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Ontario’s Catholic school teachers union, province head to the bargaining table

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 9th, 2020

The union representing Ontario’s Catholic teachers will be at the bargaining table with the provincial government today.

It’s the first day of scheduled talks between the province and the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association.

If the talks don’t go well today and tomorrow, the union has indicated it’s prepared to launch a work-to-rule campaign on Monday.

All the province’s teachers are in the middle of tense contract negotiations with the government.

Ontario sets official end date of July 1 for red-and-white health cards

ALLISON JONES, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 9th, 2020

Hundreds of thousands of Ontarians will soon have to say goodbye for good to their old, red-and-white health cards.

The Canadian Press has learned the government has set July 1 as the date the cards will no longer be accepted.

It comes more than 25 years after the province first announced those cards would be phased out.

There are still about 300,000 red-and-white health cards in circulation, representing about two per cent of all Ontario health cards.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says those cards are more susceptible to fraud than the newer cards, which feature a photo and a signature.

She says people who still have the old health cards will get notices this month, and after that they will get monthly reminders to get a new card.

“After July 1, the card will not be accepted for services,” Elliott said in an interview. “Hospitals, if someone attends with an emergency where they need medical attention right away, of course they won’t be denied care, but they will be receiving the hospital bill for those services.”

Anyone who has to pay up front for doctor’s office or hospital services will be reimbursed once they get a new health card, Elliott said.

Photo health cards can be obtained for free at ServiceOntario locations.

The province is also going to ask doctor’s offices, hospitals and pharmacists to remind anyone using a red-and-white health card about the imminent need to switch to a new one.

It was late 1994 when the then-NDP government announced that due to fraud and misuse, the cards — which were introduced just four years prior — would be phased out over three years.

When the photo ID cards were first announced in 1995, the government estimated the red-and-white cards were being used for $65 million in fraudulent claims a year. At the time, Ontario’s health cards had the least amount of printed information of any province, including only a name and no expiry date, according to a 2006 auditor general report.

There were about 300,000 more health cards in circulation than there were people in Ontario, the auditor said.

In the years before the photo ID cards were introduced, health officials warned that some cards had fallen into the hands of Americans and other non-residents, with fraudulent use the most prevalent in Ontario’s border communities.

138 passengers on plane that crashed in Iran were connecting to Canada: Trudeau

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 9th, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a total of 138 passengers aboard the plane that crashed outside Tehran were connecting to Canada.

The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800, bound for Kyiv, crashed shortly after taking off from the Iranian capital, killing all 176 people on board.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the plane was carrying 63 Canadians, 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainian passengers and crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons.

Trudeau says there were 138 empty seats on a plane that landed in Toronto Wednesday afternoon. They were supposed to be filled by people aboard the downed flight who were set to connect in Kyiv.

Trudeau says it is too early to speculate, but he knows Canadians have questions about how the crash happened and that they deserve answers.

He says Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will be speaking with the Iranian foreign minister and conveying the need for a thorough investigation into the crash.

Trudeau says he also spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump along with other allies earlier today, who all offered their sympathies and support.

Watch the prime minister’s full remarks below.

Trudeau speaks after at least 63 Canadians killed in Ukrainian airlines crash in Iran

Trudeau speaks after at least 63 Canadians killed in Ukrainian airlines crash in Iran READ HERE: http://ow.ly/PARU30q7Uan

Posted by CityNews Toronto on Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Transport Minister Marc Garneau says it’s too early to say what caused a plane to crash in Iran but he says it’s clear that something “very unusual” happened.

He says the pilot lost communication with controllers shortly after a normal takeoff.

He’s urging against speculation until an investigation reveals more.

The Transportation Safety Board said it appointed an expert to monitor the progress of the Iranian investigation.

Iran says Ukrainian plane was on fire, tried to turn back

AMIR VAHDAT, JON GAMBRELL AND DARIA LITVINOVA, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 9th, 2020

The crew of a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed in Iran, killing 176 people, never made a radio call for help and were trying to turn back for the airport when their burning plane went down, an initial Iranian report said Thursday. Ukraine, meanwhile, said it considered a missile strike or terrorism as possible theories for the crash, despite Iran’s denials.

The Iranian report suggests a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines early Wednesday morning, when it crashed, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.

