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Concerns continue around whether EQAO will take place amid OSSTF strikes

Simone Gavros | posted Wednesday, Jan 8th, 2020

Today marks the fourth one-day walkout that has been taking place across numerous school boards in Ontario since Dec. 4th, 2019. The strike, that included eight school boards today, prompted questions around what the plan is for Grade 9 students participating in the EQAO math assessment next Monday.

In a news conference held at Queen’s Park on Wednesday morning, Education Minister Stephen Lecce says that it’s up to the school boards to decide on whether or not to hold the test for their Grade 9 students, despite the work-to-rule.

With the continuous striking action among high school teachers in the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation’s (OSSTF), Lecce is aware that the likelihood of the assessment taking place across the majority of school boards is slim. The decision will impact Ontario students and could negatively affect their overall performance, especially for students who haven’t done Math since the previous semester.

“It is unfair that union actions are undermining student success. They are jeopardizing the learning experience of Ontario’s future leaders,” Lecce said in a statement.

The test is still scheduled to take place on January 13, 2020, should school boards decide to proceed with the assessment. Students who do not participate in the EQAO math assessment next Monday will be able to complete it in June 2020.


One-day walkout closes high schools in 8 Ontario boards including Peel

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 8th, 2020

Schools in several boards across the province will be closed on Wednesday, as the union representing high school teachers stages a one-day strike.

It is the latest in the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation’s (OSSTF) series of rotating strikes during a contentious round of bargaining with the province.

Wednesday’s one-day strike targets eight school boards, and because OSSTF represents education workers and support staff in elementary schools in some boards, both elementary and high schools will be closed in three boards: Algoma District School Board, Greater Essex County District School Board, and Avon Maitland District School Board.

High schools will be closed in Peel District School Board, the District School Board of Niagara, Limestone District School Board and Renfrew Country District School Board.

All schools will remain open in the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, as their OSSTF members are 25 noon-hour aides.

President Harvey Bischof said he would call off the strike if the government agreed to return to last year’s class size levels, but Education Minister Stephen Lecce rejected the offer.

Teachers were angered when the government announced that average high school class sizes would jump from 22 to 28 and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation.

The government has since scaled back those increases, to a 25 class size average and two e-learning courses, but the union says that’s not good enough.

Lecce has repeatedly said the key sticking point is compensation, with the union demanding a roughly two-per-cent wage increase, and the government offering one per cent.
The union, which represents 60,000 teachers and education workers, began one-day walkouts on Dec. 4 with a job action that closed schools across the province. It has followed up with weekly rotating strikes that have closed all secondary schools and some elementary schools at the impacted boards.

In December, a government-appointed mediator called off negotiations between the province and the union saying the parties remained too far apart. No further dates are scheduled.

SIU investigating after man injured in police-involved altercation in Mississauga

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Jan 8th, 2020

A 28-year-old man was seriously injured in an altercation with police officers in the Erin Mills area of Mississauga on Tuesday night.

Plain clothes officers from the street crime unit were investigating a vehicle for drug activity in a townhouse complex in the area of Winston Churchill Boulevard and Eglinton Avenue West around 7:45 p.m.

Const. Sarah Patten said when officers approached the vehicle, it drove towards the officers and one of them fired several shots at the vehicle.

The vehicle then swerved into a garage of one of the townhouses.

No other injuries were reported.

The Special Investigations Unit has invoked its mandate and is taking over the investigation.

The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

Iran strikes back at U.S. with missile attack at air base


Iran struck back at the United States early Wednesday for killing a top Revolutionary Guards commander, firing a series of ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing American troops in a major escalation between the two longtime foes.

It was Iran’s most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and Iranian state TV said it was in revenge for the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose death last week in an American drone strike near Baghdad prompted angry calls to avenge his slaying. A U.S. and Iraqi officials said there were no immediate reports of casualties, though buildings were still being searched.

The strikes, which came as Iran buried Soleimani, raised fears that the two longtime foes were closer to war. But there were some indications that there would not be further retaliation on either side, at least in the short term.

‘All is well!’ President Donald Trump tweeted shortly after the missile attacks, adding, ‘So far, so good’ regarding casualties.

Moments earlier, Iran’s foreign minister tweeted that Tehran had taken “& concluded proportionate measures in self-defence,” adding that Tehran did “not seek escalation” but would defend itself against further aggression.

The killing of Soleimani — a national hero to many in Iran — and strikes by Tehran came as tensions have been rising steadily across the Mideast after Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

They also marked the first time in recent years that Washington and Tehran have attacked each other directly rather than through proxies in the region. It raised the chances of open conflict erupting between the two enemies, who have been at odds since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis.

Adding to the chaos and overall jitters, a Ukrainian airplane carrying at least 170 people crashed outside Tehran on Wednesday morning, state TV reported. There was no immediate word on casualties. The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport and mechanical issues were suspected to be the cause, the report said.

