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Police Services Board approves review of missing persons cases

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Mar 23rd, 2018

The Toronto Police Services Board has approved a plan to conduct a review of missing persons cases and how they are handled by Toronto police.

Mayor John Tory put forth a proposal for a working group made up of one board member and three community representatives that would report back in June on the best options for an external review.

Earlier in the day, lawyer and LGBTQ community activist Doug Elliott called on the province’s attorney general to open and immediate public inquiry into the disappearnces and how they were handled by police.

Tory says he’s aware of concerns within the Gay Village about the police response to the disappearance and murder of at least seven men in the community

“A lot of these questions trouble me as they would trouble any person looking at it,” said Tory. “But I think what you have to do is have a thorough, complete, independent external look at all of these kinds of things before you form conclusions as to what happened or whether you should be trying to assess blame.”

Police chief Mark Saunders also supported the motion, saying the public interest and the best interest of the police service would be well served by an independent external review.

“For Toronto’s LGBTQ community this has been a very difficult time and I know that many are very upset and many are still grieving and they have many questions about what happened and what could have been done differently,” said Saunders. “I take these questions seriously and I hope that my actions demonstrate that conviction.”

A group of about 30 activists from the LGBTQ community protested in front of police headquarters ahead of the police services board meeting.

The demonstrators expressed anger over the police response to the Bruce McArthur case, calling on police chief Mark Saunders to resign, saying he is partly to blame for a “systemic failure” by police.

Tories force all-night votes in bid to force testimony from PM’s adviser

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Mar 23rd, 2018

Conservatives are forcing MPs to stay up all night voting continuously on more than 250 motions — a filibuster launched in retaliation for the Liberals voting down a Tory motion to call Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser to testify at a House of Commons committee about the prime minister’s disastrous trip to India.

Conservatives predicted the non-stop voting on all the motions, which started around dinner time Thursday, would take about 40 hours.

The filibuster will result in a hefty overtime bill for the Commons, since its services must be available whenever the chamber is sitting.

Those services include security, cafeteria, shuttle buses, messengers, translation, transcription, printing, maintenance and tech support.

After about three hours of voting, Liberal MP Rob Oliphant asked that the Commons mobilize additional staff so that the young pages in the chamber would not be “run off their feet all night.”

Back in 2011, when the NDP conducted a 58-hour filibuster against the then Conservative government, Tory MP Candice Bergen — now the party’s House leader — pegged the cost of keeping the Commons running at $50,000 an hour, although her own government disputed that figure.

Whatever the overtime costs for Commons employees, they don’t include the cost of rearranging travel plans. Many MPs, particularly from far-flung parts of the country, normally return to their ridings on Thursday nights. Cabinet ministers also tend to fan out across the country on Fridays to make announcements or attend events.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau had to cancel his plans to travel Friday to Lac Megantic, Que. — site of the 2013 rail disaster that levelled half the downtown area — where he was scheduled to discuss rail safety with the Quebec Federation of Municipalities.

Conservatives maintained the disruption was warranted, given the government’s refusal to let the prime minister’s national security adviser, Daniel Jean, testify at the national security committee about the briefing he gave journalists during Trudeau’s India trip.

“We need the same rights that journalists had, and if he doesn’t give it to us through this vote tonight, we are going to show that Parliament is going to sit until they do the right thing,” Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said earlier Thursday.

Jean suggested to reporters covering Trudeau’s trouble-plagued trip last month that rogue factions in the Indian government had sabotaged the prime minister’s visit.

That included the embarrassing revelation that Jaspar Atwal — a one-time Canadian Sikh separatist extremist convicted of attempting to murder an Indian minister during a visit to Vancouver Island in 1986 — had been invited to two events with the prime minister during his India sojourn. The revelation came just as Trudeau was attempting to convince Indian officials that his government supports a united India and does not countenance violent extremism.

In a media briefing arranged by the Prime Minister’s Office, Jean suggested Atwal’s presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government who want to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting too cosy with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India.

Trudeau has since defended Jean, saying he’s a professional, non-partisan, veteran public servant who only says what he knows to be true.

But the Conservatives maintain Jean was used by the PMO to deflect attention from a public relations disaster.

