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AG report finds fare evaders cost TTC $64M in 2018

NEWS STAFF | posted Friday, Feb 22nd, 2019

The City’s Auditor General says fare evaders cost the TTC at least $64-million in 2018, which includes $3.4-million due to faulty Metrolinx equipment.

Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler’s report released Thursday says the figure is likely understated as she was not able to quantify the loss due to the malfunction of the TTC’s subway fare gate equipment and the use of so-called crash gates.

The report claims fare evasion is highest on streetcars which it attributes to the Proof-of-Payment system as well as the multiple-door design of the city’s new streetcars.

Romeo-Beehler issued 27 recommendations which includes expanding its fare inspection program to include buses and subway station entrances, improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the fare inspection program and find new ways to prevent fare evasion on streetcars with multiple doors and Proof-of-Payment policies.

Romeo-Beehler also raised concerns with the Child Presto cards, noting that during the six weeks of the audit no children under the age of 12 were using the cards. The report recommends the cards not be distributed until proper controls are in place to mitigate the risk of fraud.

“There are numerous serious control weaknesses with the issuance and monitoring of these cards,” she said.

Mayor John Tory says fare evasion is “absolutely unacceptable” adding TTC officials are committed to hiring more fare inspectors and transit enforcement officers in 2019.

“I hope they send a clear message to fare evaders very quickly that they will be caught and they will face costly penalties,” he said in a statement.

TTC Chair Jaye Robinson said fare evasion is a critical issue that has gone far too long without being accurately quantified.

“Fare evasion has a significant impact on the TTC’s operating revenue and transit service,” she said in a statement. “The recommendations included in this report will guide our action plan moving forward as we approach full transition to the PRESTO farecard system.”

DeRozan’s connection with Raptors, city of Toronto may never be replaced

MICHAEL GRANGE, SPORTSNET | posted Friday, Feb 22nd, 2019

What to get the guy who gave you everything?

That’s the challenge for the 19,800 lucky fans that will find their way inside Scotiabank Arena – the house that Vince Carter may have built but the one that DeMar DeRozan grew up in, decorated and never wanted to leave.

Here’s a hint – should anyone need it – about what to offer DeRozan when he takes the floor as an opponent for the first time on Friday night:

Give him everything. Don’t hold back, because he never did.

Don’t qualify it. Don’t measure it. Just let it flow.

Remember when he gave Milwaukee 52 on New Year’s Day or when he ‘emptied the clip’ in Game 7 against the Pacers or rescued the Raptors on the road in Game 4 against the Bucks?

Or when he said “I got us” after Chris Bosh left or signed as soon as he could when he became a free agent without even a split-second of drama?

Or all the nights when he made repping an overlooked franchise in an overlooked NBA market a mission he was put on earth the fulfill, like some kind of superhero sent from Compton?

Remember that and how it made you feel and pay it back.

It’s time.

Because here’s another hint: DeRozan misses what he meant to Toronto as much as Toronto should miss him.

“I watch certain shows and certain introductions for certain people and when they get that long standing ovation, I always thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” he said Thursday at the San Antonio Spurs’ downtown hotel. “I never received one so if it’s one of them long standing ovations, it’d definitely be overwhelming because… it’s crazy when people get on their feet showing their appreciation, so … I don’t know, I’m looking forward to it, to feeling the love,”

DeRozan was in Toronto for the first time since he was traded in the summer by Raptors president Masai Ujiri in a bold effort to change the trajectory of a franchise that DeRozan had helped elevate but couldn’t get over the hump.

DeMar DeRozan speaks for first time in Toronto since being traded to Spurs

Former Raptor DeMar DeRozan speaks for first time in Toronto since being traded to San Antonio Spurs

Posted by CityNews Toronto on Thursday, February 21, 2019

He gazed out on some familiar faces wearing a familiar fur hat he used to keep him warm when he lived here but dug out of storage from his place in San Antonio for the occasion.

Would he spend some time in the city walking around, seeing the sights?

“No, too cold,” he said.

Spoken like a true Torontonian. Once you’re one of us you can complain about the weather all you want. DeRozan has earned that much.

What to think, what to feel about his first visit to his first NBA home?

He’s not sure. Reducing a decade of his life since he was drafted by the Raptors let alone the “whirlwind” six months since he was traded into a digestible morsel was beyond him in advance of Friday night’s homecoming.

He’ll enter the visitors dressing room for the first time; he’ll go head-to-head against his best friend and teammate for six years, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. He’ll be trying to send the sell-out crowd home unhappy after nearly a decade of doing everything he could to make their nights memorable, their seasons worth something.

