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Metrolinx says plans underway to quadruple weekly GO train trips, build new stations

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Mar 27th, 2018

Metrolinx says planning is underway to quadruple weekly GO train trips and begin servicing new parts of the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area.

Ontario Transportation Minister Kathryn McGarry was at Union Station on Monday to announce the next phase of work to expand the GO Regional Express Rail System (RER).

McGarry said riders can expect more all-day, two way GO train services, as Metrolinx begins the process of designing and ultimately building six new GO stations, and six new City of Toronto Smart-Track stations.

Over 20 existing GO stations will also undergo renovations, as well as new bus loops and digital signage.

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“Work is well underway to build a better, integrated and seamless transit network across the GTHA,” McGarry said in a release.

“Today’s announcement is a major milestone in the delivery of all-day two-way electrified train service, more station stops and more service to get commuters where they need to be sooner.”

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Give a record, take a record: getting into the groove of swapping vinyl

Brandon Rowe and Victoria Revay | posted Tuesday, Mar 27th, 2018

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An east-end neighbourhood is taking the love of vintage to a new level, thanks to an avid vinyl fan.

Matt Durant says he started the “Vinyl Swap Box” — a place where anyone can take or leave a record — as a community outreach project, because he wants to build his Leslieville community, and also help people expand their musical horizons.

Durant says the idea was born out of his love of vinyl and fueled by a collection inherited from his father after he passed away. He also wants to keep the momentum of the vinyl revival going.

According to Neilsen Canada, 2017 vinyl sales in Canada were up 22% over the previous year. That’s  804,000 vinyl records sold.

The rules of the Vinyl Swap Box are simple — there are no rules. Vinyl enthusiasts can take or leave a record as they please.

Durant says he’s also hoping local artists will submit their work so that people can hear it.

The box is located outside of Durant’s studio at 1401 Queen Street East.

Panhandlers calling themselves refugees appear on GTA streets

Adrian Ghobrial | posted Tuesday, Mar 27th, 2018

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Two women wearing head coverings panhandle on the side of the highway. Another woman with a headscarf asks for spare change from passersby on a downtown street. Still another begs at the crossroads at the heart of Toronto, Dundas Square.

It is how these women are appealing for money that sets them apart from the many others trying to survive on Toronto’s streets: they say they are refugees.

It’s a claim that pulls on the heartstrings of many Canadians, especially those who have opened their homes and communities to Syrian refugees. More than 50,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since 2015. They are among the thousands of refugees from across the globe who come to this country every year.

Passersby who saw the women asking for help wanted to know: What brought them to our streets, and have some refugees slipped through the city’s social safety net? We hit the road in search of answers and understanding, and we spoke to several woman who described themselves as refugees panhandling across the GTA.

We first spoke with one woman outside of the old Maple Leaf Gardens at Carlton and Church streets. She said she was Bosnian, has three kids and had been here three months. Two women panhandling in Ajax told us they were Bosnian, though one first told us she was Syrian.

Then we spoke with two other women panhandling along Lakeshore Road, near Etobicoke. They too held signs saying they had three children, they too claimed to be here for three months, though they said they were from Romania.

One day of searching. Five women, all with similar stories. Three claiming they were Bosnian, two from Romania.

The next day, we revisited the first woman we spoke to outside of the Gardens. This time, when I asked where she was from, she admitted she was from Romania. I asked if she was Roma, she nodded her head and said, “Yes. Roma, Gypsy.”

A few minutes later we discovered yet another woman at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas. Her English, like everyone we spoke with, was broken, but she too confirmed she was from Romania and that she was Roma.

CityNews could not independently confirm each woman’s nationality. However, Citizenship and Immigration Canada confirms that in all of 2017, country-wide, there were only two asylum claims from Bosnia, and only one was accepted.

A possible reason for the nationality confusion is that these women identify as Roma – a stateless ethnic group that faces discrimination across much of central, eastern and southeastern Europe.

We showed video of our interactions with the women to Paul St. Clair, an immigration counsellor with Culture Link. St. Clair has helped more than 1,000 Roma secure refugee status in Canada over the last 20 years. He believes the women are indeed Roma.

Before anyone passes judgement on these women, who may or may not have chosen to share their true identities, St. Clair believes it’s vital to understand the lives many Roma are fleeing in Europe.

“They are considered a plague, they are considered dirt, they are considered not even human,” says St. Clair.

He says that in Romania, Roma aren’t let into state schools, or are made to attend segregated ones. They aren’t hired for jobs, even if they’re qualified, they’re also refused healthcare and live in substandard conditions, “and in some cases have had their homes burned down by racists.”

A largely nomadic people, the Romani, or Roma, have roots that can be traced back to India and Pakistan. Romanian census information indicates that about 500,000 Roma call Romania home, though that number is believed to be much higher – into the millions.

