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Most students expected to return to school at Ottawa, Toronto boards

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Aug 20th, 2020

Parents at three of Ontario’s largest school boards will be keeping nearly a quarter of kids out of the classroom, but the boards warn the statistics are not final as they continue to tweak their back-to-school plans.

Boards in Ottawa, Toronto and Durham Region say parents have indicated that more than 70 per cent of students will return to in-class learning come September, but they note that parents are still able to change their minds as the boards – and the province – adjust their back-to-school plans.

“So much of the information has been coming in late, which I think has been frustrating for (parents) and frustrating for us as a board, because you’re having to basically design a whole new school system in a span of two, three, four weeks,” said Mark Fisher, a trustee with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

Ottawa-Carleton reports that 91 per cent of parents responded to their survey and said that 73 per cent of elementary students will return to class, while 27 per cent will learn from home. Meanwhile, 78.5 per cent of high schoolers will be back in class on an adapted model that will see them learn remotely half the time, while 21.5 per cent will stay at home full-time.

Fisher said the number of students opting to learn from home is higher than expected – the board was anticipating roughly 10 per cent – so staff members are still determining what that will mean for how classes are set up.

“We might see some schools where all students have chosen to go back, and we might see some schools where a greater number of students have chosen to learn remotely,” he said. “So we have to look at all those numbers and then see how things fall on a school-by-school basis. That will really determine how we organize for the fall.”

Fisher said Ottawa-Carleton’s numbers are in line with other school boards’ across the province. In the Durham District School Board, current numbers suggest roughly 19.5 per cent of students will learn from home.

In the Toronto District School Board, current numbers suggest 71 per cent of elementary students will return to school if class sizes are not reduced, compared to 78 per cent who would return if class sizes could be brought down to between 15 and 20 students.

The TDSB said 83 per cent of high school students will return to in-person lessons, also on the adapted model.

But the Toronto board plans to send out a second survey based on its new back-to-school plan, which trustees are expected to make a final decision on Thursday. The board’s previous proposal to cut all elementary school class sizes was rejected by the Ontario government last week because it also shortened the school day by 48 minutes.

TDSB Chair Alexander Brown said there’s been a lot of confusion and anxiety in his board stemming from a lack of clarity from the Ministry of Education.

“We’ve been following Toronto Public Health advice on this from the beginning … and we need guidance on it,” he said. “But we get conflicting messages from the provincial side. So, you know, that’s where confusion sets in.”

He said he worries that could undermine the province’s public education system in the long-term.

“Once you lose confidence in something like public education … it’s gone,” he said. “It’s so hard to build that back.”

Brown also said he knows some families are grouping together and hiring teachers to create a “pod” system to limit their risk of contracting COVID-19.

“You know who the teacher is, where the contacts are, and it’s a cohort,” he said. “So, we could see this moving us toward a private system.”

A spokesman for the TDSB said he didn’t have numbers on how many parents were opting for home schooling or to move their kids to the private system.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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Up to 6 injured in multiple shootings across Toronto

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Aug 20th, 2020

As many as six people were injured in multiple shootings across the north end of the city on Wednesday.

Police said they were called to the area of Shoreham Court and Jane Street just before 8 p.m. where three victims were transported to hospital in serious condition.

Police did confirm a number of shell casings were located but did not provided any suspect information.

Elsewhere, three more people were injured in two separate shootings that took place just 10 minutes apart in Etobicoke.

Police said they were called to Kipling Avenue and Mount Olive Drive around 6:15 p.m. following reports two people had been shot.

Police said a man was grazed in the back by a bullet, while a woman was grazed in the hand by a bullet.

Numerous evidence markers were seen scattered along the ground in the driveway of an apartment complex.

Then, about two kilometres away police were called to the area of Martin Grove Road and Pittsboro Drive where they discovered shell casings on the ground. Police said the lone victim contacted them from the hospital.

Police would not confirm if the two shootings are connected.


