Thursday, December 30, 2010

Council getting pay hike in 2011

Good gravy!
Toronto city councillors and Mayor Rob Ford will ring in the New Year with a pay hike whether they want it or not.
City staff confirmed Wednesday councillors will get a cost of living increase in January.
The exact amount, based on the average of the monthly cost of living index from 2010, won’t be calculated until the new year but will be retroactive to Jan. 1.
This year councillors got a 0.47% bump, pushing their pay to $99,619.52.
Councillors always have the option of donating the hike back to the city, said Winnie Li, director of council and support services for the city clerk’s office.
Earlier this month, Ford turned down a consultant’s report suggesting the mayor get a healthy $15,000 raise.
The mayor would not be taking a cost of living increase and would either donate the money back to the city or to charity, said his spokesman, Adrienne Batra.
Batra said Ford "won't dictate to councillors" what to do about their pay increase.
Back in 2008, Ford — then a city councillor — argued council pay hikes shouldn’t even be on the table with union contracts coming due.
“It’s an insult to taxpayers when we turn around and cry poor,” he said at the time.
Deputy mayor Doug Holyday — who has donated his raise back to the city for the last two years — said he wouldn’t be surprised if a member of council came forward with a motion to freeze councillors’ pay.
“I think if it is put forward it will probably be passed,” Holyday said.
But the Etobicoke councillor said he won’t likely be the one to bring forward the motion.
“I’ll leave it to the initiative of council,” he said.
With contract negotiations coming up with the TTC this year, Holyday said it might be important for council to send a message with a pay freeze.
The push for a 0% property tax increase in the 2011 budget may also make freezing councillors’ pay an important move.
“A freeze is a freeze in all areas,” Holyday said.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rich lead in calling city's 311 line

When the going gets tough, the rich start ringing.
Toronto’s wealthiest postal code leads the charge when it comes to calling 311, the city’s information portal, data collected between Oct. 7 and Nov. 7 shows.
Postal code M4N, which according to Canadian Business magazine is the city’s wealthiest jurisdiction, had the highest calling rate for service requests of anywhere in Toronto, ringing up 311 46 times per every 1,000 households.
Contrast that with hardscrabble M4H – which includes Thorncliffe Park – which calls 311 for service requests a mere five times per 1,000 households over the same timeframe.
Other frequent dialers include some of the city’s tonier areas such as Leaside, Moore Park and the Beaches.
Missed garbage pickup is by far the leading category of service requests to 311 – which also takes calls for general city information. Of the more than 21,000 calls in the 30 days looked at more than 9,000 were garbage related.
That’s certainly true for M4N – where garbage complaints about missed pickups, overflowing bins and changes to bin size accounted for nearly half of all calls.
But over in M4H though, garbage collection was only third on the list. Complaints about property bylaw violations were the most frequent there.
Overall, nearly 2,500 callers were looking for help with water-related problems – everything from reporting a watermain break to help getting service turned on to leaking pipes.
There were also more than 1,000 calls about property standards and 259 calls about zoning concerns.
Service requests only represent about 25% of all the nearly one million calls 311 has received since launching in September 2009. The rest are for information of any and all kind – a person from the United States called to ask if crossing the border meant they would be in Canada.
The service can take calls in 200 languages and also handles email questions.

HST fears fuelled record housing sales

Fear of a phantom 13%-tax bite on resale homes fuelled record sales in the spring but that’s unlikely to be the case in the coming year, the Toronto Real Estate Board says,
“It was booming. It was crazy with tons of multiple offer situations,” said TREB president Bill Johnston of the market in the first quarter of 2010.
“Once they get the clear message, they tend to overlook these taxation issues and get on with their lives.”
Johnston said many prospective home buyers misunderstood how the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) would be applied once it kicked in last July, and believed it would add “a big whack” to the purchase price of any home they bought.
In fact, the HST doesn’t apply to resale homes and is only levied on new homes, although buyers can get some of the tax rebated on purchases of $500,000 or less.
TREB reported first quarter home sales in the GTA set a record in March this year with total sales of 22,418. New listings that month were 42% higher than the previous march, the board said.
And while that fell off after the HST came in on July 1, Johnston said sales still held up credibly for the rest of the year and he’s optimistic about 2011.
“I think we’ll see a stable market, frankly,” he said. “The economic news, as you know, has been relatively positive for Canada and the U.S. seems to be showing more signs of life than it did this time last year.”
Ending the City of Toronto’s Municipal Land Transfer Tax — as new Mayor Rob Ford has promised to do — would be a big boost, Johnston said.
But he said he doesn’t expect Ford to move on that promise until 2012. The tax brings in almost $200 million a year to the city.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce also believes home buyers in Ontario and British Columbia pushed forward purchases in the first half of the year because the HST was looming, president Perrin Beatty said in a news release Monday.
The cooler housing sector and cautious consumers will mean moderate economic growth next year, Beatty said.
“The Canadian economy is chugging along but not at full steam,” Beatty added.