It is possible that the women we spoke to have been in the GTA for three months, as they say. In December, the federal government announced that citizens of Romania no longer need a visa to come to Canada for stays of up to six months. St. Clair believes that the women we spoke with could have come in under the new policy. He says some may be falling back on what they had to do to survive back home.

“That’s what everyone does when they are new in Canada, they try and rely on what they know and what they did before,” he explains. “So it can take a while for them to get use to Canadian conditions.”

Since 2015, the government has approved about 70 per cent of Roma refugee claimants in Ontario, estimates Ibrahim Absiye, executive director of Culture Link. The organization is the first stop for many immigrants and refugees who arrive in Toronto. That figure is up from a 20 to 30 per cent acceptance rate as recently as 2013. He says that’s a good thing.

Absiye and his staff say many Roma refugees who go through the centre are eager to find work. Some have found work in construction, truck driving and agriculture, though Absiye says it’s mostly men who are employed. As for women, one panhandler we spoke to, who said her name is Anna, told us she’s staying in a shelter – a common situation for many Toronto refugees.

Last year, nearly 900 refugee claimants from a variety of countries used the city’s emergency shelter beds on an average night. This year that number has increased to an average of almost 2,000 refugee claimants a night – that’s 33 per cent of the entire shelter population.

We spoke to a worker in the city’s family shelter program who told us anecdotally that the system has recently taken in more Roma people, but that it doesn’t presently appear to be a dramatic increase.

Toronto police say they haven’t received any formal complaints about any of the panhandlers, nor do police have any information indicating that the women are involved in an organized network.

As for the future of those who have appeared on Toronto’s doorstep, immigrant counsellors say they’re now preparing to mobilize, to hit the streets and help in any way they can.

And the story doesn’t end here — on Tuesday, CityNews will have the story of one Roma panhandler, her struggles, and hope for the future.

‘Die-in’ held outside City Hall ahead of Yonge Street vote

Nitish Bissonauth | posted Tuesday, Mar 27th, 2018

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Dozens of demonstrators lay on the ground at the doorsteps of City Hall for a ‘die-in’ on Monday evening.

Pedestrians and cyclists who participated say it was a vigil for those who have died on our streets, struck down by motorists. Some of those who attended have been affected firsthand.

“I hope this dramatic sight of all of these bodies on the ground will drive home the fact that people die. These are real people, they have families, they are loved, they should still be with us. It was senseless that they died, it was completely preventable. We need to create safer streets” said Jessica Spieker, a volunteer with Friends and Families for Safe Streets, an organization made up of people who have had similar ordeals.

The demonstration was held on the eve of a crucial vote that will decide how a major stretch of Yonge Street in North York will be re-vamped, a stretch of road which hasn’t been upgraded since 1975.

The organization was hoping to send a message to Mayor John Tory that the road has become far too dangerous for some.

“It’s very scary biking there,” says cyclist Jonathan Farrell. “Cars go very fast, doors are always opening, it’s a very busy street.”

One plan includes dedicated bike lanes, and enhanced pedestrian crossing and – controversially – cutting Yonge Street from 6 lanes of traffic to 4, north of Sheppard.

An alternative measure includes having the dedicated bike lanes on Beecroft Road, a side street that is one block west of Yonge St, something the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee has supported.

The mayor has been clear that he also supports the latter.

In an email statement to CityNews, Tory’s office says, “The Mayor believes bike lanes running on neighbouring streets along with public realm improvements to Yonge would be a win-win for the area that wouldn’t increase congestion.”

But not everyone agrees.

“As far as public safety goes, we need wider boulevards and you can’t do that unless you remove lanes of traffic on Yonge Street,” says Ward 23 Councillor John Filion.

According to Ken Greenberg, an Urban Design Expert with Greenberg Consultants Inc., this decision could be a defining moment for Toronto, choosing to follow other cities around the world in becoming more safe and friendly for cyclists and pedestrians

“I think this plan is a once in a generation opportunity to build Yonge street for the 21st century, not the 1960’s where we give priorities to motor vehicles.”

It’s been a deadly year on the road so far for Toronto’s pedestrians – as of mid-March, 11 people have died.

That’s four more than the seven fatalities the same time last year.

Jessica Spieker is lucky – she is just one of the many pedestrians and cyclists who have narrowly escaped death on the roads.

“A careless driver managed to not see me during a left hand turn,” she recalls, “She T-boned me and in the crash my spine was broken, I sustained a brain injury and the left side of my body was badly injured.”

Dr. Samantha Green, a family practitioner, says these injuries are all too familiar and adds shes seen too many patients get struck and killed this year.

“People can’t protect themselves just by wearing a helmet and pedestrians can’t protect themselves just by walking slower, what we need is better infrastructure.”