Iran initially announced only one missile strike, but U.S. officials confirmed both. U.S. defence officials were at the White House, likely to discuss options with Trump, who launched the attack on Soleimani while facing an upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate,

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned the U.S. and its regional allies against retaliating over the missile attack against the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province. The Guard issued the warning via a statement carried by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.

“We are warning all American allies, who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted,” the Guard said. It also threatened Israel.

After the strikes, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator posted a picture of the Islamic Republic’s flag on Twitter, appearing to mimic Trump who posted an American flag following the killing of Soleimani and others Friday.

Ain al-Asad air base was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces. The U.S. also acknowledged another missile attack targeting a base in Irbil in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.

The Iranians fired a total of 15 missiles, two U.S. officials said. Ten hit Ain al-Asad and one the base in Irbil. Four failed, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about a military operation.

Two Iraqi security officials said at least one of the missiles appeared to have struck a plane at the Ain al-Asad base, igniting a fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attacks, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had no permission to brief journalists.

Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance confirmed on Twitter that all Canadian Armed Forces personnel are “safe and accounted for” following the attack.

About 70 Norwegian troops also were on the air base but no injuries were reported, Brynjar Stordal, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces told The Associated Press.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said all of his country’s troops and diplomatic staff in Iraq are safe. Around 300 Australian defence personnel are stationed in Iraq.

Morrison said he spoke with President Donald Trump about the situation between the U.S. and Iran on Tuesday during a call about the wildfires raging in Australia.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Morrison said in reference to the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani: “The United States have taken the action that they have to address what has been intelligence that they say that they received, which was putting their interests at risks and under threat.”

Trump visited the sprawling Ain al-Asad air base, about 100 miles or 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice-President Mike Pence also has visited the base.

“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners and allies in the region,” said Jonathan Hoffman, an assistant to the U.S. defence secretary.

Wednesday’s revenge attack happened a mere few hours after crowds in Iran mourned Soleimani at his funeral. It also came the U.S. continued to reinforce its own positions in the region and warned of an unspecified threat to shipping from Iran in the region’s waterways, crucial routes for global energy supplies.

U.S. embassies and consulates from Asia to Africa and Europe issued security alerts for Americans. The FAA also warned of a “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” for civilian aircraft in the Persian Gulf amid in an emergency flight restriction.

A stampede broke out Tuesday at Soleimani’s funeral, and at least 56 people were killed and more than 200 were injured as thousands thronged the procession, Iranian news reports said.

Shortly after Iran’s revenge missile attack early Wednesday, Soleimani’s shroud-wrapped remains were lowered into the ground as mourners wailed at the grave site.

Tuesday’s deadly stampede took place in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman as his coffin was being borne through the city in southeastern Iran, said Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency medical services.

There was no information about what set off the crush in the packed streets, and online videos showed only its aftermath: people lying apparently lifeless, their faces covered by clothing, emergency crews performing CPR on the fallen, and onlookers wailing and crying out to God.

Hossein Salami, Soleimani’s successor as leader of the Revolutionary Guard, earlier addressed a crowd of supporters in Kernan and vowed to avenge Soleimani.

“We tell our enemies that we will retaliate but if they take another action we will set ablaze the places that they like and are passionate about,” Salami said.

Soleimani was laid to rest between the graves of Enayatollah Talebizadeh and Mohammad Hossein Yousef Elahi, two former Guard comrades killed in Iran’s 1980s war with Iraq. They died in Operation Dawn 8, in which Soleimani also took part. It was a 1986 amphibious assault that cut Iraq off from the Persian Gulf and led to the end of the war that killed 1 million.

The funeral processions in major cities over three days have been an unprecedented honour for Soleimani, seen by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force.

The U.S. blames him for killing U.S. troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before he was killed. Soleimani also led forces supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Assad in Syria on Tuesday amid the tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Soleimani’s slaying has led Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge.

In Iraq, pro-Iranian factions in parliament have pushed to oust American troops from Iraqi soil following Soleimani’s killing. Germany and Canada announced plans to move some of their soldiers in Iraq to neighbouring countries.

The FAA warning issued barred U.S. pilots and carriers from flying over areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace. The region is a major East-West travel hub and home to Emirates airline and Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel. It earlier issued warnings after Iran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone last year that saw airlines plan new routes to avoid the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Maritime Administration warned ships across the Mideast, citing the rising threats. Oil tankers were targeted in mine attacks last year that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied responsibility, although it did seize oil tankers around the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s crude oil travels.

The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it would work with shippers in the region to minimize any possible threat.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Lolita C. Baldor and Zeke Miller in Washington, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed.