Fire at Harold The Jewellery Buyer store

The cash-for-gold business has apparently become as dangerous as it is lucrative.
Just four months after an employee of the well-known Harold the Jewellery Buyer was busted in an alleged murder-for-hire plot involving a competitor, a suspicious fire gutted the shop at 2788 Bathurst St.
The cause of Monday morning’s blaze is still being probed by Toronto Police and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office.
But store owner Harold Gerstel is convinced it was deliberately set. And he believes one of his many rivals was likely behind it.
“We’ve had threats,” Gerstel said, as he surveyed the charred remnants of his business.
He was unwilling to elaborate for fear of hurting the investigation, but he said some others in the industry are “jealous” of his success.
Toronto fire fighters responded to the store on the ground-floor of the office building around 2:30 a.m. after an alarm went off inside and an alert TTC bus driver called 911.
Division Commander Bob O’Hallarn said the shop was “fully engulfed in flames” when firefighters arrived, but they doused the fire within about 15 minutes.
There are several security cameras out front, but investigators don’t know yet if the surveillance footage survived the flames.
“It’s very unfortunate that someone would do something like this,” Gerstel said. “It’s very cowardly.”
He speculated the fire was meant to “intimidate” him.
“It’s not the business that’s dangerous; it’s the people involved in it,” Gerstel said.
He said a flood of businesses in the area started buying gold after seeing how well his shop has done since opening five years ago.
Soaring gold prices have also been a factor.
“It’s my commercials that reel in the customers,” Gerstel said. “These other places all feed off of me.”
Harold the Jewellery Buyer’s main competitor, Omni2 Jewelcrafters, is located across the street.
Omni’s owner, Jack Berkovits, and Gerstel apparently got along just fine until recently — they even attended the same synagogue.
But tensions rose between the two businesses when Omni began buying gold in 2009.
Then last summer, Iranian-born tae kwon do champion Saeed Hosseini came forward claiming he had been hired to kill Berkovits.
Hosseini, who once appeared in a UFC match, claimed he worked for Gerstel as a bodyguard and debt collector.
Maria Konstan, a long-time employee of Harold the Jewellery Buyer, was ultimately charged with numerous offences, including counselling to commit an indictable offence.
The 71-year-old woman, currently out on bail, was at her former boss’ side Monday.
Gerstel continues to call the allegations against the senior “ridiculous.”
Despite the bad blood, he said he doesn’t believe anyone from Omni was behind the fire.
“Maybe someone else,” he said.
Staff at Omni refused to comment Monday.
Although the front windows were smashed out and the walls and floor blackened, Gerstel vowed to re-open by Wednesday, either in the same unit or possibly in a vacant unit.

Hwy. 407 — a road cut short

Hwy. 407 is littered with jackknifed political promises.
Now, its extension to Hwy. 115/35 has become a highway of headaches for Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne after her government abruptly announced earlier this year that it would stop just 19 kilometres east of Brock Rd. at Simcoe St.
Vehicles exiting the public toll highway extension can go south through downtown Oshawa to Hwy. 401 or north past the tiny Hamlet of Columbus that the locals describe as a golf-course-sized community with about 120 houses.
Many of the 330 or so residents of Columbus feel betrayed by the change in plans — and they’re not alone.
Peterborough’s peeved. Oshawa’s outraged.
All along the planned route somebody’s got something to say about Wynne’s decision to build the extension in stages with no set date for the completion of the project all the way to the Hwy, 115/35 junction.
The mayors for Peterborough, Clarington, Oshawa and Scugog, and Durham Regional Chairman Roger Anderson voiced their opposition at a meeting with the minister in November, saying the new proposal is “not viable and simply not fair” to the whole region, their communities, the Hamlet of Columbus and Kawartha Lakes.
Oshawa is encouraging residents to come out and support the full extension at a public meeting on Jan. 12.
On the other side of the road, Transport Action Ontario says building the project as planned will bulldoze through thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land and two provincially-significant wetlands. That organization wants the road to stop at Simcoe St. permanently.
Wynne said the government still intends to build the project when it can find the money to finance the project.
”There was a commitment made to extend the 407 to 35/115. We’re still committed to doing that which is why we’re buying properties between the end of the 407 now and 35/115. We’re buying properties on both stages of the extension,” she said.
“Going to Simcoe St. at this point is ... it’s a function of how you build a big project like this. The first part of the 407 was built in stages. But also because we’re coming out of an economic downturn and just in terms of available money, this is the decision that was made.”
Simply getting the extension built as far as Simcoe St., given the state of the economy, is a victory, she suggested.
As unveiled by the former Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae, Hwy. 407 was to be a tolled alternative to the ridiculously congested Hwy. 401.
The Ontario Conservatives essentially sold it in 1999 with a 99-year lease to a consortium of private companies, plugging a hole in their budget just before the provincial election despite a Common Sense Revolution promise to apply the proceeds of asset sales to the provincial debt.
The Ontario Liberals campaigned on a promise to roll back the tolls — despite all evidence that it was impossible — and sure enough the courts decided that a contract was a contract.
It had been envisioned from the beginning that Hwy. 407 would go all the way to Hwy. 115/35, but in March 2007, seven months before a provincial election, the Dalton McGuinty and Stephen Harper government teamed up to set a date for completion of the project — 2013.
“You’ll be able to zip down the 115/35 and take the off-ramp to the 407 going west,” Liberal MPP Jeff Leal told the Peterborough Examiner at the time.
It was earlier this year in the Peterborough Examiner, the Toronto Sun’s sister paper, that most residents and regional politicians learned the project would be going only as far as Simcoe St. in Oshawa for the foreseeable future.
The provincial promise to build the entire extension by 2013 hit a serious roadblock — the recession.
The first 19-kilometre stage of the proposed 50-kilometre extension now isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2015.
Of the two 10-kilometre links from the extension to the 401, only one near Lakeridge Rd. will be built in the first phase of the project.
These aren’t the only highway projects that are giving the Ontario government grief.
Folks in Halton Region are upset that the province is insisting that a route for the toll Niagara to GTA Corridor highway — previously the Mid-Peninsula Highway — be pencilled in through environmentally-sensitive lands protected under the area’s proposed official plan.
Similar local complaints exist with the GTA West Corridor project, which would cut through Halton Hills.
As the government tries to build a long needed network of highways around Toronto, it’s being driven around the bend by those who don’t want them and those who wanted them yesterday.
Those planned highways cut through choice provincial seats that can turn a party leader into a premier.
Whitby-Oshawa MPP Christine Elliott said the federal government agreed to provide financial help for the province’s plan to build a subway to York Region in exchange for a firm commitment that the extension would be built to the 115/35.
“As far as I’m concerned, or as far as the people of Durham Region are concerned, a deal is a deal,” she said. “We’re treating this as the government reneging on a deal. They should have put the money aside for this. They shouldn’t have signed it if they didn’t have the money. I’m sure at the time they did have the money but they’ve since allocated it to other priorities. And it’s not fair.”
Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has said that he’ll build the entire extension if his party gains government in next October’s provincial election.
Elliott predicts some riding races will be won or lost on this issue.
”I think it’s going to be absolutely the most important election issue for a lot of us, certainly it will in my riding because they’re proposing to end it at Simcoe Street and Columbus,” the PC MPP said. “It’s going to be disastrous and the people of Columbus are absolutely up in arms about this.”
Rosemary McConkey, a resident of the Hamlet of Columbus, said it would be wrong to view this as just a story that affects her hometown because the impact is on the whole GTA.
In addition to raising safety and traffic concerns for those people who live near the Simcoe St. terminus, the ending of the extension near Columbus means stalled economic plans for the entire region, she said.
“It should be a Toronto bypass. That was its intention,” she said.
On top of that, $3 million was just spent last year to reconstruct roads in that area that will have to be widened, and regional and local governments are already warning their residents that their property taxes will go up to pay for capital improvements needed to accommodate the end of the extension north of Oshawa, she said.
Ajax resident Tammy Flores, who is currently embroiled in a plate denial battle with the private consortium that runs Hwy. 407, said she’s joined up with the Columbus group because they have “overlapping issues — that being public accountability in decisions that are made that impact our lives.”
Flores said the public deserves to know if the current Hwy. 407 operators will get the contract to oversee tolling on the extension, which will remain in public hands.
“Are people going to have two bills or are they going to sell off the billing to the current operator?” Flores said. “I live in Durham Region and I know that my property taxes are going to go up probably about 10% as the result of the construction of this highway. Are you building a highway for the elites or are we actually going to be able to afford to drive on this highway”
Wynne said final decisions on how the road will be tolled have not been made, but she wants a seamless system along the entire length of the highway.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Will Greater Toronto real estate surf along, or sink, in 2011?