City council is expected to vote on which plan to adopt on Tuesday.

Liberals promise to boost funding for special needs education

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Mar 27th, 2018

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Ontario’s Liberal government is promising to spend more than $300 million over three years to improve supports for children with special needs and hire more teachers, a pledge that comes just months ahead of the spring election.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday that the money will be spent to eliminate the wait list to have children with special needs assessed, and to hire 2,000 new teachers and education workers.

The additional staff will include educational assistants for students with exceptionally high needs and specialists such as social workers and speech pathologists.

“We recognize that there are needs that people are confronting; that teachers are confronting; that parents are confronting; that communities are confronting; that parents of children with mental health needs are confronting, and we are responding to those needs,” Wynne said, defending the new spending.

The announcement comes just days before the Liberals present their final budget ahead of the June election.

Wynne has made several major funding promises over the last week, vowing to expand the government’s free pharmacare program to cover seniors and to spend $2.1 billion over the next four years to rebuild Ontario’s mental health system, which includes funding for 180 mental health workers in schools.

Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said the province is also promising to spend $140 million over three years to hire guidance counsellors.

“Our investment ensures that every student has the support they need to succeed in the classroom, in their communities and in the world,” she said.

Progressive Conservative legislator Todd Smith questioned the timing of the announcement, noting that the provincial election is less than three months away.

“Clearly, what they’re trying to do is make up for 15 years that our school system hasn’t been paid proper attention to,” he said. “Clearly, there needs to be a change to the way we fund our schools, particularly rural schools and special education programs.”

Ontario’s spring election will be held on June 7.

Canadian cities joins thousands in U.S. in ‘March for Our Lives’ event

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 26th, 2018

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More than a dozen Canadian cities hosted marches Saturday to call for stricter gun control laws in both Canada and the United States in the wake of a deadly high school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla.

In both Montreal and Toronto, several hundred people joined local events in support of the massive March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., which was organized by American students calling for change in the wake of the tragedy.

In one of Montreal’s two marches, hundreds of protesters swayed together singing to the tune of “Glory, Hallelujah” before setting off towards the city’s U.S. Consulate.

Ellen Gozansky Malka, a Montrealer now living in Parkland, told the crowd that two of her children were at the school during the shooting and saw things no child should see.

“Our children should never fear going to school, and they should never jump at the sound of a book falling on the floor,” she said to appreciative applause.

“This will have a lasting effect on our community. We have to make sure this will never happen again anywhere, anywhere in the world.”

A few blocks away, a slightly smaller event was organized by 11-year-old elementary school student Lexington Vickery, who led about 150 cheering classmates and supporters on a raucous march in support of American children.

“Its about making them feel better, and making them feel more supported and working to help them so they can have more courage to go to the government and get their gun legislation,” the sixth-grader explained in an interview beforehand.

In Toronto, marchers carried signs protesting both gun violence in the United States and recent shootings that have plagued the city as they marched from a downtown square to the U.S. Consulate.

Police have said that last weekend, an innocent man was gunned down in a “cowardly” attack after visiting friends. The following day, two people were shot and killed outside of a bowling alley – one of the victims was allegedly targeted, and the other was described by police as a bystander.

“I think it’s important to have this march today in solidarity with students in the United States because gun violence is taking its toll on families, individuals, communities across North America. In Toronto we’ve seen a hundred per cent increase in gun violence homicides over the last three years,” said Louis March, a co-founder of Toronto’s Zero Gun Violence Movement.

“We can do better.”

Ocean Le, who attended the Toronto event, said the worldwide rallies show that gun violence is “a global problem.”

“The fact that we have Canadians here marching alongside Americans and for people around the world is a great sign that we’re not individual countries, we’re just humans,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to attend the march in Washington, D.C., with smaller gatherings to take place in hundreds of cities across the world.

Rallies were also planned in most major Canadian cities, including St. John’s, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver.

Melissa Hennig, a survivor of the Oct. 1 mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, joined about 150 people for a rally outside the Alberta legislature in Edmonton.

“While I don’t know the ins and outs of assault rifles, I can tell you what it’s like to be on the other end of one,” the Edmonton-area woman told the crowd. She said it’s difficult to talk about the “terror, confusion and panic.”

“I can tell you something more needs to be done—something more than thoughts and prayers.”

Hundreds of thousands of teenagers and their supporters rallied in Washington, D.C. and cities across America.

Organizers hoped their protest would match in numbers and spirit last year’s women’s march, one of the biggest protests in the capital since the Vietnam era and one that far exceeded predictions of 300,000 demonstrators.

Bearing signs reading “We Are the Change,” “No More Silence” and “Keep NRA Money Out of Politics,” protesters packed Pennsylvania Avenue from the stage near the Capitol, stretching many blocks back toward the White House.

