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5 dead, others missing after volcano erupts in New Zealand

Nick Perry, The Associated Press | posted Monday, Dec 9th, 2019

A volcanic island in New Zealand erupted Monday in a tower of ash and steam while dozens of tourists were exploring the moon-like surface, killing five people and leaving many more missing.

Police said the site was still too dangerous hours later for rescuers to search for the missing.

Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said the number of missing was in the double digits but he couldn’t confirm an exact number. He said there were fewer than 50 people on the island when it erupted and 23 had been taken off, including the five dead.

Tims said experts had told them the island remained unstable but search and rescue teams wanted to get back as quickly as they could. He said there had been no contact with any of those who were missing.

He said both New Zealanders and overseas tourists were among those who were dead, missing or injured. He said most of the 18 who survived were injured and some had suffered severe burns.

Some of those involved were tourists from the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

“A number of our guests were touring the island today,” the company said. “We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities. Please keep all those affected in your prayers.”

The cruise ship, which had left from Sydney last week, was scheduled to sail to the capital Wellington on Monday night but the company said it would instead remain in the Tauranga port overnight until it learned more on the situation.

“My god,” wrote Michael Schade on Twitter as he posted video of the eruption. “My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable.”

His video showed a wall of ash and steam around the island and a helicopter badly damaged and covered in ash. He said one woman was badly injured but seemed “strong” by the end.

White Island sits about 50 kilometres offshore from mainland New Zealand. Already people are questioning why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern travelled to the region late Monday. She said the incident was “very significant.”

“All our thoughts are with those affected,” she said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he’d offered Ardern his support.

“Australians have been caught up in this terrible event and we are working to determine their wellbeing,” Morrison wrote on Twitter.

Brad Scott, a volcanologist with research group GNS Science, said the eruption sent a plume of steam and ash about 12,000 feet into the air. He said it had also affected the whole of the White Island crater floor.

The GeoNet agency, which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand, raised the alert level on White Island from one to two on Nov. 18, noting an increase in the amount of sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma deep in the volcano. It also said at the time that over the previous weeks, the volcanic tremor had increased from weak to moderate strength.

Scott said the alert level was often raised and then later dropped again without any eruption. He said there hadn’t been any major incidents with tourists visiting the island in the past, although there had been some close calls.

Scott said it was not for him to say whether the island was safe enough to host tourists immediately before Monday’s eruption.

Ardern said the focus remained on the search and rescue mission for now and questions about whether tourists should be visiting would be addressed later.

GeoNet at first raised its alert level to four, on a scale where five represents a major eruption. It later dropped the alert level back down to three. Scott said that was because the eruption wasn’t sustained beyond the initial blast.

“In the scheme of things, for volcanic eruptions, it is not large,” said Ken Gledhill from GeoNet. “But if you were close to that, it is not good.”

White Island is northeast of the town of Tauranga on North Island, one of New Zealand’s two main islands. Experts say it’s New Zealand’s most active cone volcano and about 70% of the volcano lies under the sea.

Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur. Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners’ village and the mine itself.

The remains of buildings from another mining enterprise in the 1920s are now a tourist attraction, according to GeoNet. The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

The island is also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.

Final stretch of Hwy. 407, Hwy. 418 open Monday

News Staff | posted Monday, Dec 9th, 2019

Drivers in Durham Region now have more options to get around.

The final stretch of Highway 407 and the entire Highway 418 open on Monday.

“Ontario’s highway infrastructure investments help people get where they need to go in a safe and efficient way, while allowing businesses to move goods and deliver services more quickly,” Minister of Infrastructure Laurie Scott said in a release.

“These investments help make Ontario open for business and open for jobs.”

The 407 extension is just over 14 kilometres long and connects to Highway 35/115, making it easier to travel between Peterborough and the GTA.

“Connecting Highway 407 to Highway 35/115 will create a vital link between Peterborough and the Greater Toronto Area,” Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith stated.

“The extension of this highway will help attract jobs and economic growth to this region.”

The 418 — which links the 407 to Highway 401 — is 10 kilometres.

Both toll highways are fully owned and operated by the province.

