign pledge to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, his outgoing chief of staff said, as the president’s demand for “border security” funding triggered a partial government shutdown with no end in sight.

John Kelly, who will leave his post Wednesday after a tumultuous 17 months in the job, said in an exit interview with the Los Angeles Times that Trump abandoned the notion of “a solid concrete wall early on in the administration.” It marked the starkest admission yet by the president’s inner circle that his signature campaign pledge, which sparked fervent chants of “build that wall” during Trump’s rallies and is now at the centre of a budgetary standoff, would not be fulfilled as advertised.

“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said, adding the mix of technological enhancements and ‘steel slat’ barriers the president now wants along the border resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals on the ground.

The partial shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday. Democrats have remained committed to blocking the president’s priority, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.

In August 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump had made his expectations for the border explicitly clear, as he parried criticism from then-rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

“Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a ‘fence,”‘ he tweeted. “It’s not a fence, Jeb, it’s a WALL, and there’s a BIG difference!”

But on Sunday White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway called discussion of the apparent contradiction “a silly semantic argument.”

“There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements,” Conway told ‘Fox News Sunday.’ “But only saying ‘wall or no wall’ is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border.”

Meanwhile, neither side appeared ready to budge off their negotiating positions. The two sides have had little little direct contact during the stalemate, and Trump did not ask Republicans, who hold a monopoly on power in Washington until Jan. 3, to keep Congress in session.

Talks have been at a stalemate for more than a week, after Democrats said the White House offered to accept $2.5 billion for border security. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Vice-President Mike Pence that it wasn’t acceptable, nor was it guaranteed that Trump, under intense pressure from his conservative base to fulfil his signature campaign promise, would settle for that amount.

Conway claimed Sunday that “the president has already compromised” by dropping his request for the wall from $25 billion, and she called on Democrats to return to the negotiating table.

“It is with them,” she said, explaining that Trump is not reaching out to Democrats.

Democrats maintain that they have already presented the White House with three options to end the shutdown, none of which fund the wall, and insist that it’s Trump’s move.

“At this point, it’s clear the White House doesn’t know what they want when it comes to border security,” said Justin Goodman, Schumer’s spokesman. “While one White House official says they’re willing to compromise, another says the president is holding firm at no less than $5 billion for the wall. Meanwhile, the president tweets blaming everyone but himself for a shutdown he called for more than 25 times.”

After cancelling a vacation to his private Florida club, Trump spent the weekend at the White House. He has remained out of the public eye since returning early Thursday from a 29-hour visit to U.S. troops in Iraq, instead taking to Twitter to attack Democrats. He also moved to defend himself from criticism that he couldn’t deliver on the wall while the GOP controlled both the House and Senate.

“For those that naively ask why didn’t the Republicans get approval to build the Wall over the last year, it is because IN THE SENATE WE NEED 10 DEMOCRAT VOTES, and they will gives us “NONE” for Border Security!,” he tweeted. “Now we have to do it the hard way, with a Shutdown.”

He was set to have lunch Sunday with Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, who said he hoped to end the shutdown by offering Democrats incentives to get them to vote for wall funding.

“To my Democratic friends, there will never be a deal without wall funding,” Graham said Sunday on CNN.

Graham is proposing to help two groups of immigrants get approval to continue living in the U.S: about 700,000 young “Dreamers” brought into the U.S. illegally as children and about 400,000 people receiving temporary protected status because they are from countries struggling with natural disasters or armed conflicts. He also said the compromise should include changes in federal law to discourage people from trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

“Democrats have a chance here to work with me and others, including the president, to bring legal status to people who have very uncertain lives,” Graham said.

It was unclear if the president or Democrats were open to such an approach. A previous deal that addressed the status of Dreamers broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands.

As he called for Democrats to negotiate, Trump brushed off criticism that his administration bore any responsibility for the recent deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody. Trump claimed the deaths were “strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally.” His comments on Twitter came as his Homeland Security secretary met with medical professionals and ordered policy changes meant to better protect children detained at the border.