Investigators from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization offered no immediate explanation for the disaster, however. Iranian officials initially blamed a technical malfunction for the crash, something initially backed by Ukrainian officials before they said they wouldn’t speculate amid an ongoing investigation.

The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over it killing an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general in a drone strike last week.

The Ukrainian International Airlines took off at 6:12 a.m. Wednesday, after nearly an hour’s delay at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, the main airport for travellers in Iran. It gained altitude heading west, reaching nearly 8,000 feet, according to both the report and flight-tracking data.

Then something went wrong, though “no radio messages were received from the pilot regarding unusual situations,” the report said. In emergencies, pilots typically immediately contact air-traffic controllers.

Eyewitnesses, including the crew of another flight passing above it, described seeing the plane engulfed in flames before crashing at 6:18 a.m., the report said.

The crash caused a massive explosion when the plane hit the ground, likely because the aircraft had been fully loaded with fuel for the flight to Kyiv, Ukraine.

The report also confirmed that both of the so-called “black boxes” that contain data and cockpit communications from the plane had been recovered, though they sustained damage and some parts of their memory was lost. It also said that investigators have initially ruled out laser or electromagnetic interference as causing the crash.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told Ukrainian media that officials had several working theories regarding the crash, including a missile strike.

“A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main (theories), as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash,” Danilov said. He did not elaborate on where he saw the information on the internet.

Ukrainian investigators that arrived in Iran earlier on Thursday currently await permission from Iranian authorities to examine the crash site and look for missile fragments, Danilov said.

The Tor is a Russian-made missile system. Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1s to Iran in 2007 as part of a $700 million contract signed in December 2005. Iran has displayed the missiles in military parades as well.

Iran did not immediately respond to the Ukrainian comments. However, Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesman of the Iranian armed forces, denied a missile hit the airplane in a comments reported Wednesday by the semiofficial Fars news agency. He dismissed the allegation as “psychological warfare” by foreign-based Iranian opposition groups.

Danilov also said other possible causes under consideration included a drone or another flying object crashing into the plane, a terrorist attack or an engine malfunction causing an explosion.

The plane was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. The crash just before dawn scattered flaming debris and passengers’ belongings across a wide stretch of farmland.

Many of the passengers were believed to be international students attending universities in Canada; they were making their way back to Toronto by way of Kyiv after visiting with family during the winter break.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he planned to call Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the crash and the investigation.

“Undoubtedly, the priority for Ukraine is to identify the causes of the plane crash,” Zelenskiy said. “We will surely find out the truth.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 138 of the passengers were bound for Canada.. The flight also included a family of four and newlyweds, too. The manifest listed several teenagers and children, some as young as 1 or 2.

The crash ranked among the worst losses of life for Canadians in an aviation disaster. The flag over Parliament in Ottawa was lowered to half-staff, and Trudeau vowed to get to the bottom of the disaster.

“Know that all Canadians are grieving with you,” he said, addressing the victims’ families.

Ukrainian officials, for their part, initially agreed with Iranian suspicions that the 3 1/2-year-old plane was brought down by mechanical trouble but later backed away from that and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is going on.

While the cause of the tragedy remained unknown, the disaster could further damage Boeing’s reputation, which has been battered by the furor over two deadly crashes involving a different model of the Boeing jet, the much-newer 737 Max, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months. The uproar led to the firing of the company’s CEO last month.

Boeing extended condolences to the victims’ families and said it stands ready to assist.

Concerns continue around whether EQAO will take place amid OSSTF strikes

Simone Gavros | posted Wednesday, Jan 8th, 2020

Today marks the fourth one-day walkout that has been taking place across numerous school boards in Ontario since Dec. 4th, 2019. The strike, that included eight school boards today, prompted questions around what the plan is for Grade 9 students participating in the EQAO math assessment next Monday.

In a news conference held at Queen’s Park on Wednesday morning, Education Minister Stephen Lecce says that it’s up to the school boards to decide on whether or not to hold the test for their Grade 9 students, despite the work-to-rule.

With the continuous striking action among high school teachers in the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation’s (OSSTF), Lecce is aware that the likelihood of the assessment taking place across the majority of school boards is slim. The decision will impact Ontario students and could negatively affect their overall performance, especially for students who haven’t done Math since the previous semester.

“It is unfair that union actions are undermining student success. They are jeopardizing the learning experience of Ontario’s future leaders,” Lecce said in a statement.