“When the prime minister uses a senior and respected civil servant as a human shield to get out of a bad political scandal, that’s terrible,” said O’Toole.

He questioned how one could argue that Indian factions could have been responsible when a Liberal backbencher, Randeep Sarai, has taken responsibility for getting Atwal on the guest lists and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has called the incident an “honest mistake.”

“Both of these scenarios can’t be true and the fact they brought up the India conspiracy theory also is a blight on a good relationship with an important country,” O’Toole said.

The Conservative motions are all related to budgetary matters, which are considered matters of confidence. The government must, therefore, ensure enough of its MPs are present at all times to avoid losing any of the votes — which would be deemed a loss of confidence and trigger an election.

Giant pandas to leave Toronto for Calgary on Friday

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Mar 23rd, 2018

The second half of a panda family’s Canadian sojourn gets underway on Friday when the animals leave Toronto for a new home out west.

Two giant pandas on loan from China, plus the two babies they produced while living at the Toronto Zoo, will be relocating to Calgary where they will remain for as long as five years.

Da Mao and Er Shun, plus offspring Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, will be the first pandas to visit the city since the 1988 Olympics and will take up residence in a multimillion-dollar facility at the Calgary Zoo built expressly for their arrival.

The two panda parents were loaned to Canadian zoos for 10 years as part of a 2012 deal with China.

They have lived at the Toronto Zoo since 2013, where the cubs were born and later famously photographed in the arms of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The cubs will head back to China after a year and a half in Calgary to be part of a breeding program, while the adults will stay on in Canada to try and become second-time parents.

Calgary Zoo spokeswoman Trish Exton-Parder says both the city and facility feel fortunate to play host to the four-legged diplomats.

“It’s a huge privilege for us to have them and to care for them and to have them trust the expertise we have here, ” Exton-Parder said in a telephone interview. “They’re very much (China’s) treasures, and it’s quite an honour and a privilege for our community to enjoy them for the next five years.”

Neither the Toronto nor Calgary zoo would offer any details about the pandas’ planned journey, which is set to get underway on Friday morning.

Once they arrive in Calgary, however, Exton-Parder said the pandas would spend at least a month in quarantine.

That changes on May 7 when the zoo unveils both the animals and Panda Passage, their $14.5-million home for the duration of their stay.

Exton-Parder said the building that once housed Asian elephants has been renovated and redesigned with indoor and outdoor habitats for the panda family. Bamboo, the bears’ primary food source, will be flown in so the animals can consume their requisite 40 kilograms a day, she said.

The zoo had previously estimated the price tag for the pandas’ stay would reach $30 million once the cost of expanded parking, renovated washrooms and other guest facilities were included in the tally.

The zoo is hoping the pandas will attract an influx of visitors. Based on Toronto’s experience, the organization has good reason for its optimism.

The Toronto Zoo reported a boost in visitors when the parental pandas arrived in 2013 and recorded another spike when the cubs were born in 2016.

It said 170,000 more people visited the facility that year compared to 2015, adding that 37.7 per cent of guests it surveyed said they were coming specifically to explore the panda exhibit.

Exton-Parder said it’s hoped that some of the expected visitors will start thinking about animal conservation efforts, particularly for creatures closer to home that might be viewed as “less charismatic” than the teddy-bear-like pandas.

“We in Canada may sometimes forget about leopard frogs and Vancouver Island marmots and species that are disappearing,” she said. “That’s kind of a big job for (the pandas) too. With them being here and the conservation messages that they carry with them, it opens that door to inspire Canadians to pay a little more attention to their own backyard.”

Once Da Mao and Er Shun’s first pair of progeny have departed back to their ancestral homeland, Exton-Parder said the zoo will focus on seeing if it’s possible to produce more panda cubs. Researchers will work with Er Shun’s limited reproductive window, she said, and explore whether the giant panda might be able to conceive and give birth again.

Toronto Public Health investigating Listeria threat at cancer centre

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Mar 22nd, 2018

Toronto Public Health is investigating three cases of Listeria infection in people who ate deli sandwiches sold at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

The sandwiches were purchased from the Druxy’s restaurant in the cancer centre between January 1st and March 12th.