Trump earlier had upped the brinkmanship by threatening anew to close the border with Mexico to press Congress to cave to his demand for money to pay for a wall. Democrats are vowing to pass legislation restoring the government as soon as they take control of the House on Thursday, but that won’t accomplish anything unless Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate go along with it.

The shutdown is forcing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors to stay home or work without pay.

New toonie design to mark 75th anniversary of D-Day

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Dec 31st, 2018

The Royal Canadian Mint is creating two commemorative coins to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The Liberal cabinet approved the design of the new toonies, one of which will have multiple colours instead of the usual two-toned coin, to commemorate a key turning point in the Second World War.

On June 6, 1944 a combined force of about 150,000 Allied troops, made up of largely of Canadian, American and British soldiers, stormed the beaches on France’s Normandy coast, coming up against Nazi troops in concrete fortified gun positions.

About 14,000 Canadians were involved in the assault, known as Operation Overlord. Canada also contributed some 110 ships and 15 fighter and bomber squadrons.

On D-Day, 359 Canadians died as they ran from boats onto Juno Beach and more than 1,000 were injured.

The invasion marked the start of months of fighting to free France from Nazi occupation and would eventually lead to victory in Europe.

The Mint regularly creates commemorative coins to mark these kinds of anniversaries, having done so earlier this year with three million limited-edition toonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War in 1918.

And in 2014, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Mint created a commemorative silver coin depicting soldiers in full battle gear disembarking a landing craft towards Juno Beach. But the Mint only created 8,400 of the coins, for collectors. The new toonies are to be “circulation” coins, used as regular money.

Alex Reeves, a spokesman for the Mint, said the Crown corporation couldn’t discuss the new coins because it doesn’t disclose information beyond what is published in official notices prior to the launch of a new commemorative coin.

The government order says the D-Day toonies will have an image of four soldiers and one sailor, all wearing helmets and one holding a rifle, in a landing craft at Juno Beach.

The helmet of the middle soldier will be olive green on the coloured toonie.

There will also be renderings of a Canadian destroyer, barrage balloon and Spitfire fighter planes.

The terms “D-Day” and “Remember,” along with the French “Le Jour J” and “Souvenir” will be inscribed around the coins.

Separately, the Liberals have also approved a commemorative loonie to mark the 50th anniversary of Parliament’s decriminalizing homosexual acts.

Up until 1969, sexual acts between consenting same-sex adults were deemed crimes in Canada and punishable by jail time.

The loonie to be created by the Mint will have two faces overlapping to create one face, with a small hoop earring on the left ear, surrounded by wavy and curved lines, the official posting says.

The words “Equality” and the French “Egalite” will be inscribed on the coin along with the year.

What’s open and closed heading into the New Year

NEWS STAFF | posted Monday, Dec 31st, 2018

As we wind down 2018, here’s a list of what’s open and closed over the New Year’s break


Transit

TTC
Dec. 31: Regular weekday service, with free rides from 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 until 7 a.m. on Jan. 1
Jan. 1: Sunday service

Click here to refer to the service schedule.

GO Transit
Dec. 31: Early homebound service, late-night trains and free rides after 7 p.m.
Jan. 1: Sunday schedule

Click here to refer to the service schedule.

Shopping

Bramalea City Centre
Dec. 31: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Dufferin Mall
Dec. 31: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 1: Closed

Eaton Centre
Dec. 31: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Erin Mills Town Centre
Dec. 31: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Jan. 1: Closed

Fairview Mall
Dec. 31: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: Closed

Scarborough Town Centre
Dec. 31: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: Closed

Sherway Gardens
Dec. 31: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: Closed

Shops at Don Mills
Dec. 31: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Jan. 1: Closed

Square One
Dec. 31: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Toronto Premium Outlets
Dec. 31: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Vaughan Mills
Dec. 31: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Yorkdale Mall
Dec. 31: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jan. 1: Closed

Grocery/drug stores

Grocery stores are closed on New Year’s Day but some Shoppers Drug Mart locations will be open. Click here to locate your store’s hours.

LCBO/Beer Stores

LCBO stores will be closed on New Year’s Day. click here to locate your store’s hours.

Beer store locations will be closed on New Year’s Day. Stores will be open until 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Click here for more information.

