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Premier Ford won’t guarantee future of full-day kindergarten after next year

ALLISON JONES, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 31st, 2019

Premier Doug Ford isn’t guaranteeing that full-day kindergarten will continue beyond the next school year.

The program was introduced by former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty and was fully rolled out in 2014. It saves families thousands of dollars a year in child care costs, but it costs the government $1.5 billion a year.

Ford’s government is conducting education consultations, including the possibility of removing class size caps for kindergarten and primary grades, and the premier was asked Wednesday about the future of full-day kindergarten.

“I can tell you that there’s going to be all-day kindergarten next year and we’ll sit down and you’ll hear from us in the future,” he said.

“I can assure you one thing – any decision that’s made is going to be better, it’s not going to be worse. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a lot of areas of education that are broken that need to be fixed.”

Ford said he just wants what is best for students, but a government document frames the current consultation as one that is required, given “the province’s current fiscal circumstances.”

The Progressive Conservative government is trying to trim a deficit they peg at $14.5 billion – though the financial accountability officer says it’s closer to $12 billion.

Charles Pascal, an education expert who served as an adviser to McGuinty, said full-day kindergarten has been shown to provide an important foundation for children.

“It’s shameful in terms of removing something that is already showing, through evidence, how good the program is in terms of child outcomes,” he said.

“The research that’s been done over the last number of years shows that when it comes to social, emotional and literacy gain, the full-day learning program…is improving the outcomes of kids.”

The Ministry of Education’s own research shows that full-day kindergarten reduces risks in language and cognitive development, and means kids are more likely to achieve academic success in Grade 1.

Research from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education also showed that kids who had been in full-day kindergarten scored higher on reading, writing and number knowledge, and were better able to self-regulate, or manage stresses.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said cutting full-day kindergarten would mean the government is turning its back on students.

“We find it absolutely disturbing that this government would suggest that to balance a budget to deal with the deficit that they’re going to put in an austerity measure that could possibly see the elimination of full-day kindergarten for students four and five years old,” he said.

“If they want to enhance the program and they want to do the best for students, reduce the class size cap in kindergarten from 29 to 26. Maintain the program, maintain the teacher and (early childhood educator) and maintain the play-based learning.”

Currently, the kindergarten class size cap is 29 students, and the average of class sizes across any board can’t be more than 26. For the primary grades the cap is 23 students, but at least 90 per cent of classes in any board must have 20 or fewer students.

The consultation document also says there is an average child-to-educator ratio of 13:1 in kindergarten classrooms, as most have a teacher and an early childhood educator. It asks what the implications of the two-educator model are on student outcomes, educator working conditions and value for money. The document also asks if there are other models the ministry should consider.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles said she is getting calls from panicked parents, worried that full-day kindergarten is on the chopping block.

“No parent should have to worry that their kids will miss out on the advantages of full-day kindergarten,” she said in a statement. “It’s unconscionable for the Ford Conservatives to consider making our youngest students pay for their cuts.”

Bruce McArthur guilty plea sparks call to widen missing persons review

COLIN PERKEL, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 31st, 2019

The head of an independent investigation into how Toronto police handle missing persons reports has called for an expansion of her mandate to include cases involving serial killer Bruce McArthur, her lead counsel said Wednesday.

In a letter to the chairman of the city’s police services board, Gloria Epstein said McArthur’s unexpected guilty plea Tuesday removes the need for a restriction on his case that was meant to safeguard his right to a fair trial, according to Mark Sandler.

“We are asking that the restrictions be removed to enhance Justice Epstein’s ability to examine the full range of relevant events and make necessary recommendations going forward,” Sandler said in an email.

“We believe that the proposed changes to the terms of reference will assist us in answering the questions posed by members of the community about the investigations of missing persons in Toronto, particularly in relation to those who are vulnerable or marginalized.”

The police services board did not respond to a request for comment.

Following McArthur’s arrest early last year, the board approved the independent probe amid significant concern in the LGBTQ community about how police had looked into missing-person reports. Those concerns included fears that the handling of such investigations was being tainted by “implicit or explicit, specific and systemic bias.”

The review is focusing on policies and procedures related to missing-persons investigations as well as on how Toronto police officers investigated the disappearance of members of the community who were later found to have been killed.

For example, Toronto police spent 18 months looking into the disappearance of three missing men before concluding in 2014 there had been no foul play. The men were ultimately found to have been among McArthur’s eight admitted murder victims.

Epstein, a former justice of the Ontario Court of Appeal, began her review last summer.

However, her terms of reference precluded “prejudicing any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal proceedings.” The stricture applied specifically to the prosecution of McArthur, who pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday. All his victims had ties to Toronto’s gay village.

Earlier this month, Epstein named members to an advisory panel to help her work. She has said she expects to finish her work around April 2020.