He wore his heart on his sleeve – right around where he has the word ‘loyalty’ tattooed cursive on his wrist.

And he paid for it. The trade – justifiable as it was – came like a jolt from a downed hydro wire, leaving him questioning everything he had come to stand for while sitting in a fast food parking lot trying to make sense of the news.

The anger has passed. In San Antonio he’s landed in a good place. His game – carved out piece by piece, off-season by off-season, has travelled well. He’s leading the Spurs in points while averaging career highs in rebounds and assists.

He’s come to terms with being on the wrong end of a break-up, of being told he’s no longer the one, of finding out how he felt about the relationship didn’t matter anymore.

“… She’s moved on and I’ve moved on,” he said, metaphorically. “We both have.”

The uncomfortable truth is Ujiri made the correct call from a basketball point of view. The risk was dealing DeRozan’s steadiness for Leonard’s superstar upside on the offensive and defensive end.

And while Leonard has had to be cautious about his health and is still a flight risk in free agency, it was the kind of calculation the franchise needed to make.

The payoff has been in seen in spurts on the floor with enough promise that the best is yet to come.

But Leonard – or anyone else – won’t or can’t replace the connection DeRozan built with the franchise and the city.

It may never be replaced. When again is a shy teenager from Los Angeles going to grow into a man and a father and a franchise icon before our very eyes, all while being about as humble and down-to-earth a high-profile professional athlete as you could ever meet?

“I just know this is a really good dude, and I didn’t know him any other way. Right?” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who was an assistant with DeRozan for five seasons, told reporters. “I didn’t know him any other way. He was easy to coach, he was easy to talk to. And he was a great performer.

“I just can remember telling many people over the past five years, he’s the best dude ever. People would ask you, what’s he like to coach? He’s the best dude ever.”

It’s tough to replace a person like that, let alone the one who leads your franchise in scoring, games played and games won.

When DeRozan spoke about his feelings arriving back in the city for the first time since the trade he wasn’t nostalgic about the sights or the sounds or the 70 minutes he spent in traffic getting downtown from Pearson at the onset of rush hour.

But the 29-year-old father of two couldn’t help reflecting on nine years that have drifted away, never to return.

“It’s night and day,” he said of the difference between who he was then and now. “It’s just my approach to life, my approach to the game, my knowledge of the game, on and off the court.

“I became a man. I always go back and think, I was 19, turned into a father, raising two little girls that drives me crazy, so to see that sitting from here, it just lets you know.”

It’s not the way he wanted it to end. He never wanted to have a reunion under these terms. He was in for the long haul. But even so, he doesn’t wish he held anything back, that he was too cool to share how he really felt.

He put himself out there. Maybe we can all learn from that.

“No, I don’t regret what I felt. It was real,” he said. “You can say you love a woman and just because she comes back and says she don’t like you the next week, it ain’t your fault. It’s like ‘OK, cool. I still love you though.”

On Friday night at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto should let No. 10 on the San Antonio Spurs know the feeling was – and is — mutual.

Suspended Tory MPP says comments weren’t directed at parents of kids with autism

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 21st, 2019

Premier Doug Ford suspended a member of his caucus Wednesday for comments made as parents of children with autism packed the legislature’s galleries, angry about funding changes they say are woefully inadequate.

Some of the parents said that Randy Hillier said “yada yada yada” to them near the end of question period, but Hillier said the remarks were directed at the NDP.

Nevertheless, Ford suspended Hillier indefinitely from the Tory caucus, saying his comments were disrespectful to parents of children with autism.

“Mr. Hillier’s comments crossed the line and that is unacceptable,” the premier said.

Hillier, for his part, said he was sorry if the comments meant for the NDP had upset the families.

“I apologize to the parents present who may have felt that my comments were directed at them,” he said. “They were not, and never would be.”

Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced autism funding changes this month that would see families get up to $20,000 per year for treatment for children under six and $5,000 a year for children six to 18, up to a lifetime maximum of $140,000.

But intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year, and parents – some of whom watched question period Wednesday while wiping tears away – are calling for funding to be based on children’s individual needs, instead of just their age.

Nancy Silva-Khan is the mom to seven-year-old twin boys on the severe end of the autism spectrum. They are currently in 30 hours a week of publicly funded therapy at a cost of $120,000 for both children. When the new program takes effect in a few weeks she will get less than $10,000 per year to pay for their therapy.

“They have chosen to provide a grain of rice for a therapy famine experienced by the autism community,” Silva-Khan said.