63 Canadians killed in Iran plane crash: Ukraine official

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 8th, 2020

Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs says 63 Canadians are among those killed in a plane crash just outside the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Vadym Prystaiko says there were also 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians on board the passenger jet carrying 176 passengers and crew.

He says there were also 10 Swedish nationals, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals.

Ukraine International Airlines officials say most of the passengers were transiting through Kyiv to other destinations.

The crash happened this morning hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but both Ukrainian and Iranian officials say they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With files from The Associated Press

Wait for ‘high’ before gobbling more cannabis edibles to avoid ER visit: doctors

CAMILLE BAINS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 7th, 2020

People who have never smoked marijuana could be most at risk of overdosing on cannabis-infused edibles that will soon be on store shelves across the country, warns a public health physician who says first-time users may keep noshing away while expecting a high, only to experience a racing heart, anxiety and panic attacks.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, adjunct professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said overdose from overconsumption often means a trip to the emergency room for those who are unaware that feeling the mellow effects of pot from edibles can take several hours because of the time needed to digest and absorb food into the small intestine versus quickly inhaling the drug through the lungs.

Seniors are especially at risk because of a slower metabolism, Loh said of non-lethal overdose from edibles, which federal regulations limit to an individual serving size of a 10-milligram dose of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

However, someone who eats an entire package of cannabis-infused product could be taking in a whopping 100 milligrams of THC and putting themselves at risk, even though regulations require products to be individually wrapped in 10-milligram serving sizes.

“I think the big thing for anyone in the public, especially cannabis-naive individuals or people who have edibles around with children at home, is to first and foremost avoid overdosing,” Loh said.

“There’s psychotic reactions so people may lose touch with reality, sometimes in the form of hallucinations or delusions and also anxiety or panic attacks along with decreased judgment.”

Loh is co-author of a commentary published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the health risks of cannabis edibles.

Short-term effects of edibles are not the only issue of concern, he said.

“There are still those longer term, chronic risks around edibles, particularly around addiction and also the risk of exacerbation of existing mental-health issues that we might be worried about in the longer run with cannabis edibles as well as any form of cannabis,” he said.

Regulations governing edibles, beverages, vapes and topical forms of cannabis came into effect last October, a year after Canada legalized fresh or dried bud, oil, plants and seeds.

Cannabis edibles such as cookies, chocolate and gummies were available for sale starting in December in all provinces except Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, where consumers can access them in mid-January.

In Ontario, for example, edibles will be available as of this week in stores, and then online in mid-January through the provincial distributor as a part of a slow rollout over the next few months.

A University of Colorado School of Medicine study published last March in the Annals of Internal Medicine says an increase in emergency-room visits related to edibles prompted health experts to issue warnings about cardiac and psychiatric issues in the state that began selling recreational marijuana in 2014. Packaging, potency and labelling restrictions on edibles did not come into effect until a year later before being tightened to require labels to prominently display the potency of psychoactive ingredients.

Loh said there’s a lack of data on edibles in general but consumers should also beware that illicit, unregulated products still exist and could be problematic because of issues such as mould.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recommended last July that anyone who has never smoked or vaped cannabis should not consume more than 2.5 milligrams of THC in a product and wait to feel the effects before taking more.

Dr. Jeff Finkler, an emergency-room physician at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, said he sees plenty of patients, mostly females in their late teens and early 20s, who come in having panic attacks or anxiety from eating too much of a cannabis-infused food and sometimes mixing it with alcohol or other substances.

“The thing that people forget is that there’s a delayed response,” he said, adding users often think the recommended dosage couldn’t possibly pack a buzz. They are sometimes given a benzodiazepine to counteract the effects of an overdose before being sent home.

“Don’t cut off more than the actual dose just because it looks so small. You don’t want to eat the whole thing. That little thing’s got eight doses or 10 doses,” he said of a package.

“It’s not like smoking. When you start to feel weird you can stop inhaling. But when you ingest it, man, it’s on board.”

While 10 milligrams of THC is the recommended dosage, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana in a food is hard to measure, he said.

“It requires very sophisticated analytical equipment and it’s even more complicated when they use chocolate because people think it enhances the viability of the THC but chocolate interferes with the measurement of the actual amount.”

“Start low, go slow, and wait. Be patient if you’re going to take the edibles.”

Canadians hunker down as NATO, U.S. offer contradictory messages on Iraq

LEE BERTHIAUME, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 7th, 2020

Hundreds of Canadian soldiers were hunkered down on military bases in Iraq on Monday, their missions suspended due to security concerns, as the U.S. and NATO offered contradictory messages about the future involvement of western forces in the war-torn country.

The Canadians were on high alert against any attack following the killing of an Iranian general by the U.S. over the weekend, which had prompted threats of retaliation from Tehran and calls from Iraq’s parliament and outgoing prime minister for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and widely considered the second-most powerful leader in Iran after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed by a U.S. drone near the Baghdad airport Friday night.