Tourist attractions

AGO: Closed New Year’s Eve but plans to be open on New Year’s Day. Check for exact hours.
Casa Loma: Plans to be open both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Check for exact hours.
CN Tower: Plans to be open until 11 p.m. New Year’s Eve and from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day.
Ontario Science Centre: Plans to be open both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada: Open 365 days a year
Royal Ontario Museum: Open until 5:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and regular hours on New Year’s Day
Toronto Zoo: Open both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day

Government offices, banks, and mail

Government offices and banks are closed on New Year’s Day.
Some banks will close early on New Year’s Eve. Check your local branch for exact times.
There will be no mail delivery on New Year’s Day.

City of Toronto services

Garbage collection
There will be no garbage collection on New Year’s Day (Tuesday). That collection will be moved to the following day. Wednesday’s collection will be moved to Thursday, and so on. Click here for more information.

Toronto Public Library
Dec. 31: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Jan. 1: Closed

City of Toronto facilities
Recreation centres will be open until 4 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. They, along with the indoor skating arenas, will be closed on New Year’s Day.

Click here for list of other closures over the holidays, and a list of other activities in the city.

‘A year like no other year,’ TPS Chief Mark Saunders reflects on 2018

MEREDITH BOND | posted Friday, Dec 28th, 2018

With a record number of homicides and two mass casualty incidents, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders called 2018 “a year like no other year,” in his final press conference.

Saunders tackled a multitude of issues and answered some tough questions including the uptick in gun and gang violence, modernizing the police force, the increasing number of overdose deaths and strengthening community relationships.

Guns and gangs

Addressing the 95 homicides Toronto has seen in 2018, he said this was a unique year.

“I’m certainly not looking for another year like that in the foreseeable future … I do believe next year will be different.”

While the two mass causality incidents caused unrest in the general public, he explained the vast majority of those who lost their life were living high-risk lifestyles.

He called the Yonge and Finch van attack and the Danforth shooting the lowest point of the year for him and a game-changer for the community.

The Yonge Street van attack killed 10 people and another 14 were injured. An 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl were shot and killed on the Danforth in July, 13 were injured in the attack.

“It’s one thing when you are dealing with gunplay, but it’s another thing when you are walking down a street and looking over your shoulder or you’re sitting in a restaurant with family and friends and the next thing, you have this,” Saunders said.

He adds many in the public still have concerns, but said Toronto is still the safest urban city in North America and with time, “people will understand this is a safe city.”

When asked whether there will be a public account of the Danforth shooting released to the public, he said there will be an opportunity to present information, but it’s not going to be today. “There’s still some more things that need to be looked at before we come out with any conclusions,” Saunders said.

The gunman, Faisal Hussain, shot and killed himself after opening fire on Danforth Avenue.

Tackling the issue of increasing gun violence, he said developing stronger community relationships is critical, but there is no “magic pill solution.”

Saunders said his officers have done a “fantastic” job getting guns off the streets, with 514 handguns seized in 2018, an increase of 222 over 2017. He said he is more focused on the motivation behind the gun violence, rather than where exactly the guns are coming from.

“I want to focus on who wants a gun, and why, and how do we stop that person from shooting that gun. If someone wants a gun, they are able to get a gun.”

When asked about the handgun ban Mayor John Tory has been supportive of, Saunders said, “I’m interested in people who are the motivated to shoot other people. If anyone wants to put any tools to reduce that, I’m supportive of that.” But he adds, diminishing gun violence and the motivation behind it, has to be intelligence-led.

He said the police’s role is to the reduce the number of shootings to the best of their ability, but you will never see an urban city that has zero shootings and zero homicides.

“If we have stronger relationships with the community, we have the opportunity to reduce that. But at the end of the day, when a young man takes a gun and shoots, there are different entities that are responsible for that. We are the aftermath of that. What is in front of that?”

Saunders said he was happy with the direction in which the cooperation with all levels of government is heading. He says they are seeing more funding which will lead to “some incredible results.”

But when it comes to street gangs, Saunders called the criminal code “antiquated.”

