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Homicide detectives investigate possible link between 2 recent stabbing deaths

THE CANADIAN PRESS AND NEWS STAFF | posted Tuesday, Sep 15th, 2020

Toronto police say they’re investigating the possibility that the stabbing death of a volunteer caretaker at a west-end mosque is linked to another recent homicide in the city.

Insp. Hank Idsinga, head of the force’s homicide unit, says both cases involve brown-skinned victims who died of stab wounds after sudden, vicious attacks that took place within kilometres of one another.

Idsinga says the most recent homicide took place on Saturday evening while 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was seated outside the mosque controlling entry to the building in order to comply with public health protocols.

Idsinga alleges a suspect fatally stabbed Zafis in the neck before fleeing the scene.

Five days earlier, Idsinga alleges Rampreet (Peter) Singh was stabbed multiple times under the well-travelled bridge where he’d been living for several months.

Idsinga says that while officers have not yet determined whether the same suspect is involved in both cases, investigators feel there are too many parallels to dismiss.

“If you look at the circumstances of both cases, they’re both within a few kilometres of one another,” he said in a telephone interview. “Both victims were stabbed, by all accounts blitz-type attacks on the victims. And both victims are brown-skinned males. There’s some other angles that we’re working on as well that I can’t disclose yet, but … it’s certainly something we can’t ignore. We’ve got to be cognizant of the possibility that they are connected.”

Idsinga declined to say whether the same weapon was used in the two attacks.

He said no evidence currently suggests the incidents were hate-motivated but said police remain open to that possibility. There’s also nothing to indicate that Singh and Zafis knew each other, he added.

Idsinga said extra officers are patrolling the neighbourhood in northwest Toronto where the two homicides took place.

Any area residents who observe suspicious activity are encouraged to contact the police immediately.

Idsinga said officers are currently looking for one suspect in Zafis’s death, describing him as a man believed to be roughly five feet six inches tall and 130 pounds.

Zafis’s death prompted a statement of condolence from the mosque where he both worked and worshipped.

Board members of the International Muslim Organization of Toronto said they’re “deeply saddened and shocked” by what happened.

“We pray that our brother is in a better place. We ask you that you spend your time praying for him and his family in these testing times,” the statement read.

Some Canadians believe officials exaggerate threat of COVID-19, poll suggests

JORDAN PRESS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Sep 15th, 2020

A new survey suggests there are Canadians who believe that warnings from public officials about the threat of COVID-19 are vastly overblown.

Almost one-quarter of respondents in an online poll made public today by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies say they believe public health and government officials exaggerate in their warnings, including about the need for measures like physical distancing to slow the spread of the pandemic.

Regionally, respondents in Alberta were more likely to believe the threat was embellished, followed by Atlantic Canada and Quebec, with Ontario at the bottom.

Broken down by age, younger respondents were more likely than those over 55 to believe statements were being exaggerated.

The online poll was conducted Sept. 11 to 13 and surveyed 1,539 adult Canadians. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque says the results may explain something else that came up in the survey: That a majority of respondents said they have relaxed how strictly they adhere to public health recommendations.

Toronto District School Board elementary schools begin staggered reopening

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Sep 15th, 2020

The Toronto District School Board will begin welcoming students back to elementary schools on Tuesday morning.

Canada’s largest school board is spreading the return to class over three days as part of a staggered reopening plan.

The model will see different grades come back to school on different days, with specifics varying by school.

The board says the drawn-out reopening plan is designed to help children get used to the new safety protocols in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Intensive support programs will begin at all Toronto public schools today, including high schools.

The board announced Monday that it was pushing back the start of e-learning courses for all students until next Tuesday, citing a massive spike in enrolment numbers.

Trudeau cabinet meets to discuss rebuilding amid rising number of COVID-19 cases

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Sep 14th, 2020

The past several weeks have seen a resurgence in COVID-19 across Canada, with the trendlines increasing after a summer lull, sparking reminders from the country’s top public health officer for Canadians not to let their guards down as colder temperatues come.

“Our challenge now is to guard against the fatigue that can lead us to relax these personal precautions,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement as provinces reported nearly 500 new cases on Sunday.

“At the same time, as we shift more of our activities indoors, we will need to increase our awareness of COVID-19 risk factors in reopened settings.”

It is in this context that the Liberals’ two-day cabinet retreat will be held. Originally focused on building a post-pandemic economy, the meeting will now also have to contend with the immediate challenge of limiting the damage from a second wave.

Underlining that point, ministers are expected to hear presentations from Tam and the co-chairs of two federal task forces: one created to advise the government on measures to support developing a COVID-19 vaccine and the other on COVID-19 immunity.

The retreat comes as Parliament is set to resume with a throne speech on Sept. 23, which Trudeau has promised will outline “a detailed vision for the future and a plan to keep Canadians safe while we rebuild a stronger Canada that works for everyone.”

The speech itself is now expected to focus more on getting through the pandemic than how to rebuild after it’s over, with details on the longer-term recovery measures not revealed until an economic statement later in the fall.

The prime minister last week warned Canadians are “going to have to learn how to continue to live with COVID-19 for many, many more months,” while Tam warned that failing to control its spread could result in another lockdown.