Asked today about McArthur, 67, and the possibility of a public inquiry into his crimes, Premier Doug Ford said he thought police were being “dumped on a little bit” and called for more public support for their efforts.

“I never said we aren’t going to,” Ford said of calling an inquiry. “We won’t rule out any further investigations on it.”

Ford won’t commit to act on integrity commissioner recommendations on Taverner

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 31st, 2019

Premier Doug Ford says he will listen to the integrity commissioner’s findings on the appointment of his friend as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, but he isn’t committing to abiding by them.

Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner was named last year to the job of the province’s top cop and critics say that as a long-time friend to the premier, the hiring raises concerns about potential political interference.

Taverner’s appointment has been delayed until after the integrity commissioner completes an investigation, but Ford has indicated it would go ahead whenever the review is finished.

The premier was asked Wednesday if he would abide by J. David Wake’s findings.

“I have a great deal of respect for him and I’ll be sitting down and listening to what he has to say,” Ford replied.

If the integrity commissioner finds a provincial politician has violated the Members’ Integrity Act, he can recommend various penalties, but the legislature – under the majority Progressive Conservatives – could reject the recommendation.

Ford said as he travels across the province, no one is concerned about Taverner’s appointment.

“The only people that talk about it is the media, no one else,” he said. “Do you know what people are concerned about? People are concerned about health care, mental health…people are looking for jobs. People aren’t worried about that.”

Taverner is a longtime Ford ally who initially did not meet the requirements listed for the commissioner position. The Ford government has admitted it lowered the requirements for the position to attract a wider range of candidates.

Deep freeze taking toll on GTA transit

NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Jan 31st, 2019

Toronto and the GTA remains under an extreme cold warning, as the bitterly cold temperatures continue to grip the region.

Thursday was the coldest morning of the winter season. At 2 a.m. the temperature at Pearson airport hit -22.6 C with a windchill of -38.

The frigid temperatures have also affected transit across the GTA, with frozen switches, doors and signals being the most common on-and-off issues.

The TTC has been plagued with weather-related issues over the past couple of days, including shutdowns of Line 3. The line was once again shut down on Thursday morning due to the weather. Shuttle buses are running.

Service on the UP Express will also be operating on reduced hours — running every 30 minutes instead of every 15 minutes. On Wednesday evening, service was suspended because of weather-related equipment issues.

“What we need to do today is bring some of those trains into the shop for an extended period of time and let them properly thaw out,” Metrolinx spokesperson Matt Llewellyn said.

Environment Canada issued the extreme cold warning on Monday, the day after a massive snowstorm blanketed the GTA.

680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor said the windchill is expected to be between -30 to -38 through to very early Friday morning.

Taylor said the high on Thursday will be -14 C but the wind will make it feel like -26 C this afternoon. It will continue to be cold overnight as the windchill drops to -30.

Sarah Mclachlan to host this year’s Juno Awards in London

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 30th, 2019

Singer Sarah McLachlan will host this year’s Juno Awards in London, Ont.

McLachlan, who rose to fame in the 1990s with international hits including “Angel” and “Building a Mystery,” has won 12 Junos including an international achievement award and a humanitarian award.

At the nominations announcement this morning in Toronto, Junos president Allan Reid introduced McLachlan as one of Canada’s most beloved artists.

Pop superstar Shawn Mendes is among the leading nominees, who also include Calgary-born Jann Arden and last year’s Junos host Michael Buble.

Mendes is nominated for trophies including songwriter of the year, artist of the year, album of the year and the fan choice award.

Arden and Buble are in the running adult contemporary album of the year.

Quebec honours mosque shooting victims with memorial encouraging dialogue, acceptance

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 30th, 2019

Two years after a gunman killed six worshippers in a Quebec City mosque, banners with the names and faces of the victims were unfurled Tuesday night as a word chosen by family members to describe their loved one was read out.

Mamadou Tanou Barry — smiling. Ibrahima Barry — intelligent. Khaled Belkacemi — devoted. Abdelkrim Hassane — pious. Azzeddine Soufiane — courageous. Aboubaker Thabti — generous.

It was one of many emotional moments as hundreds of people gathered at Universite Laval for the ceremony paying homage to the victims.

“I have trouble imagining the feeling of horror that must have overcome you faced with all this violence,” Premier Francois Legault said, addressing the victims’ families. “I hope that you feel this breath, this gust of solidarity. I hope it brings you a little comfort. That is the true face of Quebec: a united people who know how to show solidarity.”

Khaled Belkacemi’s children, Megda et Amir, thanked the first responders who arrived at the mosque on the night of Jan. 29, 2017, as well as “all those who speak of acceptance and of peace.”

Politicians from all three levels of government were in attendance, as were representatives of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.