“When we go into communities that are underfunded, that feel despair, 99 per cent of the members of these communities are law-abiding, they care about their babies, but they have to deal with reality and concerned for their safety,” Saunders said. “It’s hard for someone to pick up the phone and call police over fear of retribution. I would like a methodology in which we can get still get that information, so it can make it into a court room.”

He said there needs to be more work done by lawmakers so people who want to contribute are able to help without fearing for their lives.

Overdose deaths

An exponential increase in overdose deaths in 2018 was also a major concern for the chief. Saunders reported Toronto saw 169 deaths this year, compared to 11 in 2017 and just six in 2016.

“You’re seeing this exponential change. You can’t just leave it to the police in harm reduction plans,” said Saunders. “Whenever law enforcement is dealing with a person that lives with mental health issues, then all those other agencies have failed them.”

He said he is looking forward to getting other agencies involved and not making it a police issue.

Bruce McArthur and the LGBTQ community

The arrest of accused serial killer Bruce McArthur in January created a further divide between Toronto police and the LGBTQ community who was allegedly targeted by McArthur.

Saunders said they learned a lot of lessons during the McArthur investigation, but added they acknowledge something was going on, and they allocated high-level resources. He also said the missing persons unit was created as a result of the investigation.

McArthur is currently facing eight charges of first-degree murder and will be standing trial in Jan. 2020.

When it comes to the LGBTQ community, Saunders said he believes they are moving in the right direction, but “there’s still a tremendous amount of work being put in for community building.”

Future of the police service

Another major part of 2018 which he plans to continue in 2019 is the modernization of the police force. He cited the work of special constables who he said responded to over 22,000 calls front-line officers normally would respond to.

They plan to continue hiring more special constables and communication professionals in the new year, along with continuing to hire more police officers.

Saunders said the pressures on the front-line workers is high as they’ve seen an increase in calls and an increase in the number of people reporting. He said the service will continue to look at ways of doing things smarter and putting the right resources in the right places.

The district model, he said, has been helpful in the redistribution of resources.

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths

When it comes to the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths Toronto has seen on its streets in 2018, he said everyone has to assume responsibility on the roadways, and that includes pedestrians.

He adds he has spoken candidly about using technology better and more effectively to create traffic safety.

“People will obey the law if there’s a sign that says what they should be doing and if there is a method to capture if they don’t do it,” said Saunders. “But until that happens, you won’t see significant change.”

The good news

While tragic events have dominated the news in 2018, Saunders mentioned some bright moments including the rescue of two men from an elevator during the floods in downtown Toronto in August, reuniting Lyneth Mann-Lewis with her son after 31 years and more recently, Shirley Lee, who went missing on Christmas Eve and was found safe on Wednesday night by a citizen.

Olympians, artists among 103 added to Order of Canada

JORDAN PRESS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Dec 28th, 2018

When Beckie Scott left behind her competitive cross-country ski career in 2006, the Olympic gold medallist didn’t foresee the path she would take next.

A dozen years later, Scott has become a leading international voice to root out doping in sports and heads a charity that runs programs for Indigenous youth to use sports and play to improve social and economic outcomes.

For that work, Scott is among the 103 newest appointments to the Order of Canada, the cornerstone of the Canadian honours system whose ranks are now closing in on 7,000 members.

“I ended up reflecting on this quite a bit and dedicating it to my dad, who was an immigrant himself, but really one of the more proud Canadians that I can think of,” Scott said.

“He would have been incredibly moved and emotional to know I was getting this.”

Scott made a name for herself in 2002 when she captured Olympic gold in Salt Lake City. When she retired from competition following a silver medal win at the 2006 Turin Olympics, she didn’t set out with any political ambitions.

“Once I had stuck my foot in that arena, I realized the importance of people in that world and … the value of people who could advocate on behalf of clean sport,” she said.

“I stayed and have tried my best for many years to be an advocate for that because I care very deeply about it.”

The list of new appointments being unveiled Thursday morning by Rideau Hall includes former politicians, such as one-time New Brunswick premier Camille Henri Thériault and Frank Lewis, who served as P.E.I.’s lieutenant-governor.