Mark Weisleder
2011 will be a good year for the GTA's housing market, says Mark Weisleder.
Anyone who tells you that they know what to expect next year in the real estate market has a chance of being right. Anything can happen — there are so many things beyond anyone’s control.
It’s true that the old adage, “safe as houses,” has been under stress in some of North America, of late.
Yet there are some things happening in the Canadian economy that indicate it should be a good year for the real estate market here in 2011.
Here are five reasons why, in Greater Toronto, a home may still be a good investment.
Interest rates at historic lows. All indicators from the Bank of Canada point to rates staying low until at least the middle of 2011. If, as expected, inflation also remains low, then there is a very good chance that we will see low rates right to the end of 2011. This alone will continue to drive the real estate market higher.
Stable jobless rate. Unemployment remains at 8 per cent and is not forecast to go much higher. The Canadian manufacturing industry is working to cut costs in order to remain competitive, even with the dollar trading at almost par with the United States. Although there is a possibility that the United States may slip into a double dip recession, you would never know it here, as more and more U.S. chains are trying to expand into Canada.
Fewer mortgage defaults. There is still bad news coming out of the U.S. housing industry, with some numbers suggesting that over 20 per cent of owners in the U.S. still have properties that are “under water.” This means that they owe the bank more than their properties are worth.
This makes it likely home prices in the United States will likely continue to fall in 2011.
By contrast, in Canada, it is estimated that less than 1 per cent of all Canadian home owners face this problem. As such, there will be far fewer mortgage defaults in Canada in 2011, and this will contribute to the real estate prices remaining stable.
Less land for development. There is a growing shortage of land available for development in the GTA for new housing developments. I think this is partly caused by government policy protecting green belt areas, whether for conservation, environmental or other reasons. This has caused the price of available vacant land to rise, which will continue to drive up the cost of a new home. This will also cause re-sale prices to either remain stable or increase, as there will not be the same choice for buyers out there who want to enter the housing market.
Record immigration. Immigration to Canada will continue at record levels, as people from all over the world recognize that the quality of life in Canada is second to none. Immigrants need a place to live and this will continue to fuel the demand for homes.
All of the above points to a very positive 2011 Canadian Real Estate market. Still, just to protect myself, I will write another column saying that the market should decline next year. That way, I can’t go wrong. Enjoy 2011.
Real estate lawyer Mark Weisleder is the author of Put the Pen Down! What homebuyers and sellers need to know before signing on the dotted line.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The death of the middle class has been greatly exaggerated

A much-discussed new report by University of Toronto researcher David Hulchanski portrays Toronto as a polarized city, with an increasingly well-off central city, more and more poor neighbourhoods and fewer and fewer middle-income ones. Prof. Hulchanski calls his findings “disturbing, because of the clear concentration of wealth and poverty that is emerging.” Commentators have pounced on the report as proof that unleashed market forces and government inaction are turning Toronto into two cities, one rich, one poor – a betrayal of its ideals of diversity and equality.
Are things really so bleak? Look at it another way. The fact that many prosperous people are choosing to live in central Toronto is a very good thing for the city. In a reversal of the “white flight” to the suburbs that emptied many American downtowns in the 1960s and 1970s, people are flocking to live in central Toronto, filling up scores of new downtown condominiums and renovating century-old downtown houses.
Gentrification has transformed neighbourhoods like Riverdale, the Annex and the Beach. Leslieville, Liberty Village and the Junction are on the rise. Even once-sketchy Parkdale is getting its share of coffee bars and yoga studios. As house prices rise, some older residents are cashing in and moving out. They get a windfall, the incoming gentrifiers get an old house with character. Those hated market forces are working.
It would be easy to come away from Prof. Hulchanski’s report with the impression that central Toronto is becoming a monoculture, populated by wealthy white bankers and lawyers in what amounts to a gated community.
In fact, places like my own gentrifying neighbourhood in the west end of downtown have become more diverse than before. On the main street, new caf├ęs, bars and art galleries are popping up, but the Portuguese butcher with the neon pig in the window is still packed on the weekends, the Portuguese wedding hall is thriving and a Portuguese evangelical church just took over the space vacated by a Korean-run video store.
In the inner suburbs, too, the picture is more complicated than the report lets on. Prof. Hulchanski notes that in the northwestern and northeastern stretches of the city, many neighbourhoods have seen incomes decline compared with the city average. The reason is obvious. Many new immigrants have gravitated to these areas to take advantage of the low rents in local townhouses and apartment blocks. Instead of heading to tenements in Cabbagetown or Chinatown, as their forebears did in generations past, they go to high-rises in Rexdale or Agincourt.
As in the downtown, there is more diversity in the inner suburbs than the income numbers suggest. In Mayor Rob Ford’s Etobicoke, for example, leafy tracts of single-family homes cohabit with areas of low-income housing. On the eastern side of the city, well-off Don Mills is just up the road from the low-income apartment towers of Flemingdon Park. Like the downtown, the inner suburbs have plenty of residents who are neither Bay Street lawyers nor taxi drivers. The death of Toronto middle-class has been greatly exaggerated.
Income disparities are widening because Toronto is simultaneously the country’s leading magnet for immigrants and the country’s leading hub for high-end, high-paying service industries. Would we want it otherwise?
The boom in the downtown is a boon for the whole city, bringing new construction, new tax revenue, livelier streets. As for the inner suburbs, the obvious task is to make sure that immigrant gateways don’t become immigrant ghettos, trapping newcomers in poverty. Better transit is one remedy, better public education another. It’s a huge challenge, but not an insuperable one. It’s too early too despair about our civic divisions.

