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Alek Minassian to appear in court as it prepares for murder trial

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Oct 28th, 2020

The man who killed 10 people when he drove a van down a busy Toronto sidewalk is set to appear in court today.

Alek Minassian faces 10 charges of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with the incident on April 23, 2018.

Lawyers and the judge are finalizing details on the trial that is scheduled to begin on Nov. 9 and will likely be held by videoconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent decision by the Superior Court of Ontario’s chief justice limits the number of people in a physical courtroom to 10 due to the pandemic.

In early March, Minassian admitted in court to planning and carrying out the attack.

The judge has said the case will turn on Minassian’s state of mind at the time of the attack, not whether he did it.

Toronto city council votes to extend outdoor patios through the winter

Michael Ranger | posted Wednesday, Oct 28th, 2020

Winter patios in Toronto are one step closer to becoming a reality.

City council approved the extension of sidewalk patios through the winter months on Tuesday.

The extended CafeTO program allows restaurants to occupy sidewalk space along the curbside. City council is also extending a bylaw through 2021 that will increase the size limit of outdoor patios. They are also removing restrictions that would otherwise prevent patios in the front of buildings.

While city council has given the thumbs up, there are still some questions that need to be answered before they can be officially rolled out.

“Provincial orders currently prohibit indoor dining in Toronto and restaurants need flexibility to find expanded outdoor dining spaces that are safe and meet important accessibility requirement,” the City said in a release.

Mayor John Tory said he would like the city to get out of the way and make the rules as simple as possible for any restaurants that want a patio to be able to have one.

“Winter is coming and we need to support restaurants by allowing winter cafes right now. Sidewalk cafes and expanded private patio space are just a few ways we will support restaurants this winter and into the spring. The effects of COVID-19 have been felt throughout the industry, and I will continue to encourage staff to come up with new and creative ways in which we can continue to support local restaurant operators while recognizing that we must maintain important safety and accessibility requirements.”

Concerns were raised in Tuesday’s city council meeting. Some issues surround whether tents will be permitted and where they can be allowed.

The idea of allowing enclosed tents is a real concern for Coun. Shelly Carroll. She said the decisions should be in the hands of health officials and not politicians.

“We really have to look at this very bluntly from a COVID transmission perspective. I’m very sorry that the premier stuck his neck out for a particular design. It’s the medical professionals that have to tell us what’s right even though our heart breaks for every restauranteur that we know.”

Canada surpasses 10,000 deaths from COVID-19

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Oct 28th, 2020

More than 10,000 Canadians have died due to COVID-19, a grim milestone reached by a pandemic that is far from over.

Twenty-eight new deaths reported in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta pushed the death toll to 1,001 on Tuesday.

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first death was reported.

COVID-19 case counts slowed across the country through the summer, but have taken a big jump in many areas this fall, with new daily highs reached regularly in Central and Western Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the pandemic a “horrific national tragedy,” and warned that Canadians should brace for more.

“Families have lost loved ones, been devastated by these tragedies, and we need to know that there are more tragedies to come,” he told a briefing in Ottawa.

The death toll has climbed much more slowly since April and May, when outbreaks in long-term care homes and a lack of medical knowledge about the novel coronavirus resulted in a higher proportion of fatal infections.

However, the pandemic has grown deadlier over the past month. More than 600 COVID-19-related fatalities have been reported in October so far compared with 165 COVID-19 in September, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Ontario reported 827 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and four new deaths due to the virus.

Quebec, where residents in its biggest cities will have to live with partial lockdowns for at least another four weeks, reported 963 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 more deaths.

Manitoba tallied its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, with health officials reporting 184 new infections on Tuesday and three more deaths.

Alberta reported another two deaths from COVID-19.

The pandemic’s second wave could jeopardize large gatherings with friends and family over Christmas after a reined-in Thanksgiving.

“It’s frustrating knowing that unless we’re really, really careful, there may not be the kinds of family gatherings we want to have at Christmas,” Trudeau said.

He sought to spur hope ahead of a “tough winter.”

“We will get through this. Vaccines are on the horizon. Spring and summer will come and they will be better than this winter,” he said.

But the current situation he summed up with a single verb.

“This sucks. It really, really does.”