The test is still scheduled to take place on January 13, 2020, should school boards decide to proceed with the assessment. Students who do not participate in the EQAO math assessment next Monday will be able to complete it in June 2020.

 

One-day walkout closes high schools in 8 Ontario boards including Peel

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 8th, 2020

Schools in several boards across the province will be closed on Wednesday, as the union representing high school teachers stages a one-day strike.

It is the latest in the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation’s (OSSTF) series of rotating strikes during a contentious round of bargaining with the province.

Wednesday’s one-day strike targets eight school boards, and because OSSTF represents education workers and support staff in elementary schools in some boards, both elementary and high schools will be closed in three boards: Algoma District School Board, Greater Essex County District School Board, and Avon Maitland District School Board.

High schools will be closed in Peel District School Board, the District School Board of Niagara, Limestone District School Board and Renfrew Country District School Board.

All schools will remain open in the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, as their OSSTF members are 25 noon-hour aides.

President Harvey Bischof said he would call off the strike if the government agreed to return to last year’s class size levels, but Education Minister Stephen Lecce rejected the offer.

Teachers were angered when the government announced that average high school class sizes would jump from 22 to 28 and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation.

The government has since scaled back those increases, to a 25 class size average and two e-learning courses, but the union says that’s not good enough.

Lecce has repeatedly said the key sticking point is compensation, with the union demanding a roughly two-per-cent wage increase, and the government offering one per cent.
The union, which represents 60,000 teachers and education workers, began one-day walkouts on Dec. 4 with a job action that closed schools across the province. It has followed up with weekly rotating strikes that have closed all secondary schools and some elementary schools at the impacted boards.

In December, a government-appointed mediator called off negotiations between the province and the union saying the parties remained too far apart. No further dates are scheduled.

SIU investigating after man injured in police-involved altercation in Mississauga

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Jan 8th, 2020

A 28-year-old man was seriously injured in an altercation with police officers in the Erin Mills area of Mississauga on Tuesday night.

Plain clothes officers from the street crime unit were investigating a vehicle for drug activity in a townhouse complex in the area of Winston Churchill Boulevard and Eglinton Avenue West around 7:45 p.m.

Const. Sarah Patten said when officers approached the vehicle, it drove towards the officers and one of them fired several shots at the vehicle.

The vehicle then swerved into a garage of one of the townhouses.

No other injuries were reported.

The Special Investigations Unit has invoked its mandate and is taking over the investigation.

The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

Iran strikes back at U.S. with missile attack at air base

NASSER KARIMI, AMIR VAHDAT AND JON GAMBRELL, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 8th, 2020

Iran struck back at the United States early Wednesday for killing a top Revolutionary Guards commander, firing a series of ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing American troops in a major escalation between the two longtime foes.

It was Iran’s most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and Iranian state TV said it was in revenge for the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose death last week in an American drone strike near Baghdad prompted angry calls to avenge his slaying. A U.S. and Iraqi officials said there were no immediate reports of casualties, though buildings were still being searched.

The strikes, which came as Iran buried Soleimani, raised fears that the two longtime foes were closer to war. But there were some indications that there would not be further retaliation on either side, at least in the short term.

‘All is well!’ President Donald Trump tweeted shortly after the missile attacks, adding, ‘So far, so good’ regarding casualties.

Moments earlier, Iran’s foreign minister tweeted that Tehran had taken “& concluded proportionate measures in self-defence,” adding that Tehran did “not seek escalation” but would defend itself against further aggression.

The killing of Soleimani — a national hero to many in Iran — and strikes by Tehran came as tensions have been rising steadily across the Mideast after Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

They also marked the first time in recent years that Washington and Tehran have attacked each other directly rather than through proxies in the region. It raised the chances of open conflict erupting between the two enemies, who have been at odds since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis.

Adding to the chaos and overall jitters, a Ukrainian airplane carrying at least 170 people crashed outside Tehran on Wednesday morning, state TV reported. There was no immediate word on casualties. The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport and mechanical issues were suspected to be the cause, the report said.

Iran initially announced only one missile strike, but U.S. officials confirmed both. U.S. defence officials were at the White House, likely to discuss options with Trump, who launched the attack on Soleimani while facing an upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate,

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned the U.S. and its regional allies against retaliating over the missile attack against the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province. The Guard issued the warning via a statement carried by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.