Her boys have made great strides in therapy, she said, including learning to feed themselves with a spoon and undress themselves.

“They no longer hit me while bathing,” she said. “They have stopped violently banging their heads on the window of a vehicle whenever stopped at a red light. My boys can now scream ‘ma’ when they need me. Intensive (applied behaviour analysis) therapy works, regardless of age.”

Stephanie Ridley, mom to a seven-year-old boy who is non-verbal, said the amount of funding each family will get will not be enough for many children, using an analogy.

“Every kid in this province, (MacLeod) says, deserves a pair of glasses, and they just got them all with no lenses,” Ridley said. “Not every kid needs intensive therapy. We’re just asking for what each kid individually needs.”

MacLeod has said that her goal with the new program is to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for treatment, saying it’s unfair that only about 8,400 are currently receiving funded therapy. She said that the flow of kids coming off the wait list had slowed to a trickle, leading her to believe that if she didn’t make changes, they would stay on that list forever.

But many of those on the list say they’d rather wait for full funding.

Only families with an adjusted annual net family income of under $55,000 will be eligible for the maximum annual amounts, with funding determined on a sliding scale up to a $250,000 income.

Parents, who are planning a protest at the legislature March 7, said they won’t back down in demanding changes.

“If they want to keep doing this, we’ll keep dancing,” said Kristen Ellison, mom to an eight-year-old in treatment for 25 hours a week. “We can’t do it every day, but there’s a parent behind us who will replace us when we have to fall back. I am not going away.”

Statement by Randy Hillier

As any observer of Question Period is aware, significant banter is exchanged between both sides of the Legislature. 

The banter during today’s Question Period escalated as the NDP Caucus continued to politicize the emotional challenges and hardships of the many families of autistic children who were present. 

I found the exploitation of these families by Members of the NDP Caucus disheartening.

I’m proud of the work my friend Minister Lisa MacLeod has done to clear the waiting list and provide funding for every child with autism. 

At the end of Question Period as Members were leaving their seats, Monique Taylor continued to politicize these hardships so I caught the eye of Ms. Taylor and simply said to her “Yada yada yada.”

In my twelve years in office I do not recall any Member heckling a spectator in the gallery and all banter is always between Members on the floor of the House.

I apologize to the parents present who may have felt that my comments were directed at them; they were not, and never would be.  

Randy Hillier

 

‘Empire’ actor charged with filing false police report

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Thursday, Feb 21st, 2019

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was charged Wednesday with making a false police report when he said he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, police said.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said prosecutors charged Smollett with felony disorderly conduct, an offence that could bring one to three years in prison and force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a Jan. 29 beating.

Authorities were trying to get in touch with Smollett’s attorneys to “negotiate a reasonable surrender,” Guglielmi said. That could involve Smollett turning himself in to a Chicago police station.

He said he did not have a time frame for how long the actor would be given.

“We are trying to be diplomatic and reasonable, and we’re hoping he does the same,” Guglielmi said.

The charges emerged on the same day that detectives and two brothers who were earlier deemed suspects testified before a grand jury. Smollett’s attorneys met with prosecutors and police, but it was unknown what they discussed or whether Smollett attended the meeting. The attorneys did not reply to requests for comment.

The announcement of the charges followed a flurry of activity in recent days, including lengthy interviews of the brothers by authorities, a search of their home and their release after police cleared them.

Investigators have not said what the brothers told detectives or what evidence detectives collected. But it became increasingly clear that serious questions had arisen about Smollett’s account _ something police signalled Friday when they announced a “significant shift in the trajectory” of the probe after the brothers were freed.

Smollett, who is black and gay and plays a gay character on the hit Fox television show, said he was attacked as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled “This is MAGA country” _ an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” _ before fleeing.

Earlier Wednesday, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement saying Smollett “continues to be a consummate professional on set” and that his character is not being written off the show. The series is shot in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry.

The studio’s statement followed reports that Smollett’s role was being slashed amid the police investigation.

Whispers about Smollett’s potential role in the attack started with reports that he had not fully co-operated with police and word that detectives in a city bristling with surveillance cameras could not find video of the attack.

Detectives did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question and last week picked up the brothers at O’Hare Airport as they returned from Nigeria. Police questioned the men and searched their apartment.

The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett.

The day after they were released, police said the men provided information that had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” and detectives requested another interview with Smollett.

Police said one of the men had appeared on “Empire,” and Smollett’s attorneys said one of the men is the actor’s personal trainer, whom he hired to help get him physically ready for a music video. The actor released his debut album, “Sum of My Music,” last year.

Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury. The police spokesman said the brothers appeared before the panel to “lock in their testimony.”

Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers’ attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours.

“There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we’re going to correct this,” Gloria Schmidt said.

She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. “You don’t need immunity when you have the truth,” she said.

She also said her clients received money from Smollett, but she did not elaborate.

Smollett has been active in LBGTQ issues, and initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from Sen. Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely throw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if they have no prior criminal record.

Smollett has a record _ one that concerns giving false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to records, he was also charged with false impersonation and driving without a license. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.

Another prospective problem is the bill someone might receive after falsely reporting a crime that prompted a nearly monthlong investigation, including the collection and review of hundreds of hours of surveillance video.

The size of the tab is anyone’s guess, but given how much time the police have invested, the cost could be huge.

Weisberg recently represented a client who was charged with making a false report after surveillance video discredited her account of being robbed by three men at O’Hare Airport.

For an investigation that took only a single day, his client had to split restitution of $8,400, Weisberg said. In Smollett’s case, “I can imagine that this would be easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Also Wednesday, Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, announced that she had recused herself from the investigation.

Her office explained that Foxx made the decision “out of an abundance of caution” because of conversations she had with one of Smollett’s family members just after the report. When the relative expressed concerns about the case, Foxx “facilitated a connection” between the family member and detectives, according to a statement.

Foxx said the case would be handled to her first assistant, Joseph Magats, a 28-year veteran prosecutor.

Brampton dad accused of murdering daughter dies in hospital

NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Feb 21st, 2019

The father of an 11-year-old girl who was the subject of an Amber Alert last week has died.

Roopesh Rajkumar had been in hospital since suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound the night his daughter, Riya, was found dead in his Brampton home after she went missing on Valentine’s Day.

An Amber Alert was issued after Riya’s mother had gone to police after Rajkumar allegedly failed to return the girl on time after taking her out for her birthday. She told police that she had received concerning comments from Roopesh about harming himself and his daughter.

Rajkumar was arrested by Provincial Police in a high-risk takedown some 130 kilometres away in Oro-Medonte shortly after Riya’s body was found. Peel Regional Police say his injury wasn’t discovered until he was transferred into their custody. It wasn’t until he was brought to hospital that the gunshot wound was discovered.

The province’s Special Investigations Unit was contacted but declined to invoke their mandate.

The news of Rajkumar’s death comes on the same day his daughter was laid to rest.

About 100 mourners gathered Wednesday to listen to speeches, poems and songs as the community remembered the young girl.

“My daughter Riya was taken from me too early,” Priya Ramdin, who did not attend the vigil, said in a statement read by Peel police Deputy Chief Chris McCord.

“She never liked to be negative and always saw the good in every situation. If I’m ever upset, she would say ‘Mama, don’t be sad, look at the positives.”’

Ramdin described her daughter as her best friend and a social butterfly who loved to spend time with her family and friends.

“She was a little princess who loved dressing up, having her hair curled and done up,” Ramdin said.

“She touched a lot of lives with her laughter and contagious big smile. It breaks my heart to know I will no longer be seeing that smile, hearing her voice and never having her in my arms again.”

Netflix setting up production hub in Toronto

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 20th, 2019

Netflix is setting up a dedicated production hub in Toronto, which film and T-V creators hope will provide new opportunities for local talent.

The California-based streaming giant is expanding its presence in Canada by leasing two studio spaces along the downtown industrial waterfront area.

At Cinespace Studios, Netflix is leasing four new sound stages — along with spaces for office and support work — totalling approximately 164-thousand square feet.

At Pinewood Toronto Studios, Netflix is also leasing four sound stages and adjacent office space totalling 84,580 square feet.

Netflix says the commitment will provide jobs for up to 1,850 Canadians per year, and that the leases are “multi-year” but didn’t specify for exactly how long.

Cinespace says its sound stages leased by Netflix are under construction and set to be operational this summer while Pinewood says Netflix will move a production onto one of its sound stages in the next couple of weeks.

Projects already set to be made at the hub include the horror anthology series “Guillermo del Toro Presents Ten After Midnight” and the film “Let It Snow.”

Doug Ford clashes with protesting students at Ontario legislature

SHAWN JEFFORDS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 20th, 2019

Doug Ford admonished protesting students for their “filthy” mouths on Tuesday after a group decrying cuts to post-secondary grants disrupted a session at Ontario’s legislature by shouting obscenities at the premier.

A handful of student protesters seated in the public gallery interrupted legislators by shouting chants of “free tuition” followed by profanity directed at the premier. Ford chastised the group and blamed the Opposition for influencing them.