Sky-rocketing real estate prices in desirable areas creating super-wealthy enclaves

Growing up the northwest end of Toronto, Irma Baldanza aspired to live in a place like Lawrence Park.
“I remember driving through areas like Forest Hill and Lawrence Park, where my Dad would point out and say, ‘Look at these beautiful houses,’ that sort of thing,” she said. “Once I got married and we started thinking about owning a home, this is one of the areas we looked at.”
The couple started out with a relatively affordable house on Yonge Street and Blythwood Road in the mid-1980s, moving in 1990 to a red-brick Georgian house they could add on to over the next several years, accommodating a growing family. In the past two decades, Ms. Baldanza has seen the treed neighbourhood become increasingly attractive for wealthy families – and, more recently, developers and investors – drawn to the larger lots and green spaces.
In a city where property is increasingly at a premium, the rarity of a neighbourhood of large lots just blocks away from a major transit artery makes for dramatically increasing property values. It helps to have good schools – both public and private – and engaged residents eager to pitch in for fundraising and beautifying initiatives.
Local real-estate agent Cheri McCann said a new house that would have sold for $2.4-million eight years ago is now going for nearly twice that. Even 10-year-old houses are selling for as much as $3.5-million.
This prized slice of city just southwest of Lawrence and Bayview avenues is the area of Toronto where average individual income has grown the most – relative to the city’s average – in the past 35 years, according to a report that came out last week from the U of T’s Cities Centre. That report found the city is being increasingly polarized between rich and poor neighbourhoods.
“The entry level at Lawrence Park is getting higher and higher,” Ms. Baldanza said. “I wonder where it’s going to end. Obviously, people are going to be buying these homes, so I don’t know if there’s just a lot of wealthy people out there.”
It’s harder for Ms. Baldanza to judge the tone of the neighbourhood now that her grown children aren’t at school nearby. But as a member of the Lawrence Park Ratepayers Association she’s familiar with the pride residents take in preserving the local green space, ensuring trees are planted to replace the aging canopy that lends the area its name.
“It’s a source of pride for our neighbourhood, and we like to keep it clean. … I think that all contributes to the attractiveness of the neighbourhood.”
Councillor Jaye Robinson, who defeated incumbent councillor Cliff Jenkins in October’s municipal election, views the shift to super wealthy as a cause for concern.
“There has been this trend – an unfortunate trend, because it is affecting the character of the neighbourhood,” she said. “The price point of homes in Lawrence Park is going up because of these bigger houses.”
From Ms. Robinson’s perspective, it’s indicative of a need for development that “shifts the decision-making power back to residents.”
While the city’s added pockets of wealth are an economic boon, pricing out all but the highest bidders for in-demand areas can help drive income polarization in neighbourhoods across the city.
“You get this kind of cascading effect of giving even a small group of people a windfall of growing disposable income,” said Armine Yalnizyan, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
It’s an inevitable result of basic supply and demand. But in situations of unequal income growth, the polarizations created by pricing people out of the real estate market are sharper.
“One of the challenges is that we are ending up with a city where you don’t have people of different income levels living together and that has an impact in a number of ways,” said John Campey, executive director of Toronto’s Community Social Planning Council. It can mean sharply divergent access to services – even public ones such as schools, where parental fundraising in affluent neighbourhoods can make a huge difference in the quality of programming.
One of the most visible characteristics shared by the city’s most desirable enclaves is access to transit: The majority of the city’s richest neighbourhoods are on or very near subway lines; only 19 of the city’s 68 subway stations are within or near low-income neighbourhoods.
This is one reason why discussions around income disparities keep coming back to transit: That’s what helps make affluent neighbourhoods desirable, and that’s what policy makers keep hoping will aid areas of the city that risk becoming no-go zones because there’s nowhere to go (or no way to get there).
“You get rid of, almost, the ghettos we’ve got now where people really are trapped,” Mr. Campey said. “You make more of a mix because you make more of those neighbourhoods attractive, which works both ways: It attracts more middle-income into those neighbourhoods but it also makes it more easy for low-income people to get around.”
Then there are downtown wards that have gone from low-income inner-city neighbourhoods in 1970 to highly prized areas of nightclubs and trendy condos. In Trinity-Spadina councillor Adam Vaughan’s mind, that gentrification has positive potential if the city leverages it properly. In a market hungry for condo development, he’s made a point of trading extra density for a floor or two of rental, below-market or supported-living units. And he’d like to see that become the norm.
“We can do it: We have enough growth in the downtown, and enough hyper-density. I could probably, if I wanted to, on every single building do it. … To get that economic diversity returning to the downtown core.”

City searches for affordable-housing solution

Mayor Rob Ford does not hide his contempt for the state of the city’s public housing complexes.

As a councillor representing Rexdale, with pockets of impoverished, often maligned, addresses, he has seen first-hand the shocking conditions — leaking roofs, broken windows, vermin-infested buildings — of some of the 58,500 units owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. It is the second-largest subsidized housing provider in North America.

If Mr. Ford had his way, the city wouldn’t build any more affordable housing units until it fixes what it already has.

He opposes a plan to raze North York’s Lawrence Heights housing projects and build it anew in the image of the mixed-income redevelopment underway in downtown’s Regent Park.

“We have a long waiting list [for community housing] right now. Why not bring those people off the waiting list and subsidize their rent,” Mayor Ford told the National Post during a recent interview.

