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Toronto begins laying charges for short-term rental non-compliance

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Jan 29th, 2021

It has been nearly a month since the city implemented new short-term rental regulations, requiring hosts to only rent out their primary residence and to be registered as a short-term rental property prior to the deadline of December 31, 2020.

Based on investigations completed to date, the City of Toronto has issued one notice of violation against short-term rentals and laid five charges.

The numbers might seem small, but Lyne Kyle from the City of Toronto’s municipal licensing & standards (MLS) department tells CityNews that these investigations take time and several cases are in the process of being examined.

“Each complaint that the city receives needs to be investigated thoroughly in order to ensure we have sufficient evidence should the matter go before the courts,” she said.

Between January 1 and 24, the City has received 96 complaints via 311 regarding perceived short-term rentals. The complaints are passed on to bylaw officers to investigate.

According to InsideAirbnb, as of January 2, there were over 18,000 Airbnb listings. However, the city’s open data portal shows only over 2700 registrations numbers have been handed out to date and 282 applications are in the process of review.

This does not mean that those are all “illegal listings” as the city continues to receive applications past the deadline. Over the past two weeks, they have received an average of 1 to 20 applications a day.

While tardiness is always expected by some individuals in the application process, so is fraud. With the registration numbers being made public, there have been examples of numbers being stolen, repeated or falsified on active listings.

The city is well aware of this, but also clarifies that “not all listings on Airbnb are short-term rentals.”

Airbnb also lists hotels or long-term rentals over 28 days, which are not required under the bylaw to register with the City of Toronto. Also, under the conditions of their license, Airbnb is required to remove any listings that are not following the regulations.

“The City has a good working relationship with Airbnb and we are working together to bring all listings into compliance,” said Kyle.

But since the changes were announced prior to the pandemic, some are expressing concern about living next door to short-term rental units that usually house out-of-town visitors.

One CityNews viewer who prefers to remain anonymous expressed concern over Airbnb “quarantine suites,” alleging that they have witnessed multiple travelers in the building.

“I contacted 311 and public health because I feel unsafe with all these travelers coming in and out,” they said. “Property management in the summer stated that [more than] 40 suites in our condominium were being used as illegal quarantine lodges, but they never did anything to stop it.”

The property in question is The Element Condominium located on Blue Jays Way. According to the resident, there have been no changes leading into the new year.

CityNews reached out to both the condo board and property management, Crossbrigdes Condominium Service, to confirm the information, but did not receive a response back.

According to MLS however, it is not the responsibility of the building itself to monitor short-term rentals.

“The onus is on the operators of short-term rentals. Some condo boards have created their own requirements prohibiting short-term rentals within their buildings but this does not fall under the Licensing and Registration of Short-Term Rentals Bylaw,” said Kyle.

Some Toronto Airbnb listings state that they do offer extra sterilization and grocery delivery to those quarantining, but under current provincial regulations, short-term rentals can only be provided to individuals who are in need of housing.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is responsible for carrying out checks to ensure individuals are quarantining appropriately, says Kyle. The City’s role is to ensure operators are following the Licensing and Registration of Short-Term Rentals Bylaw.

Short-term rental operators that do not comply with the regulations can be found guilty of an offense and may be liable to pay a fine of up to $100,000. Operators can also be charged other fines

Liberal government sings Joe Biden’s praises for cancelling U.S. abortion ‘gag rule’

JAMES MCCARTEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Jan 29th, 2021

Canada’s Liberal government cheered Thursday as President Joe Biden reversed a U.S. policy that denies federal funding to international aid organizations that support abortion.

Biden signed a presidential memorandum to rescind the policy known as the “global gag rule” and to protect and expand access to reproductive health care in the U.S. and around the world.

The policy, born under Ronald Reagan in 1985, prohibits international non-profit groups from receiving U.S. funding if they provide abortion counselling or referrals.

It has been either rescinded by a Democratic president or restored by a Republican five times in the last 28 years. Donald Trump expanded it to include all aid groups, not just those focused on family planning.

“Women’s rights are human rights,” International Development Minister Karina Gould said in a statement that welcomed the decision.