Following a meeting in Brussels Monday with representatives from all 29 members of the military alliance, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg indicated a Canadian-led training mission in Iraq would resume once the security situation there improved.

“We have suspended our training mission now because of the security situation on the ground, but we are ready to restart the training when the situation makes that possible,” Stoltenberg told reporters during a news conference at NATO headquarters.

The NATO chief went on to defend the training mission, which includes 250 Canadian soldiers and is being commanded by a Canadian general, as essential for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant even as he called on Iran to exercise restraint.

Only hours later, however, reports began to emerge that the commander of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL had written a letter to Iraq’s defence ministry indicating he was preparing to pull out his troops in response to Baghdad’s wishes.

The letter from U.S. Marine Corps Brig.-Gen. William H. Seely III specifically referenced a resolution passed by Iraq’s parliament on Sunday and endorsed by outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi calling for the forced withdrawal of all foreign troops.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” he wrote.

A copy of the letter was obtained by Reuters, AFP and the Washington Post, all of whom reported confirming its authenticity.

Yet U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper insisted to reporters at the Pentagon that there had been no decision to leave Iraq. The U.S. military’s top general, Mark Milley, similarly insisted the letter was a poorly worded draft that had been sent by mistake.

Earlier in the day, the Canadian government had indicated it was preparing to take a wait-and-see approach to the situation in Iraq, with Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne reaching out to his Iraqi counterpart to reiterate Canada’s commitment to fighting ISIL.

“Minister Champagne pledged to continue to work with the government of Iraq to achieve the peace, stability and prosperity that the people of Iraq want and deserve,” Champagne’s office said in a statement. “Both ministers have agreed to keep in close touch in the coming days and weeks.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan similarly asserted on Twitter following conversations with Stoltenberg and British Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace that the government was “committed to a stable Iraq, the fight against (ISIL) and to resume training when the situation allows.

“During the temporary pause, our focus is on the safety of those who serve.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said Justin Trudeau spoke to Stoltenberg to discuss the situation in Iraq.

“They emphasized the importance of de-escalating tensions and the need to support security and stability in Iraq and the wider region, notably through ongoing counter-Daesh efforts,” it said in a readout from the conversation, adding that Stoltenberg noted NATO is prepared to continue training when “the situation permits.”

The confusion around Seely’s letter underscored the degree to which the future of Canada’s mission in Iraq is beholden to decisions in Washington and Baghdad — and how quickly such decisions can come. A U.S. withdrawal would likely lead to a similar pullout by Canada.

Alex Ruff, a retired colonel who served with the NATO training mission in Iraq before retiring from the military last year and being elected a Conservative MP, said military planners in Ottawa will be working through all possible scenarios to prepare for whatever comes.

“I’m sure all the planners, they’re earning their money right now because they are going through the planning cycles necessary to react accordingly once NATO or U.S. or Canadian leadership or any of the nations make their respective decisions,” he said.

And while Ruff expressed confidence that the Canadian troops in Iraq are taking sufficient measures to protect themselves, he said that when it comes to the future of the mission: “It’s going to be a decision made by NATO and, ultimately, the Iraqis. … It’s their country.”

Canada has commanded the NATO training mission since it was created in 2018, with Maj.-Gen. Jennie Carignan having recently taken the helm. The mission was established to train the Iraqi military in the basics of soldiering so they can defend against any ISIL resurgence.

The NATO mission is separate from that of dozens of Canadian special-forces soldiers who have been working with local security forces in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region since October 2014. Canada also has medical personnel and a helicopter unit in the north.

Their activities have also been similarly suspended while the Canadian government waits to see how the situation unfolds. The government has not said what contingency plans it has to withdraw quickly.

Canada first deployed troops to fight ISIL, or Daesh, in 2014 when the extremist group overran large parts of Syria and Iraq. The mission has evolved several times since then as the focus has shifted from beating back ISIL to ensuring it does not have the ability to reconstitute itself.

The Canadian military also has troops in Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan as part of the anti-ISIL mission.

Yet popular unrest in Iraq over endemic corruption, a lack of government services and Iran’s influence in the country, the mounting tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and the ongoing war in Syria have pulled attention away from the fight against ISIL.

Teenage driver caught going 218 km/h on Hwy. 400

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Jan 7th, 2020

A 19-year-old driver from Oakville is facing charges after allegedly going more than 200 km/h on Highway 400.

OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said the driver has been charged with stunt driving and careless driving. The vehicle has been seized and the driver’s licence was immediately suspended for seven days.

Police radar clocked the vehicle going 218 km/h in a 100 km/h zone.

Schmidt said as perspective, a Boeing 737 takes off at approximately 250 km/h.

“This driver’s flight plan was interrupted,” Schmidt tweeted.

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