“Because the vacancies, you drive by almost any apartment and, I’m not exaggerating, it says bachelor, or one-bedroom, or two-bedroom: For Rent. Retail plazas, above the stores, there are apartments for rent. Basement apartments: For Rent,” he said. “My job as Mayor is to get people housed. Whatever way that is, we will do it, but building more affordable housing when we have the units empty just doesn’t make sense to me. Just use that money to subsidize the rent and move them in.”
His impulse speaks to the root of a larger question: how can Toronto, an increasingly expensive place to live in, best meet the housing needs of its residents?

Across North America, municipalities are grappling with the same issue, bulldozing the bricks and mortar that have segregated communities and become synonymous with gangs in the hopes of sowing social cohesion. The United States has been systematically relieving itself of “severely distressed” subsidized housing units, replacing some with new units and others with rent vouchers.

Toronto faces a “terrible shortage of affordable homes,” according to Michael Shapcott, of the Wellesley Institute. In 2009, construction started on 11,919 new ownership and rental homes, 674 of which were affordable enough for low and moderate-income households. Meanwhile, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, an amalgamation of housing providers that inherited dilapidated provincial housing stock, but not the congruent funding to maintain it, faces an enormous backlog of repairs in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“This is a rare instance that, as an economist, I can say there is a way to do this stuff that is a lot better than what we’re doing,” said William Strange, a professor of real estate and urban economics at the University of Toronto.

Building more housing, or even replacing crumbling housing with “kinda nice, kinda middle-class” developments is not necessarily the best way to house more people, he argues.

“If you took the households that were in Regent Park, I think giving them resources to spend on the private sector is a better deal than ‘here, we’re going to give you a better unit and we’re going to tell you where to live’,” said Prof. Strange. “Figuring out where to live is something the vast majority of people can do.”

But the voucher model isn’t perfect, cautions Jason Hackworth, a geography and urban planning professor at the University of Toronto. While marketed as giving tenants more choice, some American jurisdictions have seen a limited number of landlords accept vouchers, in effect relegating those who rely on them to neighbourhoods as poor or as segregated as the projects from whence they came.

“Public housing is among the more vilified forms of housing. It’s an easy canard to beat up on,” said Prof. Hackworth. If Mayor Ford’s goal is to reduce costs, he said, “he’s absolutely right, it is expensive to maintain physical stock. But I don’t know of a study that shows it’s less expensive in a market like this one to provide rent subsidies. You have to make up the difference.”

Toronto already provides portable rent allowances. Mr. Shapcott, director of affordable housing and social innovation at the Wellesley Institute, estimates it’s about one-tenth of what the city spends on housing-related initiatives.

One of the early experiments rose out of the controversial dismantling of “tent city” along the waterfront; the municipality handed out $700 allowances and hooked people up with vacant rental apartments.

“It wasn’t particularly elegant, but it worked,” said Mr. Shapcott. The trouble is that the demand for affordable housing far outweighs the private housing stock, he said.

The Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation says there are about 9,000 vacant rental units in Toronto. Meanwhile, 66,000 to 71,000 households are on the waiting list for affordable housing. So, while “there is no question that we should be using every available resource that we can, [portable subsidies] are not going to solve the overall housing and homeless problem that Mayor Ford is facing,” said Mr. Shapcott.

He credits the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, for creatively addressing the long-standing needs of Regent Park and Lawrence Heights.

In the absence of funding, it is selling off parcels of land to developers who will build condos and townhomes in order to pay for the cost of replacing dilapidated buildings. In the case of Lawrence Heights, a project that was approved in principle by the last city council, the density is expected to increase five-fold.

Toronto Community Housing says its vision for revitalization “goes beyond replacing housing in a poor state of repair. We are transforming communities to build great neighbourhoods for everyone.” Toronto Community Housing CEO Keiko Nakamura was unavailable for an interview. Jeffrey Ferrier, a spokesman, wrote in an email that TCH “looks forward to working with Mayor Ford and the new city council on a variety of housing issues over the next four years in a manner that respects the taxpayer and for the benefit of the 164,000 Torontonians whose home is in our community.” He noted that the board of directors is preparing to welcome four new city councillors, chosen by the Mayor and council.

“We believe it’s important that the board have an opportunity to come together and jointly establish future directions.”

National Post

Read more:

McGuinty sheds light on G20 law controversy

It was a secret law, drawn up in secret, that led to the not-so-secret imposition of police-state conditions in free and democratic Toronto.
But what is now out in public, for the first time since the G20 mess in June, is that Premier Dalton McGuinty says he has punished people under his command — including former community safety minister Rick Bartolucci.
“I’ll tell you what we have done,” McGuinty said on Saturday’s showing of Global’s Focus Ontario with Sean Mallen. “I have made some changes ... I think they are pretty significant. I changed ministers. I changed a deputy minister. I made sure we understand the significance of what took place.”
In case the premier doesn’t understand, what took place was the highest law of our land, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, appears to have fallen to a regulation passed in secret that unleashed a War Measures Act-like response while he sat by and permitted it.
Only Ontario voters can change the premier. Meanwhile, up until now, it has been mainly Chief Bill Blair taking all the heat.
While the police have yet to be sanctioned, it turns out others in government have already had the can tied to them — namely Bartolucci who was shifted to municipal affairs and housing. Jim Bradley took on his role of community safety minister in a quiet August cabinet shuffle — something the premier calls holding people to account.
Veteran Queen’s Park reporter Mallen pressed: “Does this mean Bartolucci was fired?”
“I am saying we have people in place now who fully understand how to get these things straight going forward,” responded McGuinty.
I put a call into Bartolucci for his side on this because there were so many bureaucratic failures during the G20, including the failure to work openly with the public and other police forces, the failure to act when a small number of people ransacked the city and the failure to stop innocent citizens arrested or detained for no reason.
Other failures included the police taking a passive, stand-down-approach while the black bloc rioters raged and later evoking martial law-like conditions that saw people beaten and hundreds detained.
Interestingly, McGuinty told Mallen it was “the police for the city of Toronto” who “contacted us and said, ‘We are concerned about security measures’” and that they wanted the same authority inside their high security fencing as they have in courthouses. If somebody steps inside, the police wanted the right to ask for identification and to search bags, according to McGuinty.
It was also noteworthy the premier said the request was for “inside our security fencing” when the debate has been about the legality of this being a massive suspension of civil liberties outside the fence.
The chief told me personally “our people working for the ISU came forward with requests for that (and it) was passed through the city lawyers, and to the ISU and up to me. The request has to come from the chief of police and I signed it and the document was sent over to the ministry. It was articulated why the ISU felt it was important to have that authority and it was sent.”
Blair also said he “had a very honest belief” the law “pertained to five metres outside the fence.”
So was it Toronto Police or ISU requesting this special law? Was it inside the fence or outside they were looking to enforce?
Since we don’t know who the mystery deputy minister is perhaps Bartolucci — the only known casualty of the G20 — can clarify it all for us.