Earlier in the day, Quebec City announced it would honour the victims of the shooting with a memorial park to be built near the site where they were gunned down.

Mayor Regis Labeaume said the tragic event left families and an entire community in mourning, and the memorial will ensure the victims are not forgotten.

“This artistic creation invites dialogue and friendship, on one side of the street and on the other,” Labeaume said. “The concept inspires respect and harmony between diverse communities.”

The centrepiece of the park will be a monument created by Quebec artist Luce Pelletier called “Vivre Ensemble” (Live Together). She said she chose to place a tree in the middle to represent “the cycle of life and the resilient force of nature.” The park is slated to be inaugurated on Jan. 29 2020.

Boufeldja Benabdallah, president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, was present with widows and children of the victims at the unveiling of a scale model. “Violence can and must be converted into friendship, kindness and recognition,” Benabdallah said. “That is the meaning of this memorial.”

Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty to the killings last year and is to be sentenced Feb. 8 on six counts of first-degree murder. If the judge orders that the six life sentences be serviced consecutively, Bissonnette would not be eligible for parole for 150 years.

In Ottawa, the Canadian Muslim Forum and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, called on the federal government to declare Jan. 29 a national day to combat Islamophobia. Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said the federal government is still in discussions to identify a suitable way to commemorate the tragedy.

“We will arrive at a solution that reflects a consensus, because these are questions that require a consensus to go forward,” he told reporters.

TIMELINE: Key dates in the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 30th, 2019

A timeline of key events in the case of Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur based on information released by police:

September 2010 – Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, disappears from Toronto’s gay village.

Dec. 29, 2010 – Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, is reported missing to Peel Regional Police, west of Toronto. He was last seen in Toronto’s gay village.

October 2012 – Majeed Kayhan, 58, of Toronto, is reported missing.

November 2012 – Police launch Project Houston to investigate the disappearances of Faizi, Navaratnam and Kayhan.

April 2014 – Police close Project Houston, saying none of their findings would classify anyone as a suspect of a criminal offence.

August 2015 – Soroush Mahmudi, 50, of Toronto, is reported missing.

May 2016 – July 2017 – Police believe Dean Lisowick, 43 or 44, of no fixed address, was killed by McArthur during this time span.

April 14, 2017 – Selim Esen, 44, is reported missing.

June 26, 2017 – Andrew Kinsman, 49, is reported missing.

August 2017 – Police launch Project Prism to investigate the disappearances of Esen and Kinsman.

September 2017 – Project Prism officers identify McArthur “as someone to be included or excluded as being involved in the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman.”

Dec. 8, 2017 – Police Chief Mark Saunders says the force will review its practices in missing persons investigations. He says there’s no evidence to suggest a serial killer is walking the streets of Toronto.

Jan. 17, 2018 – Police uncover evidence suggesting McArthur was responsible for both Kinsman and Esen’s deaths, along with the deaths of other unidentified people.

Jan. 18, 2018 – McArthur is arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Esen and Kinsman. Police say McArthur is believed to be responsible for other deaths.

Jan. 19, 2018 – McArthur has his first court appearance.

Jan. 29, 2018 – McArthur is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Mahmudi, Kayhan and Lisowick. Police say more victims may be identified.

Feb. 8, 2018 – Police say they’ve recovered the remains of six people from planters at a house where McArthur worked as a landscaper, and say they expect more charges.

Feb. 13, 2018 – Police say excavation at the home’s backyard turned up no human remains, but suggest they may “revisit the scene” when the weather warms up.

Feb. 23, 2018 – Police lay a sixth charge of first-degree murder against McArthur, identify Navaratnam as one of the alleged victims whose remains were found in the planters.

March 5, 2018 – Police say they’ve recovered the remains of a seventh person linked to McArthur.

April 11, 2018 – Police lay a seventh murder charge against McArthur in Faizi’s death.

April 16, 2018 – Police lay an eighth murder charge against McArthur in the death of Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, who came to Canada from Sri Lanka.

Jan. 29, 2019 – McArthur pleads guilty to all eight charges of first-degree murder.

Windchill in the -30s expected for the GTA

NEWS STAFF | posted Wednesday, Jan 30th, 2019

The GTA is back in the deep freeze and it is expected to stay frigid for the remainder of the week.

Environment Canada issued the extreme cold warning for Toronto and the rest of the GTA on Tuesday.

The national weather agency said the windchill will be between -30 and -35 over the next couple of days.

Conditions are expected to improve on Friday as milder air moves in.

There will be some sunshine on Wednesday but that won’t be enough to warm up the temperatures. 680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor said the high will be 17 C but will feel like -30 C with the wind. The windchill will dip further to -32 overnight.

The cold stretch will continue on Friday morning with the temperature near -20 C but it will warm up as the day progresses.

Click here for tips on how to stay warm.

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