“We will continue to fight for our dead friends,” Delaney Tarr, a survivor of the Florida tragedy, declared from the stage. The crowd roared with approval as she laid down the students’ central demand: a ban on “weapons of war” for all but warriors.

“It’s pretty simple for me,” said Zoe Tate, 11, from Gaithersburg Middle School in Maryland, explaining why she marched in Washington. “I think guns are dumb. It’s scary enough with the security guards we have in school. We don’t need teachers carrying guns now. I find it amazing that I have to explain that idea to adults.”

Said her mother, Maria Blaeuer: “For our kids, feeling safe is fundamental, and they don’t feel safe.”

Large rallies also unfolded in such cities as Boston; New York; Chicago; Houston; Fort Worth, Texas; Minneapolis; and Parkland, Fla.

Ontario surveys university and college students on sexual violence

Peter Goffin, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Mar 26th, 2018

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Students at post-secondary institutions across Ontario are taking part in a survey on sexual violence as part of the province’s efforts to combat sexual assault and harassment on campus.

The online survey is made up of over 50 questions that gauge respondents’ perceptions of consent and rape myths, their experiences with sexual violence, and how well they think their school responds to reports of sexual violence.

Ontario’s minister of advanced education and skills development said the province commissioned the survey to improve how the issue is dealt with.

“Research shows that sexual violence is consistently under-reported and really lacks consistent data,” Mitzie Hunter said in an interview.

“This survey is one component of a multifaceted strategy that we’ve developed here at the province to better understand and respond to sexual violence and harassment on campus, and frankly to change the culture and the climate around this issue.”

Legislation that came into effect Jan. 1, 2017, made it mandatory for all universities and colleges in the province to have policies that lay out rules and guidelines for reporting, investigating and disciplining sexual violence.

“We are doing the survey to get better data and equip institutions with the information they need to make changes,” Hunter explained. “We know there is more work to be done for sure and we are committed to doing that work.”

The Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey is open to undergraduate and graduate students at universities, colleges and private post-secondary vocational schools. Eligible respondents were emailed an invitation to the survey.

University students have access to the survey until Monday, while college students have until April 2 to send in their responses. Students at private vocational colleges completed the survey between Feb. 16 and March 16.

The results will be compiled, analysed and shared with post-secondary school administrations in the summer, Hunter said. Some of the data will be made public, though the government has not yet determined which parts that will include, the minister added.

At least one advocacy group is criticizing the survey, however, saying it does not address certain issues and may be difficult for some students to understand.

“There was a lot of confusion (among students) when filling out the survey,” said Jade Cooligan Pang, a Carleton University student and one of the organizers of Our Turn, a Canada-wide organization that works to prevent sexual violence on campus

“There was a significant lack of definitions — for example the definition of consent is not part of the survey. The survey does not necessarily discuss institutional harms that might have taken place, or any retraumatization a survivor may have experienced when reporting to their post-secondary institution.”

Cooligan Pang said she and other Our Turn leaders met with Hunter on March 20 to discuss the roadblocks survivors often face when trying to tell university or college officials about a sexual assault.

“We know for a fact that some students are being told they are unable to file a formal complaint with their post-secondary institution,” Cooligan Pang said. “These numbers are not reported because an investigation never takes place.”

Our Turn has called on the province to create a set of “minimum standards” for supports and services related to dealing with sexual violence and assault, and an oversight mechanism for the way schools handle such reports.

It is also important to give survivors of sexual violence a means of reporting their experiences anonymously, Cooligan Pang said.

“Anonymous reporting provides survivors who are not ready to go through a formal compliant or police investigation with a way of reporting so that people are aware what is happening in the community without having to go through the taxing process of a formal report,” she said.

Sharing a story of sexual assault or harassment in an anonymous forum can be therapeutic for survivors, noted Karen Kelsky, a U.S. anthropologist who created and circulated a survey for post-secondary students, researchers and instructors to anonymously report recent and historical allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by faculty members.

“The #MeToo movement prompted women to begin to tell their stories anonymously,” she said. “As they told their stories anonymously, they said, ‘I’ve never told this story to anyone and it is such a relief and so healing to me to tell it even though I’m not naming names.’”

Wrong-way driver triggers 3-vehicle crash on Gardiner

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Mar 26th, 2018

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A driver heading the wrong way on the Gardiner Expressway triggered a three-vehicle crash that shut down part the expressway for more than two hours.

The crash happened in the westbound lanes near the South Kingsway exit around 2:30 a.m. on Monday.

The driver, a 67-year-old man, was eastbound in the westbound lanes when he crashed into a truck, and then struck a concrete barrier.

The driver and another person were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

So far, there is no word if any charges will be laid.

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