Garbage fee hike looming

Just a few days after handing out a gift to car-driving taxpayers, city council is poised to Scrooge Toronto residents in the new year.
The city announced Monday that council’s budget committee will consider a 3% hike in garbage rates and a long-planned 9% water-rate increase in January.
It will be the first garbage fee hike since Toronto introduced bin fees in 2008.
“It hasn’t gone up in the last two years and costs go up,” said public works committee chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong.
“I’d like to see it lower but the cuts that staff are proposing to get the garbage rate down, I don’t think would be acceptable to the rest of council.”
Minnan-Wong said some of those cuts would include eliminating city councillors’ Environment Days and the waiving of garbage collection fees for charities and religious organizations.
“We’re going to go through a process of discussion in January and February but I can’t foresee those as options that would be acceptable to council,” he said.
If approved, the bin fee hike will shave the annual rebate for owning a small bin from $10 to just under $3.
The hike would boost the cost of a medium bin by $8.93 to $47, a large bin by $12 to $145 and an extra-large bin by $14 to $204.
Those figures are what people pay after receiving a $224 garbage collection rebate from the city.
The hikes come after several weeks of good news for Toronto taxpayers.
Mayor Rob Ford and city council endorsed asking the budget committee to freeze property taxes next year. Council last week abolished the personal vehicle tax, eliminating the $60 per fee paid by car owners when they renew their plates, starting Jan. 1.
Minnan-Wong said “it’s easy to freeze the tax rate because there is a surplus.”
But he added garbage fees don’t benefit from any of that surplus and the previously-endorsed water rate increase is needed to fix the city’s aging infrastructure.
The hikes came as no surprise to Councillor Mike Layton.
“These are the constants that aren’t calculated into the model of a no-tax increase,” Layton said. “It’s giving money out of one pocket and taking it from someone else’s.”
Layton said there is no question the hikes will hurt people.
Councillor Janet Davis said the water rate hike isn’t surprising because the last council approved a multi-year water rate increase “because we have so much infrastructure work that needs to be done.”

City looks to raise false alarm fee

Fire officials want to burn property owners when Toronto Fire responds to false alarms.
A budget briefing note posted on the city’s website Monday proposes raising the rate for false alarms, vehicle incidents and non-emergency elevator responses from $350 to $410 per hour.
The $60 increase is based on the recommended provincial fee of $410 per hour per vehicle dispatched.
The move is estimated to raise an extra $1.9 million for the city.
Fire alarms have been a hot topic at city council.
Councillors Gloria Lindsay Luby and John Parker had been trying to get the city to waive the fee for the first false fire alarm at a single-family home within a 12-month period.
Back in the spring, council changed the city’s false fire alarm policy so residents would no longer be eligible for exemptions. Before that, alarmed buildings got one exemption a year.
“Removing the exemption has caused considerable harm to residents, especially to single-family homes where a false fire alarm will cost them over $1,000,” Lindsay Luby wrote in her motion. “As a result, homeowners are deactivating their alarms. This action could put their property and the properties of the entire neighbourhood at risk.”
The Etobicoke councillor could not be reached for the comment Monday about the fee hike.
Council voted last week to send Lindsay Luby’s motion to the licensing and standards committee in January.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Toronto's middle class shrinking rapidly: report

The number of middle income neighbourhoods in Toronto has gone down dramatically over the last four decades, creating a social divide that will widen greatly in the coming years if left unaddressed, according to a new analysis of census numbers.
The analysis, published in a report released Wednesday by the University of Toronto's Cities Centre, says what are thought of as middle class neighbourhoods — defined as areas where the average individual income is within 20 per cent of the city average of $40,704 — are being squeezed out.
"It's not a theory, it's a trend," said David Hulchanski, associate director for research of the Cities Centre who wrote the report, titled Three Cities in Toronto.
"Census data from 1970 to 2005, [from] the … now famous long-form census tells us a lot about ourselves. We simply asked where was each census tract, each neighbourhood in 1970 and where is it now," he told CBC's Metro Morning Wednesday.
The report found that the proportion of neighbourhoods — what Statistics Canada refers to as census tracts — considered to be middle income was 29 per cent in 2005, down from 66 per cent in 1970.
The proportion of low income neighbourhoods, meanwhile, rose from 19 per cent in 1970 to 53 per cent in 2005. Low income neighbourhoods are defined as those with average individual incomes at 20 per cent of the city average or lower.
"Poverty does not lead to violence, but it creates the preconditions for that when you have so many neighbourhoods where people feel they have no place to go," said Hulchanski. "So that is something that social scientists worry about when they look at this kind of data."
The report updates another study published by Hulchanski in 2007. The current report uses data from the 2005 census that was not available in time for the earlier version.
From 2001 to 2006, the trend of income and geographic polarization continued, said Hulchanski. Seven per cent of the city's 531 census tracts went down in average income, while four per cent increased in average income.
"So the trend continues. If nothing changes, we will be a city in two halves, really," said Hulchanski.
That's a change from the city currently described in Three Cities in Toronto. The report identifies three separate categories of Toronto neighbourhoods:
But if there are no major policy changes targeted at income distribution and affordable housing in the next 15 years, then Toronto will be dominated by just City #1 and City #3, Hulchanski's report says.
"This is a reasonable assumption, since neither of these changes is on the immediate horizon," the report said.
To avoid this scenario, some policies can be enacted at the municipal level, according to Hulchanski — notably, by making public transit more accessible to low-income neighbourhoods.
"The entire northern tier of our city lacks transit. Whether you call it Transit City or not, you need a plan to do that," said Hulchanski.
"And to be fair to the current administration, it's been 25 years with almost nothing happening, right? Talk, talk, talk for 25 years about doing something about transit and not being done. We finally had an announcement and now that's up in the air, of course," he said.
New Mayor Rob Ford has called for the cancellation of Transit City, the city's light rail plan, in favour of a strategy that focuses on adding subway lines. It's unclear exactly how much it would cost to implement Ford's proposals or how long they would take to complete.
The province has already approved billions in funding for Transit City, several components of which have firm funding commitment, along with design plans and environmental assessments completed.
Hulchanski's report also calls for the implementation of the Tower Neighbourhood Renewal project, which seeks to revitalize the numerous high rise apartment buildings were constructed from 1950s to the '80s and have had minimal upkeep and upgrades.
But in addition to action at the municipal level, many of the problems Toronto face have to be addressed by the provincial and federal governments, Hulchanski said, particularly in four areas:
"These are in the provincial and federal jurisdictions. There's just so much cities can do about any of those four things," he said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cops close Ephraim Brown case

