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Tuition refunds offered to students as Ontario college strike ends

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Nov 21st, 2017

Half a million Ontario college students have the option of walking away from a now-condensed fall semester with a full tuition refund in the aftermath of a five-week-long faculty strike.

Students will have two weeks from the resumption of classes on Tuesday to decide whether or not they want to continue with the semester, Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said Monday. The province’s 24 colleges will be expected to foot the bill for the refund, she said.

“I didn’t think it was right that colleges would actually financially benefit from the strike,” Matthews said. “I think it’s appropriate to actually return that money to students.”

The move comes as 12,000 college faculty were back on the job Monday after the strike was ended over the weekend with back-to-work legislation.

Ontario’s Liberal government first tried to introduce and pass the back-to-work legislation in one fell swoop Thursday night but the NDP forced the legislature to sit through the weekend to debate the bill, ultimately passing it Sunday afternoon.

Matthews defended the rebate program as the “right thing to do”.

“I think students successfully argued that students need some kind of compensation for this,” she said. “If it sets a precedent, I think it’s a good precedent to set.”

A similar tuition rebate was offered to students after a strike in 2006 shuttered Ontario colleges for 18 days.

Matthews said students who continue with the fall semester will be eligible to receive up to $500 for unexpected costs they incurred because of the labour dispute, such as childcare fees, rebooked train or bus tickets, or rent.

“I don’t think any amount of money will be able to pay for the amount of anxiety that students have suffered through this whole process,” she said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown called on the government to match the funds given to students impacted by the strike dollar-for-dollar.

“People have made Christmas, holiday plans, flights back home,” Brown said. “Frankly, the colleges have saved expenses, have saved costs during this period.”

NDP advanced education critic Peggy Sattler called the $500 compensation “absolutely inadequate.” In addition to the financial hardship, students who decide to continue their semester are now faced with the daunting prospect of trying to complete five weeks of school work into a compressed schedule.

“I’m hearing from students who are in an absolute panic over how they are ever going to be able to manage this compressed and accelerated semester,” she said. “Half of Ontario’s college students are parents, they are mature students. They have family obligations over the holidays. They are very, very worried over what this will mean to their ability to successfully complete their courses.”

Colleges are extending their semesters so students don’t lose their terms, but student advocates say trying to condense five missed weeks into roughly two extra ones will be stressful.

Don Sinclair, CEO of the College Employer Council, which bargained on behalf of the province’s colleges, said every school will have a different approach on how it structures the remainder of the semester.

“Each college will assess a variety of factors such as available time based on cancelling fall reading weeks or extending the term into late December and or early January,” Sinclair said in a statement. “Colleges will be closed between Christmas and New Years.”

College Student Alliance President Joel Willett said his group had been pushing the government to offer the tuition refund so students could start fresh in the new year.

“There was worry that (the student’s) year was compromised, relationships with faculty would be compromised,” he said. “And there is a feeling that they wouldn’t get the education that they paid for at the end of the day and graduate with an asterisk attached to their name for future employment opportunities.”

Willett said regardless of the government policy, students will have to deal with the aftermath of the labour dispute.

“The transition is going to be very difficult,” he said. “Students are the ones who are ultimately going to have to pick up this broken semester and try to focus on being able to get the best education possible.”

Should politicians be taken out of transit planning?

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Nov 21st, 2017

It’s a vision of what Toronto transit could have looked like — had politics not interfered with transit planning.Proposed-Subway-Lines-Mon-Nov-20-23-23-41-UTC-2017-1-1024x640

The above map includes several projects that never happened: an underground Queen Street rail corridor, the Eglinton West subway line, and an extension of the Sheppard line to Scarborough Town Centre as originally intended.

For various reasons, all those projects fell apart. And transit experts say it’s all because of political interference that has set transit back in Toronto by decades.

“You look at what we have done in the last 30 years, and you realize that it’s been extremely dismal. There’s almost nothing significant being done on public transit.” said Ryerson University transit expert Murtaza Haider.

Transit advocate Steve Munro believes building transit has become more about political opportunism rather than getting shovels in the ground.

“Transit planning is all about having a press release, of running an election campaign, of making promises of things you can’t possibly deliver because they weren’t practical to begin with,” Monroe told CityNews.

The chair of the TTC admits it could be time to stop talking and start building.

“I think the biggest mistake politicians have made… has been the constant debate about transit as opposed to building it,” said Coun. Josh Colle.

“We’re opening up a subway in less than 30 days, it will be the first one in 15 years in this city. And I think that’s where you see sometimes the failing of process and politics over building. I think we’ve got to stop getting caught in the quagmire and just keep advancing transit. We really should never stop.”

SafeTTC app tips lead to 3 arrests

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Nov 21st, 2017

It’s only been operating for 10 weeks, but the SafeTTC app has already helped lead to three arrests.

To date, the app has received 574 reports – 22 per cent of those surrounded allegations of harassment, according to statistics provided to CityNews by the TTC.

“We’ve had over 500 reports filed. The most common report is harassment,” explained TTC spokesperson Susan Sperling.

The app, which is free to download and use, allows riders to discreetly submit videos, photos and texts about unwanted behavior to the TTC control centre. Submitting a tip doesn’t immediately summon emergency personnel, but tips received through the app have been connected to arrests in two allegations of sexual assaults and one robbery.

“Our goal with this app was to make the TTC safer and we can see that that’s already happening,” said Sperling.

Since its launch in September, 2,700 users have downloaded the SafeTTC app.

The TTC’s #ThisIsWhere campaign, which launched at the same time as the app, has encouraged commuters to take to social media with their experiences of racism, violence or harassment while riding the red rocket.