1 injured in Jane and Sheppard shooting

News Staff | posted Monday, Dec 9th, 2019

A male who walked into a hospital with a gunshot wound is believed to be connected to a shooting at Jane Street and Sheppard Avenue, according to police.

Police were called to the scene around 9:30 p.m. Sunday to reports of shots fired.

No victims were located on the scene, but officers from bullet holes in a vehicle and evidence of gunfire.

A male victim later walked into a local hospital with one gunshot wound. His injuries appear to be serious.

There’s no word on any suspect descriptions at this time.

PTSD program trains service dogs alongside first responders who need them

Tammie Sutherland | posted Monday, Dec 9th, 2019

Two emergency workers living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are introducing dogs as part of a new program to help fellow first responders deal with the illness.

The Valhalla Project Niagara is a treatment course that provides mental health support and education for emergency workers and military veterans. It will also partner a service dog in-training with some participants, so they can train together to become an official support dog team.

“Essentially what we look to do is eliminate the fostering process that’s traditionally associated with service dogs, i.e. they live with a stranger for the first two years of their life,” says Graham Bettes, the founder of the Valhalla Niagara.

Bettes, a 29-year Peel Regional Police officer and a military veteran, was diagnosed with PTSD in 2012.

“One of the culminating incidents was where several children got struck by lightning and one of them unfortunately passed away,” Bettes says.

Bettes started thinking about putting together the program after seeing the benefits of having his service dog, Maverick.

“The first night I had him, he did nightmare mitigation immediately … he also gives me the ability to go out in situations where I might quickly lose confidence in myself, like crowd conditions, line-ups, shopping malls, those sort of things.”

One of the goals of the Valhalla Project is to reduce the typically lengthy wait list for a support dog that PTSD sufferers can face when in need.

Another unique aspect of the program is that everyone involved behind-the-scenes also lives with PTSD. That includes Shawn Bennett, one of the program directors and a 29-year veteran of the St. Catharines Fire Service. Bennett has lived with the illness since the early 1990s.

“I guess the best way to put it is that I had the privilege of holding more than 18 of our kids in their last moments and I can’t hold anymore. I can’t do it anymore. Now I just learn about my injury and help others.”

Bennett also served in the military and says the program looks to reduced the suicide crisis among first responders and veterans around the country.

Since September, at least three police officers in Ontario have died by suicide, including officers with Toronto Police, the OPP and an Ottawa Police detective who shot himself inside police headquarters.

“We’ve lost a lot of people over the last couple months to suicide, on all levels…and we don’t need that anymore,” Bennett says.

The Valhalla Project Niagara has a vision of helping 120 participants each year, with 80 of those first responders being paired with a service dog-in-training. Their goal is to make this free-of-charge for anyone who takes the program, relying on donations and fundraising to get the project running by March 2020.

The program will include a five-day residential program that teaches participants the basics of PTSD and coping mechanisms to help deal with the illness.

Bennett’s wife, Melodi Doiron, has been a professional dog trainer for more than 25 years and will be in charge of Valhalla’s support dog program. She also lives with PTSD from her time as a personal support worker.

“We have the benefit of this [being] our life too and giving that back to the community. First-hand knowledge. It’s not book knowledge, it’s first-hand knowledge,” Doiron says.

According to a recent report conducted by Ontario’s chief coroner, nine police officers in the province died by suicide in 2018. That’s nearly double the amount of police suicides recorded by the coroner in five of the previous years. The review, released in October, recommends the province’s coroners begin tracking first responder suicides.

For more information on Valhalla Project Niagara, click here.

If you or someone you know is in distress, contact Crisis Services Canada online, via phone at 1-833-456-4566, or texting 45645.

World Anti-Doping Agency imposes 4-year ban on Russia

The Associated Press | posted Monday, Dec 9th, 2019

The Russian flag and national anthem were banned from next year’s Tokyo Olympics and other major sports events for four years on Monday.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions as punishment for state authorities tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or if their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling.

Still, it is unclear how the ruling will affect Russian teams taking part in world championships such as soccer’s World Cup.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 21 days.

Legal fallout from the WADA ruling seems sure to dominate preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, which open on July 24.

Evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month.

“Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

However, WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice-president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Handing over a clean database to WADA was a key requirement for Russia to help bring closure to a scandal that has tainted the Olympics over the last decade.