Toronto homicide detectives aren’t looking for anyone else in the crossfire murder of 11-year-old Ephraim Gerald Brown.
Akiel Eubank and Gregory Sappleton, both 24, were acquitted of second-degree murder in the 2007 gang shootout that resulted in Ephraim’s death at the Sheppard Ave. W. housing complex near Jane St.
The Crown’s key witness, Kishauna Thomas, the lad’s cousin who was celebrating her birthday the night of the murder, braved intimidation for stepping up to the plate, but was discredited by defence questioning as providing unreliable evidence. Indeed the defence suggested she made up her testimony.
But after testifying against two gang members, she’s now wondering, “What about me?”
It was a question she posed to homicide Det.-Sgt. Gary Giroux, the lead investigator, after Monday’s verdict.
“I’m working on figuring it out now, for her,” he said Tuesday. “I’m working my way through it with her.
“We have an obligation to ensure she has the ability to go about her life and feel she doesn’t have to look over her shoulder,” Giroux said. “I said, ‘We’re not going to abandon you. We’ll be there to help you.’”
Eubank was identified as a 5-Point Generalz member while Sappleton was tied to the local Baghdad Crew.
“I’m not looking for anybody else,” Giroux said Tuesday.
The day after he tried to console Ephriam’s mom Lorna, he described the jury’s verdict as disappointing.
“It was pretty much like we did originally, it was like her son died all over again,” he said. “Anything she had done to recover from it was eroded in seconds.”
Giroux said “it’s very difficult to predict at this point” if the dispute between the two rival gangs will be re-ignited.

Monday, December 13, 2010

TCHC's powers limited in dealing with criminal tenants

Toronto’s public housing officials are limited by provincial regulations when it comes to ridding their buildings of criminals, they said Monday.
While housing officials can evict tenants who commit serious crimes in their own buildings, they can’t do anything if those offences are committed away from the property.
At their year-end meeting, Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) directors said tackling gangs, gunmen and abusive troublemakers is police responsibility.
Chairman David Mitchell said the TCHC and its 83 special constables are working with police to prevent problems.
But under the Residential Tenancy Act, “we can move people from the buildings ... we can’t stop the shootings,” he said.
“At no time should this board or agency behave as police officers,” insisted director Carol Osler.
Toronto Community Housing has 164,000 tenants in 350 high-and low-rise dwellings.
Director Catherine Wilkinson said with the special constables spread across the city, “obviously they cannot respond to all the calls.”
Contrary to an earlier media report quoting a city councillor, a THC spokesman said the agency annually signs a legal agreement that gives police the right to enter all its buildings.
A major jump in serious crimes on TCHC property this summer, especially in west-Toronto, included 105 incidents compared to 70 in mid-2009.
The severe summer crime wave mirrors city-wide gang activity, but staff stressed there was an over-all 1% drop this year at TCHC sites, compared to 2009.
City Councillor Frances Nunziata, who officially joins the board in January, asked why security isn’t increased in troubled buildings.
The mid-year crime spike in TCHC buildings “is 50% higher than it was in the third quarter of the year," she said. “There are a lot of gangs.”
The social housing agency works closely with Toronto Police to prevent crime, CEO Keiko Nakamura said, adding special constables are patrolling identified hot-spot sites more often.
About 80% of special constable calls are for parking and neighbour dispute issues, she said.
“We focus much of our activities within Toronto Community Housing," said Sgt. Jeff Pearson, with Toronto Anti-Violence Initiative Strategy (TAVIS).
He said not all residents embraced police, “but what I consistently found throughout the years is acceptance grows” as they get to know the individual officers and the TAVIS initiative.
“We’ve provided thousands of additional patrols in areas experiencing violence,” primarily in TCHC-managed areas, Pearson said. Many residents have been victimized by outsiders, “and that’s where we’re focusing our attention through TAVIS, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Crime, rent arrears spike at TCHC sites