The restaurant is currently closed and the owner is cooperating with Toronto Public Health.

If you ate at the restaurant during that time frame, you’re being asked to watch for signs and symptoms of Listeria. These include fever, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and cramps. Severe symptoms include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions.

People most at risk are those with weakened immune systems, the elderly and pregnant women.

Listeria is a serious but rare illness caused by eating contaminated food. Common foods that can carry listeria include deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products.

Toronto receives an average of 17 reports of Listeria infection each year.

Back to the future: Toronto’s transformation in photos

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Mar 22nd, 2018

Have you ever wondered what your street looked like 50, or even 100 years ago?

A massive new archival project allows you to travel back in time without a DeLorean and flux capacitor — a laptop or smartphone will do.

Sidewalk Labs has released its Old Toronto project which uses geocoding to map more than 30,000 historic photos from every corner of the city.

Click here to read more. 

Man caught on video vandalizing Thornhill synagogue

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Mar 22nd, 2018

A synagogue in Thornhill was the target of alleged anti-Semitic vandalism on Wednesday morning, according to B’nai Brith Canada, prompting a police investigation.

Rabbi Mendel Kaplan says around 9:40 a.m., the glass doors of Chabad Flamingo were smashed with a rock.

On his Facebook page, Rabbi Kaplan says a man walked by the synagogue, stopped multiple times to look for rocks and then ran back twice to “hatefully smash the glass doors.”

Rabbi Kaplan also posted two different angles of security camera footage that captured the incident.

In the videos, a man in a black parka can be seen throwing a large rock at the glass doors. The rock bounces off the door and splits in two when it hits the ground. A short while later, the man is seen running back and throwing a piece of the broken rock against the doors again.

York Region police are investigating. Anyone with information is asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers.

 

Facebook’s Zuckerberg apologizes for ‘major breach of trust’

Barbara Ortutay, Danica Kirka and Gregory Katz, The Associated Press | posted Thursday, Mar 22nd, 2018

Breaking five days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for a “major breach of trust,” admitted mistakes and outlined steps to protect user data in light of a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm.

“I am really sorry that happened,” Zuckerberg said of the scandal involving data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data, he said in a Wednesday interview on CNN. If it fails, he said, “we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.”

His mea culpa on cable television came a few hours after he acknowledged his company’s mistakes in a Facebook post , but without saying he was sorry.

Zuckerberg and Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, had been quiet since news broke Friday that Cambridge may have used data improperly obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to sway elections. Cambridge’s clients included Donald Trump’s general-election campaign.

Facebook shares have dropped some 8 per cent, lopping about $46 billion off the company’s market value, since the revelations were first published.

In the CNN interview, Zuckerberg offered equivocal and carefully hedged answers to two other questions. He said, for instance, that he would be “happy” to testify before Congress, but only if it was “the right thing to do.” He went on to note that many other Facebook officials might be more appropriate witnesses depending on what Congress wanted to know.

Similarly, the Facebook chief seemed at one point to favour regulation for Facebook and other internet giants — at least the “right” kind of rules, he said, such as ones that require online political ads to disclose who paid for them. In almost the next breath, however, Zuckerberg steered clear of endorsing a bill that would write such rules into federal law, and instead talked up Facebook’s own voluntary efforts on that front.

Even before the scandal broke, Facebook has already taken the most important steps to prevent a recurrence, Zuckerberg said. For example, in 2014, it reduced access outside apps had to user data. However, some of the measures didn’t take effect until a year later, allowing Cambridge to access the data in the intervening months.

Zuckerberg acknowledged that there is more to do.

In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg said it will ban developers who don’t agree to an audit. An app’s developer will no longer have access to data from people who haven’t used that app in three months. Data will also be generally limited to user names, profile photos and email, unless the developer signs a contract with Facebook and gets user approval.

In a separate post, Facebook said it will inform people whose data was misused by apps. Facebook first learned of this breach of privacy more than two years ago, but hadn’t mentioned it publicly until Friday.

The company said it was “building a way” for people to know if their data was accessed by “This Is Your Digital Life,” the psychological-profiling quiz app that researcher Aleksandr Kogan created and paid about 270,000 people to take part in. Cambridge Analytica later obtained information from the app for about 50 million Facebook users, as the app also vacuumed up data on people’s friends — including those who never downloaded the app or gave explicit consent.