Gould called it a sign of the U.S. joining “the global consensus on the right for women to choose and support programs for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

In 2019, the federal Liberals announced a 10-year plan to spend $1.4 billion a year by 2023 on a “comprehensive approach” to women’s health and rights around the world.

That plan includes $700 million specifically for sexual and reproductive health, including comprehensive abortion care.

“Our government will continue to work with partners in Canada and around the world to dismantle barriers that seek to restrict women, girls and trans people from accessing the health care they have a right to.”

Trump’s version of the rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, was the most expansive yet, covering an estimated US$12 billion in international health aid.

“Undue restrictions on the use of federal funds have made it harder for women to obtain necessary health care,” the Biden memorandum reads.

“These excessive conditions on foreign and development assistance undermine the United States’ efforts to advance gender equality globally by restricting our ability to support women’s health and programs that prevent and respond to gender-based violence.”

Such restrictions, it notes, “are particularly harmful in light of the (COVID-19) pandemic.”

The memo also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to “take immediate action” towards rescinding related directives under the family-planning program known as Title X.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki described Biden’s recent flurry of executive actions as an urgent effort to overturn several “detrimental, harmful and at times immoral” Trump-era policies.

“He’s not going to delay action that would help bring relief to the public and ? help ensure women have access to reproductive health as well,” Psaki said.

Ottawa-based Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights said they intend to press the Biden White House to follow its expressions of support with real funding and political momentum.

“The politicization of women’s bodies and decision-making for political gain is really a devastating thing to think about, especially when abortion is recognized under international human rights law,” said Sarah Keller, the group’s director of government relations.

Canada had its own version of a similar rule under former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government until it was reversed by the newly elected Trudeau Liberals in 2015.

“We’ve had to put in place our own mechanisms – as civil society but also as the Government of Canada has – to safeguard against attempts to have that be the case again.”

Keller and executive director Kara Gillies both called Biden’s move a good first step, but warned the White House still has a lot of work to do to back its words with action.

“It needs to come with political and global funding commitments that support sexual and reproductive rights on the ground.”

Canada’s Wonderland announces plan to reopen park in May

LUCAS CASALETTO | posted Friday, Jan 29th, 2021

Canada’s Wonderland announced Thursday it plans to re-open the amusement park in May.

“Save the date! We are excited to announce Canada’s Wonderland 2021 Opening Day – May 14 – and we look forward to welcoming you back for what is sure to be an amazing season,” they said.

The park tells 680 NEWS they will continue to monitor the pandemic and work with health officials ahead of its tentative opening date

 

“As we do every year, we release to the public our scheduled opening date. This year, we are scheduled for a May 14 opening,” Director of Communications at Canada’s Wonderland Grace Peacock said in an email.

“We continue to monitor provincial guidelines and work with industry and government officials to ensure our reopening plan meets all required health and safety regulations. Further details will be announced this spring.”

In his most recent statement from May of 2020, Canada’s Wonderland Vice-President and General Manager Norm Pirtovshek said, “We are in constant communication with our provincial and federal governments and are looking forward to welcoming you back just as soon as it is safe to do so.”

“We can’t wait to welcome you back to the park. Until then, enjoy some virtual Canada’s Wonderland experiences, like a ride on one of our roller coasters, or make our classic funnel cake at home. We also have educational and creative activities online for kids of all ages,” Pirtovshek said.

Cedar Fair, Canada’s Wonderland owner and operator, also announced that Cedar Point and King’s Dominion amusement parks will reopen on May 14 and May 22, respectively.

Under the park’s listed health and safety protocols, they say the following rules must be obeyed upon entry:

  • Sanitize your hands frequently at the many hand sanitization stations we have added all through the park.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Wear your face covering at all times.
  • Face coverings may only be removed when experiencing water rides.
  • Maintain 2 metres physical distance from other park guests and associates.
  • Be in the know about all things Canada’s Wonderland with our mobile app. You will be able to find nearby hand sanitizer stations, restrooms, open dining locations, and available attractions and rides.
  • For the comfort of all guests, smoking will not be permitted inside the park.

 

Some other precautions include health screenings and temperature checks and contactless payment, such as Apple Pay.

As for rides and attractions, Canada’s Wonderland says some that are not conducive for physical distancing and will be closed. Some seats and rows will also be unavailable to accommodate physical distancing.