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Homicide unit investigating suspicious deaths of 3 men in Mississauga

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Aug 20th, 2020

The homicide unit is investigating the deaths of three men whose bodies were found in a condo unit in Mississauga on Wednesday.

Peel Regional Police say they were called to a 17th floor unit on Burnhamthorpe Road near Confederation Parkway just after 1:30 p.m.

The bodies of three men in their late 20s were found in the unit. A fourth man was transported to hospital and is said to be in serious condition.

It’s uncertain if any of the four were residents of the building.

A spokeswoman for Peel police says drugs and alcohol were present at the scene, but it’s not clear whether they were a factor in the deaths.

“We found illicit substances that we believe were laced with another substance,” said Const. Heather Cannon. “We can’t identify what the substances are but we know they are illicit at this point.”

Police are asking that anyone else who may have been at the party or gathering and are now feeling ill should seek medical attention as their symptoms may become life-threatening.

The homicide unit has taken over the case after the coroner ruled the deaths suspicious. Police say no exact cause of death has been pinpointed and its uncertain if they are looking for any suspects at this point.

A resident of the building, whose unit is next door to where the bodies was found, said she’s “freaked out” by the situation.

“My son, last night, heard some noises. He didn’t think they sounded bad – they could have been friendly fighting, we don’t know,” Kavita Aswani told reporters outside the building. “I heard a noise at about midnight and went to check on my son as he shares a wall with that apartment. Today I went to put out the garbage at about 1:30 (p.m.) and I saw cops outside the door and I asked ‘what’s going on?’ and they said its an ongoing investigation so they couldn’t give me any information.”

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report


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Docs suggest bureaucrats were nudged to look to WE Charity for student program


Thousands of pages of newly-released documents back up the Trudeau government’s contention that it was federal public servants who recommended a student service grant program be administered by WE Charity.

But they also suggest bureaucrats may have been nudged to look in that direction by their political masters.

The documents were released late Tuesday afternoon to members of the House of Commons finance committee, on the orders of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he announced he was proroguing Parliament until Sept. 23.

Prorogation puts a temporary end to the four committees that have spent the summer probing how a charity with close connections to Trudeau’s family was chosen to administer a multimillion-dollar program to encourage students to volunteer in pandemic-related community service.

The controversy over the now-abandoned program has spawned investigations by the federal ethics watchdog into possible conflict of interest on the part of Trudeau and his former finance minister, Bill Morneau, who also has close family ties to WE Charity.

The 5,000-plus pages of government documents were tabled with the finance committee almost two weeks ago but had not been released to committee members because legal counsel was still vetting them to ensure there were no breaches of cabinet confidences or personal privacy.

In deciding to hand them over directly to committee members Tuesday, Trudeau may have hoped to get any controversy associated with them out of the way well before Parliament reopens on what he hopes will be a more positive note — with a throne speech designed to launch the country on the road to economic recovery after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The documents include memorandums to cabinet, ministers and Trudeau, as well as emails, text messages and even hand-written notes about meetings at which WE’s involvement in the Canada Student Service Grant program was discussed by bureaucrats or political staff. The context, the timing of the communications and the person speaking is not always clear.

Trudeau announced the broad outlines of the grant program on April 22 as part of a $9-billion package of measures to support young people during the pandemic.

He has testified that he only learned on May 8 that Employment and Social Development Canada was proposing that WE Charity oversee delivery of the program. He has said he removed the proposal from the cabinet agenda that day and asked that more due diligence be done to determine if there was not some other group that could administer the grants, such as the Canada Service Corps.

After the department reported back that WE Charity was the only group with the capacity to deliver the massive program in such a short timeframe, cabinet approved the proposal on May 22. Trudeau and Morneau have both apologized for not recusing themselves from that decision but have insisted that they were acting strictly on the recommendation of public servants.

Many of the documents support Trudeau’s version of events.