Chris Wylie, a Cambridge co-founder who left in 2014, has said one of the firm’s goals was to influence people’s perceptions by injecting content, some misleading or false, all around them. It’s not clear whether Facebook would be able to tell users whether they had seen such content.

Cambridge has shifted the blame to Kogan, which the firm described as a contractor. Kogan described himself as a scapegoat.

Kogan, a psychology researcher at Cambridge University, told the BBC that both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have tried to place the blame on him, even though the firm ensured him that everything he did was legal.

“One of the great mistakes I did here was I just didn’t ask enough questions,” he said. “I had never done a commercial project. I didn’t really have any reason to doubt their sincerity. That’s certainly something I strongly regret now.”

He said the firm paid some $800,000 for the work, but it went to participants in the survey.

“My motivation was to get a dataset I could do research on,” he said. “I have never profited from this in any way personally.”

Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating.

David Carroll, a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York who sued Cambridge Analytica in the U.K., said he was not satisfied with Zuckerberg’s response, but acknowledged that “this is just the beginning.”

He said it was “insane” that Facebook had yet to take legal action against Cambridge parent SCL Group over the inappropriate data use. Carroll himself sued Cambridge Friday to recover data on him that the firm had obtained.

Sandy Parakilas, who worked in data protection for Facebook in 2011 and 2012, told a U.K. parliamentary committee Wednesday that the company was vigilant about its network security but lax when it came to protecting users’ data.

He said personal data including email addresses and in some cases private messages was allowed to leave Facebook servers with no real controls on how the data was used after that.

“The real challenge here is that Facebook was allowing developers to access the data of people who hadn’t explicitly authorized that,” he said, adding that the company had “lost sight” of what developers did with the data.

Danica Kirka and Gregory Katz reported from London. AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this story.

Ontario government expands pharmacare program to seniors

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 21st, 2018

A day after promising significant new spending on a slew of social programs in its spring budget, Ontario’s Liberal government rolled out one of the first major policies ahead of the spring election — free prescription drugs for seniors.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday that starting Aug. 1, 2019, people aged 65 or older will no longer have to pay a deductible or co-payment for more than 4,400 prescription drugs. Wynne said the program will cost $575 million a year when it is fully operational in 2020-21.

“It’s going to mean one less thing people have to worry about and it’s going to deliver real savings to help manage the rising cost of living,” Wynne said.

Drugs covered in the program include medications for cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and asthma. The government estimates the program will save the average senior $240 a year.

Last year, the province created its OHIP+ pharmacare program that provides free prescription drugs to people 24 years old or younger.

The announcement comes a day after the government pledged in a throne speech to fund a series of new programs — including the expanded pharmacare plan — the details of which will be included in the provincial budget set to be tabled on March 28.

That budget could run a deficit as high as $8 billion, breaking a key government promise to balance the budget this year. Wynne said the spending is necessary to help Ontario residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

“We’ve made a conscious and deliberate decision that we need to invest in people’s care,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work. We’ve put in place OHIP+ for kids. We’ve put in place free tuition. We raised the minimum wage …. but still people are coming to us and saying we need more support.”

Wynne said she still favours a federal pharmacare plan for all Canadians, but until that is developed Ontario will cover the costs for young people and seniors.

“The reality is that there is still more to do,” she said. “If we don’t make these investments now, we will pay a price down the road.”

Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek said his party is committed to a “proper” provincial pharmacare plan, but said the timing of the Liberal government’s announcement calls into question their dedication to the plan.

“The Wynne Liberals have been in power for 15 years, and they’ve had 15 years to address health-care challenges for seniors,” he said in a statement. “It’s only now in an election year that they’ve decided to take any action.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberal’s pharmacare plan still leaves nearly 2.2 million Ontario residents without drug coverage and its implementation is still over a year away.

“Families are being forced to empty their wallets to get the medicine they need,” she said in a statement. “Too many people cut their pills in half to make the bottle last longer. One in four Ontarians can’t afford the medication prescribed by their doctor.”

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