Staff will also work to ensure park-goers properly maintain physical distancing while waiting in line.

In August, the water park portion of Canada’s Wonderland was closed due to COVID-19 health and safety measures.

Ontario Minister of Heritage, Tourism and Sport Lisa MacLeod has maintained that health officials believe it’s too early to reopen amusement parks or water parks.

The province is currently under a state of emergency with a stay-at-home order in effect until further notice.

Toronto’s top doctor recommends extension of COVID-19 bylaws until June

LUCAS CASALETTO | posted Friday, Jan 29th, 2021

Toronto’s medical officer of health is advising the extension of its COVID-19 temporary bylaws until the City Council’s meeting in June.

Dr. Eileen de Villa says the recommendation comes with the currently enforced, but temporary bylaws set to expire at the end of the February 2 and 3 council meeting.

These include Toronto’s Physical Distancing in Public Spaces and the Mandatory Mask bylaws. City Council will debate the extension recommendation at its next meeting which begins on Tuesday.

De Villa says she will also conduct a monthly assessment regarding the need to continue each bylaw.

“At this critical stage in our fight against COVID-19, we must use every tool we have to keep one another safe. Right now, that includes extending the City of Toronto bylaws mandating mask usage and physical distancing requirements,” said Mayor John Tory in a statement.

“While I know we all want this period to be over, these measures will help us continue to protect ourselves and others at a time when it’s more important than ever.”

On Wednesday, de Villa revealed that between August of 2020 and last week, the City’s 3-1-1 line received almost 2,000 calls about improper mask usage in shared residential spaces.

The data reveals that 75 percent of the complaints are linked to residential apartment buildings and 25 percent are related to condos.

In an effort to further increase enforcement efforts, Tory says a dozen of ‘263’ locations that received complaints will get in-person visits.

A group of government advisers is set to release Ontario’s updated COVID-19 projections this afternoon.

The new data comes two weeks after the province invoked a stay-at-home order in a bid to halt surging case spread.

Waterloo-area church officials charged for violating lockdown orders

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Jan 28th, 2021

Six people have been charged including the pastor of a Waterloo-area church who went ahead with Sunday services in defiance of provincial lockdown rules.

Regional officials in Waterloo have charged six elders including Pastor Jacob Reaume of Trinity Bible Chapel for violating provisions of the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA) when it comes to large gatherings.

The Trinity Bible Chapel corporation was also charged.

Individuals charged under the act face a minimum $10,000 fine and a maximum $100,000 if convicted. Corporations can be fined up to $10 million.

A steady stream of cars was seen arriving at the church in Woolwich last weekend despite an order from the Superior Court of Justice, compelling the church to obey the ROA or possibly be held in contempt of court.

A photo from inside the service was tweeted from the account of MPP Randy Hillier, who sits as an independent in the legislature and has been a vocal critic of the Ford government’s lockdown.

A statement released by region officials said the church has agreed not to hold further indoor religious services while the charges are before the courts.

Files from 570 NEWS were used in this report

Ontario extends 2nd dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to 35 days due to delays

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Jan 28th, 2021

The province’s top doctor has once again revised the timing of when people can get the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a memo sent to hospital CEOs and Medical Officers of Health on Wednesday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has recommended extending the dosing interval for the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine to 35 days and no more than 42 days.

Previously, the province sent out guidance that the second shot be given anytime between 21 and 42 days after the first dose was administered.

The recommendation applies to everyone outside of long-term care settings, essential caregivers and staff, and First Nations elder care homes, where the second doses are set to be administered between 21 and 27 days later.

“We recognize that this allocation reduction will have significant impact on the current level of vaccine delivery across the province,” Williams said in the memo.

“The extended dosage interval is a direct response to the temporarily reduced vaccine availability from the federal government and uncertainty regarding the stability of supply in the near-term.”

Williams points out that there are no scheduled deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine this week and just over 26,000 doses expected the first week of February. The province says it has yet to receive information on how many doses are to be delivered for the weeks of Feb. 8 and 15th.

Pfizer has advised Canada, and other countries, that delivery of its COVID-19 vaccine would be impacted for several weeks due to work to expand its European manufacturing facility.