But they also suggest that Youth Minister Bardish Chagger helped get WE Charity on her bureaucrats’ radar and political staff in Morneau’s office helped keep it there.

Chagger spoke with WE co-founder Craig Kielburger on April 17 to discuss an unsolicited proposal by the group to create a youth social entrepreneurship program. In an email to her on April 22, Kielburger thanks her for listening to the proposal, which was ultimately rejected by the government.

He then adds: “We appreciate your thoughtful offer to connect us with relevant members of your ministry. Our weekend team has also been hard at work to adapt your suggestion of a second stream focused on a summer service opportunity.”

Two days after Chagger’s chat with Kielburger, the documents show that bureaucrats were talking about WE’s possible involvement.

Rachel Wernick, a senior assistant deputy minister at Employment and Social Development Canada, which encompasses Chagger’s ministry, asked in an email on April 19 to speak to Kielburger about “something we are working on that might be of interest to WE.”

Michelle Kovacevic, an assistant deputy minister at Finance, wrote the same day that “ESDC thinks that ‘WE’ might be able to be the volunteer matching third party … The mission of WE is congruent with national service and they have a massive following on social media.”

The following day, in an email to PCO officials, Kovacevic wrote that the Prime Minister’s Office had been “weighing in” on the latest student grant proposal, which had become “bit of a shit show.” She said there had been “positive communication with WE” and that “discussions are encouraging on that front.”

Amitpal Singh, a policy adviser in Morneau’s office, emailed Kovacevic the same day to say he had spoken “with the team at WE this morning.”

“We should be receiving an updated paper soon from them, and as soon as we get policy approvals I think we should reach out and bring them into the fold,” he wrote.

Kovacevic thanked Singh for “keeping the relationship with WE strong.”

“I think this is the right organization for a call to action for national service.”

On April 21, WE’s director of government and stakeholder relations, Sofia Marquez, sent Singh the organization’s revised proposal for a national, bilingual service program that would allow 20,000 young Canadians to take part in summer service placements and projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She signed off by saying, “Huge THANK YOU — you’ve been most helpful!”

The following day, Singh messaged Kovacevic to connect her with Marquez, adding he hoped she could find time “before the end of the week to quickly touch base” with the WE representative.

Kovacevic and Marquez exchanged messages the next day to arrange a call.

The reason is not entirely clear, but at one point in mid-April, Justin To, Morneau’s deputy chief of staff, joked that Kovacevic was “a heartless meany proposing indentured servitude for maybe a cookie at the end.”

Some have criticized the service grant program as a way for not-for-profit groups to effectively hire workers who’d have been paid less than minimum wage

If bureaucrats were unaware of Trudeau’s connection to WE, the charity’s eventual revised proposal for administering the grant program made it clear. It included photos of the organization’s “celebrity ambassadors” — among them, the prime minister’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

Trudeau has been a featured speaker at six WE Day events and his wife hosts a podcast for the group, for which they have not been paid. However, the charity has confirmed it covered expenses for Gregoire Trudeau and paid hundreds of thousands in speaking fees and expenses to Trudeau’s mother and brother for speaking at numerous WE events over the years.

Nevertheless, the documents make it plain that public servants believed a third party was required to administer the grant program and that WE was the only one that fit the bill.

An April 30 ESDC memorandum says that the department itself couldn’t do the job because “no mechanism currently exists to deliver a grant of this type directly to a large number of youth.” In the interests of “speed and simplicity,” it said a third party should administer the program, although there were few who could perform all the functions that the government wanted.

Wernick, who has testified that she is the one who recommended WE’s involvement, wrote a lengthy memo on May 13 detailing why Trudeau’s preferred alternative, the Canada Service Corp, was not up to the job.

“All CSC partners are already struggling to deliver their existing programs and do not have the capacity to take on more (volunteer) placements,” she wrote, adding that the CSC’s community service programs for youth are not geared to specifically to helping students volunteer for service related to the pandemic.