“That’s how they train our kids, with a filthy mouth,” he said. “They should have their mouths washed out with soap. That’s what they should have, because that’s embarrassing.”

The clash comes weeks after the Progressive Conservative government announced that it is ending free tuition for low-income students as it attempts to trim a $13.5 billion deficit. Critics say the move — which is being made in conjunction with a 10 per cent tuition fee cut — is harmful to those it purports to help.

The government has said grants under the Ontario Student Assistance Plan had become unsustainable and it was time to refocus the program to provide help to students in the most financial need.

Under the Liberal OSAP program, families earning up to $175,000 could qualify for some funding and that threshold is now reduced to $140,000. Low-income students could qualify for grants large enough to cover the full cost of tuition under the previous plan, but now a portion of the funding they receive will be a loan.

The government also plans to make some fees paid by Ontario college and university students optional instead of mandatory, including those to student governments. Critics have slammed that move as an attack on free speech on campuses.

Students rallying outside the legislature Tuesday said the changes will increase student debt and limit access to higher education for many.

“We the students will defend access to education against these attacks,” said Nour Alideeb, chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario. “The government’s plans to slash OSAP … has devastated students and families across the country.”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union joined the students in their call for a rollback of the planned changes.

Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton said she respects the students’ right to protest on the grounds outside the building but criticized those who disrupted the legislative session earlier in the day.

“In the chamber, I think we need to demonstrate respect all different ways,” she said. “And make sure that people are heard and that they have an opportunity to protest outside if they wish but to maintain respect for the processes within the chamber.”

The protest comes a week after Ford accused student unions of getting up to “crazy Marxist nonsense” as he appealed for donations to his Progressive Conservative party in a fundraising email.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford should be more mindful of his own conduct in the house, chastising him for getting into a shouting match during the morning session with several NDP legislators.

“Mr. Ford doesn’t like to be held to account,” she said. “He thinks he’s the king of Ontario. Well, he’s not the king of Ontario. Whether you’re a student protesting outside or inside … people have a right to be here and to show their displeasure in terms of the government’s behaviour.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said students are upset with the changes for good reason.

“I think it’s fair,” he said. “(The government is) touting a 10 per cent cut which is actually just a reduction in resources to universities.”

Watch video here

Funeral Wednesday for slain Mississauga girl after 100 mourners gather at vigil

NEWS STAFF AND THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 20th, 2019

The family of an 11-year-old girl, allegedly killed by her father in his Brampton apartment, will say goodbye to their loved one Wednesday.

The funeral for Riya Rajkumar follows a vigil at Garden Square on Thursday night. Members of Brampton city council said they organized the candlelight memorial to give the city the chance to come together to mourn her death.

About 100 mourners gathered to listen to speeches, poems and songs as the community remembered the young girl.

“My daughter Riya was taken from me too early,” Priya Ramdin, who did not attend the vigil, said in a statement read by Peel police Deputy Chief Chris McCord.

“She never liked to be negative and always saw the good in every situation. If I’m ever upset, she would say ‘Mama, don’t be sad, look at the positives.”’

The day Riya died — Valentine’s Day — was also her and her mother’s birthdays.

“Early that day, we went to do our nails and her choice of colour was red,” Ramdin said.

“She was so excited for her birthday, looking forward to having dinner later that evening. Never did I think that my daughter would not return back to me.”

Riya became the subject of an Amber Alert late Thursday night after police say her mother allegedly received information that her father planned to hurt both the child and himself.

Police later broke down the door to her father’s home in Brampton, where Riya was found dead, less than an hour after the Amber Alert was issued.

Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, was arrested some 130 kilometres away and was hospitalized with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He has been charged with first-degree murder in her death. He remains in hospital.

“Riya was a dreamer,” her mother said.

“She wanted to become a doctor, drive a Lamborghini and one day own a mansion.”

Ramdin described her daughter as her best friend and a social butterfly who loved to spend time with her family and friends.

“She was a little princess who loved dressing up, having her hair curled and done up,” Ramdin said.

“She touched a lot of lives with her laughter and contagious big smile. It breaks my heart to know I will no longer be seeing that smile, hearing her voice and never having her in my arms again.”

Several politicians attended the vigil, including the mayor of Mississauga, Ont., where Riya lived with her mother and went to school.

“Let this tragedy serve as a stark reminder that as a society, we can and we must do better to protect our women and our young girls from violence because this is simply unacceptable,” Mayor Bonnie Crombie said.

“Rest in peace Riya.”

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