“Another important reason to keep the infection rate low in the community is to prevent spread into these and other public settings that could necessitate targeted restrictions to control transmission where the virus is surging,” she said in her statement.

The government is operating on the assumption that the global fight against the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will continue for at least two more years, and that rebuilding the economy then will depend on protecting it now.

To that end, insiders, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter, laid out three priorities that will be included in the throne speech.

Those are measures to protect Canadians’ health and avoid another national lockdown; the economic supports needed to keep Canadians financially afloat while the pandemic continues; and longer-term measures to eventually rebuild an economy.

In particular, the Liberals are expected to promise more funding for health care, including long-term care homes, along with affordable housing and child care to help parents, especially women, get back to and stay at work.

Deceased son of victims identified as suspect in fatal Weston Village stabbing incident

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Sep 14th, 2020

Police have identified the victims of a stabbing in Weston Village on Saturday as the parents of a suspect, who also died the same day.

Police were called to an address on King George Road around 2:30 p.m. Saturday for multiple reports of a stabbing.

When officers arrived, they found a man suffering from multiple stab wounds outside a home on the street. A woman was found inside the home, also suffering from multiple stab wounds.

The victims were married to each other and were pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

They have been identified as Joao Barcelos, 64, and Iva Barcelos, 59.

Investigators were then directed to the GO train tracks near the Weston UP Express station just a short distance away, where a man was struck by a train.

The man was found dead with “significant injuries” and has been identified as Tiberio Barcelos, 28, the son of the stabbing victims.

Police say he did not live with his parents but is believed to be a suspect in their deaths.

Anyone with information of Tiberio Barcelos; whereabouts before the stabbings are asked to contact police.

Post mortems for the victims and the suspect are scheduled for Monday.

Delayed start for online classes as demand grows in some Ontario school boards

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Sep 14th, 2020

Some Ontario school boards are delaying the start of virtual learning due to a growing demand for online education in the run-up to back-to-school.

Three Toronto-area boards say they’ve seen a surge in parents opting to keep their kids out of the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic in the eleventh hour, further complicating the already difficult task of co-ordinating classes.

The Peel District School Board, for instance, says it had to push back live online classes because 10,000 students signed up for virtual learning in the past week.

It says such classes will now start on Sept. 21 for elementary students and Sept. 22 for high schoolers — a week’s delay — so the board can wrangle more staff to account for the 64,000 students who are now learning from home.

The Halton District School Board advised parents Friday that online learning will begin on Wednesday rather than Monday because of “recent and increased demand” for the remote option.

That board says it working through a “significant” waitlist for virtual school and advised people who are currently attending in-person classes to continue doing so, as some virtual classes are full.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Toronto District School Board announced that while elementary students attending classes in-person will have a staggered start to the school year on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, those doing online learning — and most high school students — will begin on Thursday.

“Due to the large number of families who have selected Virtual School (more than 66,000 students), we require additional time to staff and timetable to ensure a more consistent opening for all staff and students,” the board said in a letter to parents posted on its website.

The spread of COVID-19 has increased in recent weeks, with the province reporting more than 200 new cases of the virus in each of the last three days. Toronto and Peel Region have been particularly hard hit, often reporting dozens of new cases each day.

Ontario legislature resumes as pandemic dominates the agenda

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Sep 14th, 2020

Ontario’s legislature returns for its fall session on Monday, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting daily life, the Progressive Conservative government’s house leader says it will not be business as usual.

Paul Calandra says the legislature will continue to respect public health rules while returning to its regular four-day-a-week schedule for proceedings.

He says the government will be focused in the coming weeks on the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, school reopenings, and the health-care system.

Calandra says Ontario’s 2020-2021 budget — which was delayed by the pandemic — will be delivered on Nov. 15.

The government is also expected to table a formal report on the state of emergency declared by the province earlier this year in response to the pandemic.

Calandra says the government is also leaving itself leeway in the legislative schedule in case it needs to introduce additional legislation to address COVID-19 this fall.

“We’re seeing the (COVID-19 case) numbers are creeping up so if we get into a second wave, we want to be able to react quickly,” Calandra said in an interview. “Should time be needed on the legislative schedule to pass bills, we’re building that in.”

In March, the Progressive Conservative government said its deficit would reach $20.5 billion by the end of 2020-2021. But in August, Finance Minister Rod Phillips said that due to billions more in spending required by the ongoing pandemic, the number is set to reach $38.5 billion.

Calandra said the government will ensure the health-care system gets needed funding and that small and medium-sized businesses also receive support this fall.

“Even for hard-core fiscal conservatives like me, we know that this is a time when you make investments for people … but at the same time, you fix those areas that you can fix and improve your response,” he said. “So, I think you’ll start to see a lot more of that.”

NDP legislator Marit Stiles said the official Opposition will focus on pressing the government for smaller class sizes, overhauling long-term care, and job creation.

“Returning to normal is just not going to be good enough,” Stiles said. “This pandemic has shown where we have these giant gaps, whether it’s in long-term care or education or those folks who have low wages, unstable jobs.”

While politicians will return to the legislature Monday until the house rises again in December, the building remains closed to the public. Visitors will not be permitted in the spectator galleries of the house because of the pandemic.

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