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities, despite frustrations over conflicting information on Halloween as well as varying COVID-19 testing requirements for students.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has suggested hockey sticks as a tool to hand out Halloween treats, while others are resorting to candy chutes or self-serve stations. But the Ontario government has recommended against trick-or-treating in parts of the province that have been hardest hit by the resurgence of the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, school reopening plans sowed confusion about what symptoms in students demanded COVID-19 tests, triggering massive lineups at assessment centres and overwhelming laboratories where the tests are processed.

And Quebec Premier Francois Legault had his own ideas Tuesday about the prospects for a festive holiday in December.

“I really hope and I’m confident that in 28 days we’ll be able to maybe not have big parties, for Christmas, but to be able to see our families,” he said in his own briefing.

In Prince Edward Island, chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison had unwelcome news for residents hoping to reunite with family from outside the Atlantic bubble over the December holidays.

“While we are always evaluating our decisions and guidance using the best available evidence, I do not expect right now that we will be reducing the 14-day self-isolation requirement prior to the Christmas holiday season,” she told a briefing in Charlottetown.

Under their bubble arrangement, the Atlantic provinces limit who can enter and require people who do come in from outside the region to quarantine for two weeks.

Mixed messaging threatens to chip away at trust in public health advice, said Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health.

Dance studios in Ontario’s “hot zones” have been allowed to stay open, while gyms have been forced to shutter along with cinemas, casinos and performing arts venues, he noted.

“Quite honestly I don’t know why a distinction is made between those two,” Sly said.

Trudeau said circumstances have changed since the spring, when little was known about the novel coronavirus and there was one main message: “Everyone stay home.”

“We can be a little more targeted (now). But yeah, that means a little more complicated in our messages,” he said Tuesday.

Epidemiologists across the country have stressed the need for massive testing in order to stop the spread of the virus.

Sly pointed to Germany as a model, despite a recent spike in case numbers. Authorities there have made both rapid testing and “open public testing,” which lets asymptomatic people access tests, crucial weapons in the war against viral resurgence.

“Testing is absolutely key and, at the other end after the fact, contact tracing. And we’ve been not prepared for these things – behind the 8-ball,” Sly said.A proximity interaction occurs when one device is within 50 metres of another device for more than five minutes in a given hour, she said.

While McGahan praised Canadians, she also said the worrisome side of the study is that this may be the best we can do.

The proximity data is already really low, she said, considering that the average family household in Canada has 2.9 people.

“In many parts of Canada, and certainly on average, proximity is still low,” McGahan said.

“It doesn’t look like by shutting down everything again, having broad restrictions on our mobility, that we’re going to be able to get much more reduction in social interactions.”

She said the researchers are now planning to incorporate medical and economic data in an effort to tease out any associations.

Man who killed his family in Markham apologizes during sentencing hearing

LIAM CASEY, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Oct 27th, 2020

A 24-year-old Ontario man who killed his entire family apologized Monday to anyone he had “impacted negatively” with his actions, as lawyers asked a judge to hand him a life sentence with no parole for 40 years.

Menhaz Zaman pleaded guilty last month to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder for killing his parents, grandmother and sister at their home in Markham, Ont., on July 27, 2019.

Appearing via video conference at a sentencing hearing that was held virtually, Zaman addressed the court in a flat tone.

“I would like to just apologize to anyone I have impacted negatively with my actions, and especially to the people who knew my family and friends and loved ones who I know could never have seen something like this happening,” said Zaman, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit as he appeared from the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont.

“I’m sorry.”

The Crown and defence both sought a 40-year period of parole ineligibility for Zaman for the murders.

Justice Michelle Fuerst will give her decision on Nov. 2.

Police found the bodies of 70-year-old Firoza Begum, 59-year-old Moniruz Zaman, 50-year-old Momtaz Begum, and 21-year-old Malesa Zaman in their home.

They also found and arrested Menhaz Zaman at the family home, according to an agreed statement of facts filed with court.

Court heard just a solitary victim impact statement, from Malesa Zaman’s best friend, Afnan Alibaccas, which was read out by the Crown attorney.

“I’ve been broken ever since she was taken away,” Alibaccas wrote.

“It’s hard to cope with a murder _ it’s even harder when the person taken away from you is the person closest to you.”

She said she has been best friends with Malesa Zaman since they first met in Grade 3.

“I never thought I’d have to write a victim impact statement for my best friend’s murder,” Alibaccas wrote.

“I thought the only time I’d write a speech for her was on her wedding day at some point in the future, but I guess that’s off the table.”