The campaign features posters and stickers placed prominently in TTC stations and vehicles. The billboards recount actual experiences like “#ThisIsWhere Agatha leaned away when someone leaned in to kiss her” and “#ThisIsWhere Savi faced violence when confronting a racist.”

But one expert is worried the campaign’s tone could be taking away from its actual message.

“Essentially people are reading these ads all over the place that are saying all the bad things that are happening on the TTC,” said marketing and business specialist Marc Gordon.

“They’re seeing this and they’re thinking, wow, is the TTC that dangerous, is this bus dangerous, is this subway car dangerous, because they’re being reminded of all the bad things that happened on it. And I’m worried that they’re to be focusing on that rather than really the core message that the TTC is trying to make sure these things don’t happen by empowering passengers to do something about it.”

Toronto partners with Waze, helping drivers navigate traffic

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Nov 21st, 2017

Mayor John Tory’s multi-layered plan to ease congestion in Toronto has taken another step forward, with the city now sharing its traffic data with the traffic and navigation app Waze.

Tory formally announced the partnership with the traffic app Waze on Monday, but the collaboration has been in the works since September. At that time, he laid out the new traffic measures – part of his ongoing plan to make it easier for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to get around the city.

Waze users can get up to date information on road closures and gridlock in the city. Waze will also help the city communicate information about road closures and highway maintenance.

“This partnership will give our traffic operations centre better visibility into traffic patterns and give users of the Waze application enhanced information so that they can plan,” Tory said at the Consolidated Traffic Communications Centre in North York.

“By using Waze, all motorists will have access to the City of Toronto’s data in real time and be able to avoid road closures, construction and traffic jams.”

There are more than 560,000 active Waze app users in Toronto.

Earlier this month, Tory launched “quick clear squads” on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The rapid response teams will focus on fixing problems causing temporary lane blockages.

One dead in car fire near Woodbine Casino

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Nov 21st, 2017

Police are investigating after a body was found inside a burning car near Woodbine Casino.

Emergency crews were called to the scene on Rexdale Boulevard around 5 a.m. on Tuesday, where they located the vehicle in a ditch off the side of the road.

Paramedics said a person was pronounced dead on scene.

No further details have been released.

Fran’s Restaurant on Shuter St. temporarily closed after fire

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Nov 21st, 2017

Late night favourite Fran’s Restaurant in the downtown core is closed until further notice after a fire overnight.

Toronto police, fire and paramedics responded to the restaurant’s Victoria and Shuter streets location at around 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Toronto Fire says the blaze was a grease fire in the exhaust ducts. While the fire was knocked down quickly, there was heavy smoke and some residents from neighbouring condos were evacuated.

No injuries were reported.

There is no word on when the restaurant will reopen at this time.

Jeffrey Tambor suggests he’s leaving ‘Transparent’ following accusations

CityNews | posted Monday, Nov 20th, 2017

Actor Jeffrey Tambor says he doesn’t see how he can return to the Amazon series “Transparent” following two allegations of sexual harassment against him.

In an ambiguous statement Sunday, Tambor referenced what he calls a “politicized atmosphere” that has afflicted the set. He also says that the idea that he would deliberately harass anyone is untrue.

Two women have come forward over the past few weeks to accuse Tambor of sexual harassment, including “Transparent” actress Trace Lysette and his former assistant.

Tambor has won two Emmys for portraying Maura Pfefferman in the highly regarded show, which is now in its fourth season. Many interpreted his words to mean that he was leaving the show, which has not been confirmed.

Representatives for Amazon did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

Trudeau to apologize to Canadians persecuted for being gay

CityNews | posted Monday, Nov 20th, 2017

Martine Roy was just 20-years-old and less than a year into her chosen career as a medical assistant with the Canadian Armed Forces at CFB Borden when military police suddenly showed up at her workplace to arrest her.

They brought her to an interrogation room and demanded she admit she was a lesbian. They put her through psychological testing. Within a year she had been dishonourably discharged from the army.

Thirty-three years later she cannot hold back the tears as she prepares to hear an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons.

“It’s amazing,” Roy told The Canadian Press on Sunday afternoon, from her home in Montreal. “Even though if you fight all your life for that it’s always hard to believe it will happen.”

Trudeau confirmed on Twitter he will offer the apology to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited people who were forced out of the military or public service and some who were even prosecuted criminally for “gross indecency.”

Starting in the 1950s and lasting until 1992, thousands of Canadians in the military, RCMP, and across the civil service were fired. Roy refers to it as “the purge” by which the government tried to weed out people that it felt were susceptible to foreign intimidation and blackmail because of their sexual orientation.

The government developed a homosexuality test known as the “fruit machine,” which measured arousal to pornographic images in order to provide proof of sexual orientation to back up the reason for firing, or denying someone a promotion.

Roy said when the military police showed up at her door she didn’t even know what her sexual orientation was and the firing “entirely changed my life.”

She said she tried for five years to fight back but eventually she decided she wasn’t going to put any more energy into it.

“You really think you did a big big crime,” she said of the ordeal. “Sexual orientation has nothing to do with your skills.”

She said in 1992 when Canada changed the law she expected an apology but that didn’t happen until now.

“It means a lot,” said Roy, fighting tears. “It means even more coming from (Trudeau) because I know it’s going to come from his heart.”

Trudeau promised to issue the apology more than a year ago after Egale Canada, a group that advocates for the rights of sexual minorities, released a report on the matter and made a number of recommendations including that a formal apology be issued.

The government has been consulting with Egale and others to determine the best way to approach the apology.

A spokeswoman for Egale said on Sunday that having a date is “exciting.”

“We think it’s long overdue,” said Jennifer Boyce.

Canada is also facing a class action suit from more than 2,000 people who say they were persecuted by the federal government for their sexual orientation. Negotiations to settle that suit are underway.

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