On May 14, an official at the Privy Council Office informed another bureaucrat that the Prime Minister’s Office “would brief against” the proposed grant program as originally presented to cabinet.

A hand-written note about the “PM” and the “service corp” says “concern is only thinking about WE.”

Eventually, however, the clerk of the Privy Council, Ian Shugart, recommended to Trudeau that he approve the plan.

“WE Charities is well-placed to administer the grant. Its youth networks and technological sophistication should create the necessary demand to ensure the initiative is a success,” Shugart wrote, adding that a detailed agreement has been negotiated with the charity to “ensure stewardship of public funds.”

Trudeau announced the launch of the program on June 25. But there was immediate controversy over his perceived conflict of interest and WE Charity pulled out of the agreement, which was to have paid the organization $43.5 million, on July 3.

In an exchange of text messages on June 30, as the controversy raged, ESDC deputy minister Graham Flack commiserated with Wernick.

“The more I reflect, the more I think you shouldn’t worry,” Flack told her. “This was your only option in the timelines and was your advice.

“Political side understood they would be criticized but this was the right thing to do. There will be noise but that’s politics.”

Wernick responded that she and her “little team worked so hard to make this a success. It is tough to see how it is portrayed. But I guess I underestimated how much the politics would play.”


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Ontario boards can have staggered start to new school year: ministry memo

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Aug 19th, 2020

Ontario school boards now have the option to have a staggered start to the new school year, a government memo released Tuesday said.

“We are pleased to announce that boards can stagger their reopening over the first two weeks of school where this approach would enhance the health and safety preparedness,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

He said this staggered approach will allow boards the option to have different grades to return on different days.

Lecce added this will help students adapt to new health and safety practices due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“School boards should consult with their local public health and do not need to seek ministry approval or an adjustment to previously approved school calendars should they choose to adopt this approach,” he said.


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Man shot multiple times near Jane and Hwy. 401

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Aug 19th, 2020

A man believed to be in his 30s is in hospital after a shooting near Jane Street and Highway 401 overnight.

Emergency crews were called to an apartment building on Fallstaff Avenue around 1 a.m. Wednesday after several people reported hearing gunshots and people screaming.

When they arrived on scene, officers found the victim with multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and stomach.

He was rushed to hospital in life-threatening condition.

Investigators found multiple shell casings in the area. Police believe three suspects shot over two dozen bullets in the direction of the building’s lobby.

Witnesses reported seeing a black van in the area at the time of the shooting. Police are investigating if this vehicle was used by the suspects to flee the area.


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New video shows clearer view of confrontation between sheriff’s deputy and Raptors’ Masai Ujiri

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Aug 19th, 2020

Attorneys representing Raptors President Masai Ujiri say new video reveals a sheriff’s deputy started the confrontation at last year’s NBA championship win in California.

The video, obtained by Fox News affiliate KTVU, shows three clear angles of the encounter between Deputy Alan Strickland and Ujiri, including from Strickland’s own body camera.

In the video, Ujiri can be seen walking towards Strickland as he makes his way onto the court to celebrate.

Ujiri appears to be taking out his credentials when Strickland appears to shove Ujiri in the chest.

The two exchange words, only for Ujiri to be shoved again. He then pushes Strickland back.

Ujiri’s legal team says the footage shows Strickland was “undeniably the initial aggressor.”

No criminal charges were ever filed against Ujiri, but Strickland sued Ujiri in February, claiming he suffered injuries both physically and mentally in the incident.


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Motorcyclist critically injured in Scarborough crash

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Aug 18th, 2020

A 37-year-old man has life-threatening injuries after a motorcycle crash in Scarborough.

The crash happened on Finchdene Square near Finch Avenue East and Markham Road just before midnight on Monday.

Police say the motorcyclist was riding on Finchdene without his helmet on when he lost control of the bike, struck a curb and then a tree.

He was ejected from the motorcycle.

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