Alibaccas said her life changed the day she woke up to news of her friend’s death.

She said she has struggled with anxiety, sleepless nights and the worry she’ll somehow run into the killer on the street.

She said she has isolated herself and has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that she is taking medication for. Alibaccas said she has yet to see a therapist because she does not have insurance to cover the cost.

According to an agreed statement of facts read out in court last month, Menhaz Zaman first thought of killing his family three years earlier.

He told a friend shortly after the murders that his family believed he was studying engineering at York University. He was actually enrolled in an electronics engineering program at Seneca College, but dropped out in 2015 due to failing grades.

He spent his days in a nearby mall and at a gym in an effort to keep up the ruse, according to the statement of facts.

“I did this bc i dont want my parents to feel the shame of having a son like me,” he said in a message to a friend after the murders.

His family believed he was set to graduate on July 28, 2019.

Around 3 p.m. the day before, Zaman killed his mother first. About an hour later he killed his grandmother.

He waited until about 11 p.m. for his sister to come home from work. He killed her then.

About an hour later, he killed his father when he got home from his job as a taxi driver.

In between, he had napped and played video games, the statement of facts said.

“Autopsies revealed he had struck each of them on the head, with most likely a crow bar, and when they fell to the floor, he cut their throats,” the statement of facts said.

All counts come with an automatic life sentence in prison, but a judge must decide on the time of parole ineligibility.

The Crown and defence, in a joint position, say they want the period of parole ineligibility to run 25 years concurrently for the first-degree murder charges, plus 15 years of parole ineligibility for the second-degree murder count, which was for his killing his mother, the first victim in the spree.

Most Canadians don’t want federal election until at least 2022, new poll suggests

MAAN ALHMIDI, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Oct 27th, 2020

OTTAWA — A new poll suggests most Canadians don’t want a federal election during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — or even next year.

The results suggest 47 per cent of respondents want the next election to be held in the fall of 2023 — four years after the last election — and 10 per cent would like one to be held in 2022.

Twenty-five per cent of respondents say they want Canadians to head to the polls next spring and 18 per cent next fall.

“The context of the pandemic tends to favour stability,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

“I believe it’s probably sort of a natural or a normal reaction to the context of the pandemic.”

There were sharp regional variations.

Fifty-three per cent of respondents in Quebec and 51 per cent of those in Ontario want the Liberals to govern until 2023, while 42 per cent of those in Alberta and 36 per cent of those in Manitoba and Saskatchewan want to cast ballots next spring.

The desired timing also varies along party lines, with nearly half of Conservative supporters saying they want an election next spring and 70 per cent of Liberal supporters choosing 2023.

The online poll of 1,523 adult Canadians was carried from Oct. 23 to 25 and cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random.

The poll suggests the Liberal party is still leading among decided voters. Thirty-seven per cent say they would vote for the Liberals, versus 30 per cent for the Conservatives and 18 per cent for the NDP. The Bloc followed with eight per cent and the Greens at five.

The last six months of polling have shown the Liberals four to nine points ahead, said Bourque, adding the new Conservative leader has not yet managed to improve results for his party.

“We’ve yet to see sort of an ‘Erin O’Toole effect’ on the intentions,” he said.

The survey also shows that 71 per cent of respondents are satisfied with the measures the federal government has put in place to fight COVID-19, while 25 per cent are unsatisfied.

Meanwhile, 25 per cent of respondents feel that the federal government has done a worse job managing the second wave of the COVID-19 worse than it did for the initial wave last spring. Only 14 per cent feel it has done a better job this time around.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said Ottawa has done a better job trying to keep some businesses open and the economy going this time around. Just over half said the federal government is being more proactive in helping provinces manage this wave.

When it comes to what is not going well, 63 per cent of respondents said Ottawa has been slow to increase public health measures as the number of COVID-19 cases grew. Thirty-nine per cent said Ottawa politicians are too focused on politics on Parliament Hill.

The poll suggests different levels of satisfaction when it come to how each provincial government is handling the second wave.

Thirty-one per cent of those living in Atlantic provinces, where travel restrictions have help keep case numbers low, say their provincial government is doing a better job this time around.

But 39 per cent of those in Alberta and 29 per cent of those in Manitoba or Saskatchewan say their provincial governments are doing a worse job than they did in the spring.