Air Transat suspending all flights out of Toronto through winter months

LUCAS CASALETTO | posted Thursday, Jan 28th, 2021

Air Transat says it’s suspending all flights out of Toronto for the remainder of the winter season in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Air Transat says travel restrictions and measures imposed by the federal government, including the requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test and to quarantine upon return to Canada, have impacted its operations.

“We must, therefore, revise our winter flight schedule, as we have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic, based on the evolution of the situation and demand,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Air Transat will continue to operate flights from Montreal to six international destinations, such as Cancun (Mexico), Holguin (Cuba), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Punta Cana and Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic), and Paris (France).

Toronto flights will remain suspended in the meantime.

The postponement of flights will be effective January 28 through April 30, 2021.

Air Transat says travellers affected by the flight cancellations who paid for their flight or vacation package with cash or credit card will be fully reimbursed.

Air Transat is currently being acquired by Air Canada, but says the decision on suspending flights out of Toronto is “not connected to the acquisition.”

Holiday season vacations coincide with rise in COVID-19 travel-related cases

MIA RABSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 28th, 2021

As the federal government prepares to slap new restrictions on international travel, Health Canada data suggest a worrying uptick of infections directly connected to foreign arrivals.

While travel exposures account for less than two per cent of all Canada’s COVID-19 cases, the number of cases in recent travellers, and people they came into close contact with after arriving, shows continual growth in recent months.

In December, 486 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in recent travellers, the most since March and up from 312 in November and 204 in October. Despite mandatory two-week quarantines for international travellers, there were 1,258 COVID-19 cases confirmed in people who had close contact with a recent traveller in December, up from 744 in November and 704 in October.

In the first three weeks of January, 384 travel cases and 607 traveller-contact cases were confirmed.

The figures also correspond with a recent rise in the number of people travelling, at least by air. Land-border arrivals are typically fewer in the winter because of the weather in much of the country, but more people arrived from the U.S. by air in December than any month since March. Arrivals from other international locations were higher in December than any month except August.

Reports of notable Canadians ignoring pleas not to travel during the pandemic in favour of sun-kissed days on foreign beaches angered much of the country in the weeks after Christmas, and led to several high-profile provincial and federal politicians and health officials being fired, demoted or reprimanded.

Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 27, 86,953 people flew into Canada from the United States, and 184,260 arrived by air from other international locations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been promising for more than a week that the government will bring in stronger measures for international arrivals, as Canada fears the impact of new variants of COVID-19 that have arisen in other countries.

That is on top of a mandatory two-week quarantine for all arrivals, which has been in place since last spring, restricting international flights to just four airports, and a more recent requirement for foreign travellers to provide proof of recent negative COVID-19 tests within three days of boarding planes to Canada.

A spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said “Canada has some of the strongest border measures in the world” and all future measures will be guided by both science and evidence. Cole Davidson said 6,500 phone calls are made daily to verify travellers are in quarantine, and that 99 per cent of nearly 50,000 checks on quarantine made by police have found people are where they are supposed to be.

There are more than 50 cases of the new coronavirus variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa now confirmed in Canada, most, but not all of them, in people who recently travelled into Canada from those countries. The variants are believed to spread more easily, and in recent days concerns have arisen about whether they are more likely to cause serious illness or death.

Conservative Health Critic Michelle Rempel Garner said while community spread within Canada still accounts for the vast majority of this country’s cases, Canada has to do more at the borders. She said the most effective option is to impose a mandatory rapid COVID-19 test on all arrivals, and have that test repeated midway through the two-week quarantine period.

Rempel Garner said Canada can’t “hermetically seal” our border as island nations like New Zealand have done, so testing all travellers for the virus, screening them all for the variants, and maintaining the quarantine would be effective and more efficient than requiring travellers to quarantine at a hotel for two weeks at their own expense.

Similar rules have been in place in Iceland for months. Singapore began requiring testing at all airports on Jan. 24, along with using drones and electronic surveillance to monitor people in quarantine.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said a trend in more travel-related cases is “alarming” and that Trudeau can’t wait any longer to act to stop it.

“With the catastrophic situation we are in, we cannot afford a spike because of non-essential travel,” Singh said.

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