“We are warning all American allies, who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted,” the Guard said. It also threatened Israel.

After the strikes, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator posted a picture of the Islamic Republic’s flag on Twitter, appearing to mimic Trump who posted an American flag following the killing of Soleimani and others Friday.

Ain al-Asad air base was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces. The U.S. also acknowledged another missile attack targeting a base in Irbil in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.

The Iranians fired a total of 15 missiles, two U.S. officials said. Ten hit Ain al-Asad and one the base in Irbil. Four failed, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about a military operation.

Two Iraqi security officials said at least one of the missiles appeared to have struck a plane at the Ain al-Asad base, igniting a fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attacks, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had no permission to brief journalists.

Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance confirmed on Twitter that all Canadian Armed Forces personnel are “safe and accounted for” following the attack.

About 70 Norwegian troops also were on the air base but no injuries were reported, Brynjar Stordal, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces told The Associated Press.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said all of his country’s troops and diplomatic staff in Iraq are safe. Around 300 Australian defence personnel are stationed in Iraq.

Morrison said he spoke with President Donald Trump about the situation between the U.S. and Iran on Tuesday during a call about the wildfires raging in Australia.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Morrison said in reference to the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani: “The United States have taken the action that they have to address what has been intelligence that they say that they received, which was putting their interests at risks and under threat.”

Trump visited the sprawling Ain al-Asad air base, about 100 miles or 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice-President Mike Pence also has visited the base.

“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners and allies in the region,” said Jonathan Hoffman, an assistant to the U.S. defence secretary.

Wednesday’s revenge attack happened a mere few hours after crowds in Iran mourned Soleimani at his funeral. It also came the U.S. continued to reinforce its own positions in the region and warned of an unspecified threat to shipping from Iran in the region’s waterways, crucial routes for global energy supplies.

U.S. embassies and consulates from Asia to Africa and Europe issued security alerts for Americans. The FAA also warned of a “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” for civilian aircraft in the Persian Gulf amid in an emergency flight restriction.

A stampede broke out Tuesday at Soleimani’s funeral, and at least 56 people were killed and more than 200 were injured as thousands thronged the procession, Iranian news reports said.

Shortly after Iran’s revenge missile attack early Wednesday, Soleimani’s shroud-wrapped remains were lowered into the ground as mourners wailed at the grave site.

Tuesday’s deadly stampede took place in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman as his coffin was being borne through the city in southeastern Iran, said Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency medical services.

There was no information about what set off the crush in the packed streets, and online videos showed only its aftermath: people lying apparently lifeless, their faces covered by clothing, emergency crews performing CPR on the fallen, and onlookers wailing and crying out to God.

Hossein Salami, Soleimani’s successor as leader of the Revolutionary Guard, earlier addressed a crowd of supporters in Kernan and vowed to avenge Soleimani.

“We tell our enemies that we will retaliate but if they take another action we will set ablaze the places that they like and are passionate about,” Salami said.

Soleimani was laid to rest between the graves of Enayatollah Talebizadeh and Mohammad Hossein Yousef Elahi, two former Guard comrades killed in Iran’s 1980s war with Iraq. They died in Operation Dawn 8, in which Soleimani also took part. It was a 1986 amphibious assault that cut Iraq off from the Persian Gulf and led to the end of the war that killed 1 million.

The funeral processions in major cities over three days have been an unprecedented honour for Soleimani, seen by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force.

The U.S. blames him for killing U.S. troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before he was killed. Soleimani also led forces supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Assad in Syria on Tuesday amid the tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Soleimani’s slaying has led Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge.

In Iraq, pro-Iranian factions in parliament have pushed to oust American troops from Iraqi soil following Soleimani’s killing. Germany and Canada announced plans to move some of their soldiers in Iraq to neighbouring countries.

The FAA warning issued barred U.S. pilots and carriers from flying over areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace. The region is a major East-West travel hub and home to Emirates airline and Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel. It earlier issued warnings after Iran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone last year that saw airlines plan new routes to avoid the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Maritime Administration warned ships across the Mideast, citing the rising threats. Oil tankers were targeted in mine attacks last year that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied responsibility, although it did seize oil tankers around the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s crude oil travels.

The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it would work with shippers in the region to minimize any possible threat.
———
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Lolita C. Baldor and Zeke Miller in Washington, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed.

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