“They tend to hold, in part, their provincial government responsible for the slowdown in the economy,” Bourque said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2020

——
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

Ford government to table next budget on November 5

LUCAS CASALETTO, NEWS STAFF, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Oct 27th, 2020

With a focus on protecting the people of Ontario amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the province announced it will release its 2020 budget on Thursday, November 5.

Premier Doug Ford says it will provide much-needed support to families, workers, and employers.

“To start us down the road to recovery, we need a healthy workforce. That’s why we have put the health and safety of every Ontarian first during this pandemic,” Ford said at Monday’s COVID-19 briefing.

“Getting people back to work, creating more jobs and attracting investment are also important priorities for our government. The upcoming budget will strike a balance that will focus on continuing to protect everyone’s health and safety, while creating the right conditions for our economic recovery.”

Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the budget will be a three-year action plan to battle COVID-19, providing a roadmap to pandemic recovery.

The province delayed its budget, which was originally scheduled for release in March, because of the pandemic and instead unveiled a COVID-19-focused fiscal update.

The Progressive Conservative government had said in March that the deficit would reach $20.5 billion by the end of 2020-2021.

Phillips said in August that due to billions more in spending required by the ongoing pandemic, that number is set to reach $38.5 billion.

Liberals hold on to Toronto-Centre, York-Centre ridings

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Oct 27th, 2020

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have hung on to two normally safe Liberal seats in Toronto.

But their reduced share of the vote is a humbling result for the prime minister in the first electoral test of his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Broadcaster Marci Ien retained Toronto Centre for the Liberals in yesterday’s byelection, but had to fend off a strong challenge by newly minted Green party leader Annamie Paul.

Business woman and Jewish activist Ya’ara Saks also held on to York Centre for the Grits, but ended only 700 votes ahead of her Conservative challenger.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says the results are a sign that Canadians are losing faith in Trudeau.

During last fall’s general election, the Liberals took Toronto Centre with just over 57 per cent of the vote, York Centre with just over 50 per cent.

Yesterday, Ien took 42 per cent of the Toronto Centre vote — a 15-point drop.

Saks captured almost 46 per cent, a four-point drop.

Ontario reports more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Oct 26th, 2020

Ontario reported 1,042 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday – the highest single-day total in the province since the pandemic started was declared back in March.

It’s the second straight day the province has set a new benchmark, having reported 978 new infections on Saturday.

The rolling seven-day average has jumped to 857 from 747 just a week ago as the total number of cases in Ontario surges past 70,000.

“While today’s data is concerning, the increase in cases may be the result of Thanksgiving gatherings,” said a Ministry of Health spokesperson. “We will continue to monitor the situation and take swift action as needed to limit the transmission of COVID-19, keep our schools and economy open, and protect our most vulnerable.”

Toronto remains the hotspot of the province with 309 cases, Peel Region is next with 289, followed by York Region with 117, and Ottawa with 80.

Toronto’s medical officer of health says the current levels of infection are the reason why she is urging people to limit contact as much as possible to people they live with.

“The virus spreads from person to person.  It needs us.  If we limit our exposure to people, we limit the virus’s ability to spread,” says Dr. Eileen De Villa.  “It is still early days since the recent imposition of some limits on activities. It will take some more time to assess the success of these actions.  In the meantime, I cannot stress enough how much rests on the decisions we make as individuals.”  

“We did this before.  We forced back the rise in infections last spring. If we limit our contact, keep our distance, and wear our masks, we will contribute significantly to the ability to limit virus spread and that is the most important thing of all,” she added.

Durham region reported 52 new cases, up one from the previous day, while Halton saw an increase of 10 new cases to 31. The province is contemplating whether or not to move those regions into a modified Stage 2 as well, despite objections from some politicians in Halton.

Provincial health officials say they processed 38,769 tests in the last 24-hour period, raising the positivity rate up to 2.7 per cent from 2.2 per cent the day before.

Another seven deaths were recorded, bringing the provincial total up to 3,093.

The number of people hospitalized was reported at 278, however the province noted that approximately 40 hospitals did not submit data and that the total number is actually higher. Seventy-nine patients are currently in ICU with the number of those on ventilators increasing to 54.

On the same day of Ontario’s record total, Quebec eclipsed a new milestone with more than 100,000 coronavirus cases.

The province registered 879 new cases Sunday, bringing its total to 100,114 infections since the pandemic began.

Quebec has been hard hit by the virus, recording nearly half of all the COVID-19 cases in Canada to date.

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