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

That position was opposed by most of WADA’s athlete commission. It wanted the kind of blanket ban Russia avoided for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

“This entire fiasco created by Russia has cheated far too many athletes of their dreams and rightful careers, for far too long,” the WADA athlete panel said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

Russia previously signalled it would appeal the ruling. That must be filed by the Russian anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA. That body was declared non-compliant on Monday, 15 months after it was reinstated by WADA in defiance of athlete opposition.

The decision to appeal has been stripped from RUSADA chief executive Yuri Ganus, an independent figure criticizing Russian authorities’ conduct on the doping data issue. Authority was passed to the agency’s supervisory board after an intervention led by the Russian Olympic Committee.

The ROC on Saturday labeled the expected sanctions as “llogical and inappropriate.”

Russia has stuck to its claim that deceptive edits in the data were in fact made by WADA’s star witness, Grigory Rodchenkov. The former Moscow lab director’s flight into the witness protection program in the United States was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary.

Technical reasons were claimed — and debunked by WADA investigators — for why the data appeared to have been edited shortly before the delayed handover in January.

AP sports writer James Ellingworth in Duesseldorf, Germany, contributed to this report.

TTC proposes dedicated bus lanes for 5 busiest routes

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Dec 6th, 2019

The TTC is recommending Toronto build exclusive bus lanes for five of the busiest routes in the city.

The new report names Eglinton East, Dufferin, Jane, Steeles West and Finch East bus routes as ones that would most benefit from having a bus lane.

The five and 10-year outlook from the TTC predicts ridership will grow by 35 million riders by 2024.

They have focused part of their plan based on the success of the King Street project that was made permanent earlier this year and gives priority to streetcars through the downtown core.

However, while the King Street project cost $3 million, the dedicated bus lanes could cost upwards of $40 million.

The report stresses that this change could bring major improvements to daily commutes as 70 per cent of TTC trips involve the use of a bus or a streetcar.

TTC Spokesman Stuart Green says the biggest improvements they can make is moving as many people as possible with as few vehicles as possible.

“The priority was really to look at those corridors where most people live or work or where there is the greatest opportunity to enhance people’s commuting experience.”

Councillor Brad Bradford, who is also a TTC board member, said he believes this is the right area of transit relief to focus on.

“So much focus is on the subway and the LTR, and yet, the reality is our surface transit system does a lot of heavy lifting,” said Bradford.

The recommendation is expected to go before the TTC board during their meeting next week.

Events planned to mark sombre 30th anniversary of Polytechnique massacre

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Dec 6th, 2019

Several events are planned across the country on Friday to mark the grim 30th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

On the evening of Dec. 6, 1989, a gunman entered Montreal’s Ecole polytechnique, killing 14 women in an anti-feminist mass slaying before taking his own life.

Later this morning, students and staff at the school’s campus will place a wreath of white roses at a commemorative plaque.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will deliver a speech in the House of Commons at 9:30 a.m. Watch is live on this website.

Also today, a book about the events and the stories behind the 14 victims written by former Le Devoir journalist Josee Boileau will be released.

In the evening, the public will gather on Mount Royal at 5:10 p.m. — when the first shots were fired — and 14 beams of light will shine over the Montreal skyline as the names of the 14 women are read aloud.

Trudeau, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette and Quebec Premier Francois Legault are among the dignitaries expected at the event.

To mark the 30th anniversary, 14 engineering schools across the country will also each shine a beam of light in honour of the victims.

The victims were honoured Thursday at a ceremony at the Quebec national assembly, while the City of Montreal changed the wording on a plaque Thursday at the Place du 6-decembre-1989 to reflect the attack was anti-feminist and that 14 women were killed.

Woman critically injured after hit by truck on QEW in Oakville

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Dec 6th, 2019

A woman is in hospital with life-threatening injuries after she was struck by a transport truck on the Fort Erie-bound QEW in Oakville.

Provincial police were called to the scene near Dorval Drive just before 10 p.m. Thursday.

Police say it’s still unclear why the pedestrian was on the highway.

The truck driver remained on the scene and is cooperating with police.

Correction: Police initially said the woman was dead.

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