There are researchers like Geoffrey Hinton, a world expert in artificial intelligence; journalists like Lyse Doucet of the BBC; and trailblazers in sport like Rhona and Rhoda Wurtele, the twin sisters who comprised the Canadian alpine ski team at the 1948 Olympics.

Greg Zeschuk and his friend Ray Muzyka took a winding path to the Order of Canada. It started in medical school in the 1980s when the two became friends, and grew as they combined their mutual interest in software development to create the Edmonton-based firm BioWare in 1995.

Eventually, the two gave up family medicine for gaming, and after 17 years, BioWare as grown into a leader in role-playing games and won industry accolades for the two men, known as “The Doctors.”

Zeschuk now runs breweries and a restaurant in Edmonton that focuses on hosting charitable events. Muzyka heads ThresholdImpact, a firm he founded to help mentor socially-conscious entrepreneurs hoping to grow their businesses.

Both men said they have no plans to rest on their laurels in light of the new honour.

“I find it in a way sort of motivating in that OK … now, I’ve got to do more,” said Zeschuk.

Muzyka joked in a recent interview that he’s still not sure what he’s going to do when he grows up.

“I hope I continue to figure out something interesting to do. I like learning, I like helping people — those are common themes,” he said.

Helping people is also a theme in the work of painter Maxine Noel. The Indigenous artist has tried to use her work to help raise awareness about issues facing Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Her painting called “Not Forgotten,” which recognizes the lives of Indigenous women and girls, hangs in the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.

Noel’s art helped her survive her time at a residential school, and stayed with her when she was a legal secretary for Bay Street lawyers in Toronto. But about 40 years ago, she dedicated herself to art full-time.

All these years later, Noel said she sees herself as an activist first, and her art as a vehicle for her advocacy.

“When I speak to children or students, quite often I tell them that one day, one of you — or many of you — will become very well-known in the world, and at that time you can help make major change. I live on that (and) work on that,” Noel said.

After warnings of under-spending, Liberals eye boosts to job-training programs

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Dec 28th, 2018

Senior government officials have been warned that Canada was dangerously behind last year on spending to help workers improve their skills to stay employed.

A January 2018 presentation to a group of deputy ministers noted government spending on active labour-market programs is about half the average of spending in a group of comparator countries.

The committee of top-level public servants was told Canada would be less able to adapt to workforce shifts without a boost in spending.

The Canadian Press obtained the documents under the federal access-to-information law.

In a year-end interview, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos talked about the need to use publicly funded job-training programs as a way to get more people into the labour force to help reduce poverty and keep the economy growing.

He says the federal government has a role to play in helping cash-strapped provinces pay for training programs, and ensure better information sharing between jurisdictions.

Gas prices across Canada set to experience ‘extreme volatility’: analyst

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Dec 28th, 2018

Plunging world oil prices have delivered a Christmas miracle of lower gasoline prices across most of Canada but a fuel price expert says motorists should fill up now because prices are expected to be volatile in 2019.

Dan McTeague, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, says gasoline prices are at near-18-month lows because of global oil prices that have tumbled over the past two months on worries of an economic downturn, a U.S.-China trading tiff and concerns that members of the OPEC oil cartel won’t live up to production cuts.

Despite a brief oil price rally on Wednesday, average regular gasoline prices remain about 17 cents lower per litre than a year ago in Alberta and Ontario, 12 cents lower in Manitoba, six cents lower in Quebec, 11 cents lower in Nova Scotia and three cents lower in Newfoundland and Labrador.

McTeague says prices in B.C. are up two to six cents per litre compared with the same time last year but would be lower if not for the effect of interruptions in fuel imports from Washington due to the outage of that state’s Olympic Pipeline in mid-December.

U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil prices plunged to US$42.53 on Christmas Eve, down 44 per cent from US$76.41 per barrel on Oct. 3. They rallied to US$46.22 on Wednesday but trended lower Thursday.

McTeague says “extreme volatility” in oil markets are expected to continue to wreak havoc on gasoline prices in Canada in the early part of 2019.

I think what we’re seeing here where oil prices – and pump prices as a corollary – are going up and down five and 10 per cent in a given week, much of this is really a harbinger of what we’re likely to see in 2019, extreme price movements,” he said.

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