Serious crime spiked in the last three months on Toronto Community Housing property while arrears rose over $4 million and evictions dropped.
According to the TCHC performance scorecard for the third quarter of 2010, there are some red flags the board of directors need to tackle when it comes to crime and failure to pay rent.
“Serious crime” on TCHC property rose in the third quarter of 2010 with 105 incidents, up from 48 in the second quarter and 70 for the same quarter in 2009.
Meanwhile, compared to 2009, evictions from TCHC property are down 51% while the number of households in arrears climbed to 5,755, up 11% from the same three months a year earlier.
Those troubling statistics will be up for discussion on Monday at the final meeting of the current TCHC board before new city councillors take over in January.
Outgoing board member Giorgio Mammoliti told the Sun it appears to be a free-for-all when it comes to paying rent.
“We have basically educated our tenants in letting them know they don’t need to pay rent,” Mammoliti said.
As for the spike in crime, Mammoliti said he’s curious to know if the buildings where violence is on the rise are the same ones that told TCHC not to let Toronto Police in.
“Some buildings, mostly in the downtown core, decided not let the police in (to enforce the law),” Mammoliti said.
Councillors Maria Augimeri, Frances Nunziata and John Parker, three of the four councillors joining the board, declined to comment until they had been briefed on the corporation, and the report card.
TCHC spokesman Jeffrey Ferrier pointed out that among serious incidents, there is one less incident year-to-date when compared to last year.
The board has aimed for a 5% or greater reduction in the overall volume of crime but for the first nine months of the year compared to the same period last year, crime dropped only 1%.
“As anticipated, the summer months shows significant increase in serious events. Again, gang activities, particularly in the West Toronto communities, is a strong factor in the increased firearm activities,” staff state in the report.
The fact household arrears have spiked isn’t surprising, Ferrier said due to “difficult economic times” and the LeSage report which delivered more than 80 recommendations on how TCHC should handle evictions and reinforcing the message that the corporation should “do everything in (its) power to keep tenants housed.”
Although TCHC has more than $4 million in outstanding rent, Ferrier said keeping people housed is a matter of fairness and saves the more costlier expense of shelters having to house evicted tenants.
With around one in 10 household not keeping up with its rent, Ferrier said TCHC does try to work with them to broker a solution but he disagreed with Mammoliti that it is open season when it comes to paying rent at a TCHC property.
“The reality is that they do (need to pay rent) and if they don’t our business is not sustainable,” he said.
He said as a “last resort” the corporation will apply to evict a tenant.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blair singled out: Vaughan

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is being unfairly singled out by provincial Ombudsman Andre Marin, insisted Coun. Adam Vaughan.
“This notion that the chief was running the G20 security unit is just ridiculous,” said Vaughan, an outgoing member of the Toronto Police Services Board. “The ISU was the federal-provincial body which was mandated under a federal-provincial agreement to protect international protected persons. It was not a local police operation.”
Marin, in a stinging report, said Blair’s office was “ground zero” for the controversial five-metre rule, which led to indiscriminate arrests and searches.
But Vaughan said the provincial government — not Blair — was responsible for such regulations and telling people about them.
“It was never the police chief’s job to do communications for the provincial government,” he said. “If they’re going to pass laws, it’s for them to explain them.”
Councillor Michael Thompson — who is poised to sit on the Toronto Police Service Board — stressed that many
policing agencies were involved in the G20 and predicted there will be some “strong discussions” about what took place.
“(The Ombudsman) has come down quite concisely on the fact that rights were violated,” Thompson said. “I think that it is a matter of clarifying what that means and how that occurred in order to ensure as we move forward that these sort of things don’t happen again.
“Mistakes were made and obviously the Ombudsman is saying things were done that violated individual rights, as such we’re very concerned by that.”

Text of Don Cherry's speech

Well actually I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything, I thought I’d get it in.
What’d you expect? Ron MacLean to come here?
I am befuddled, because I thought I was just doing a good thing coming down with Rob, and I was going to do this here and it was going to be nice and the whole deal.
I’m being ripped to shreds by the left-wing pinko newspapers out there, it’s unbelievable.
One guy called me a pink, a jerk in a pink suit, so I thought I’d wear that for him to today.
You know, it’s funny in those articles, my church, I was made fun of cause I go to church, I’m easy to do it that way.
And I was called maudlin for the troops because I honour the troops, this is the kind of (stuff) you’re going to be facing Rob with these left-wing pinkos. They scrape the bottom of the barrel.
But again, I was asked, why I was asked and I asked Doug (Councillor Ford) why? And he said, we need a famous, good-looking guy and I said, ‘I’m your man, right off the bat.’ I was asked why a landslide. I was in their corner right from the start.
They phoned me, Doug phoned me in the morning, you’ll get a landslide and why, because Rob’s honest, he’s truthful, he’s like Julian Fantino — what you see is what you get, he’s no phony.
And I could go on right now about all the millions and thousands of dollars that he’s going to save and everything.
I’d just like to tell a little story that was in the Sun, I think it was in the back pages, just a little thing and Fiona Crean for 18 months has been trying to get something done with City Hall and in the story, I think some of you know the story, there was a little old lady and all of a sudden she got banged on the door and two guys were there and they said we’re cutting your tree down.
You know, this is a little thing but to me is a big thing.
They said, we’re cutting your tree down, and she said well I don’t want it, that’s my favourite tree, a 100-year-old.
No, it’s down, cut it down and then they send her a bill for $5,000 for cutting it down.
And for 18 months her son and Fiona were City Hall, City Hall please help us. Thirty, 40 calls, unbelievable, nothing, laughed at.
Rob’s in the mayor one day, apology comes and a $5,000 cheque. And that is why I say he is going to be the greatest mayor, this city has ever, ever seen as far as I’m concerned and put that in your pipe you left-wing kooks.
Thank you very much.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mark Dailey, 57, dead from cancer

The voice of CITY-TV has been silenced.
Mark Dailey, a long-time reporter and anchor with a deep voice known to millions in the GTA, died Monday after losing his battle with cancer. He was 57.
Dailey's signature was the often-heard, continually mimicked but never duplicated station slogan: “CITY-TV. Everywhere.”
“We have lost one of the true originals,” CITY-TV news anchor Gord Martineau said. “I’m taking it really hard. We worked together for 31 years and we talked every day.”
He remembers the first time he saw Dailey — tall and thin, with glasses and a notepad.
“My first reaction was who was this beanpole?” Martineau recalled. “It took me a day to realize his true value. You could rely on him in any situation.”
Viewers who only got to know Dailey through their TV screen may not have been aware of his quick wit, often relieving the tension of the newsroom with his one-liners, he said.
Dailey was born in Youngstown, Ohio and worked as a police officer before eventually moving north and pursuing his career on television.
He successfully fought prostate cancer six years ago before announcing in September the cancer had spread to his kidneys. After an operation, the disease had spread to his lungs.
Toronto Sun crime reporter Rob Lamberti was good friends with Dailey.
“My heart sank when he died,” said Lamberti, who first met Dailey in the early 1980s . “He filled a unique role in Toronto media, as a crime reporter, as a news reader and as the voice of CITY-TV.”
Former OPP commissioner Julian Fantino said he was saddened by the news.
“It is such a loss because Mark was the consummate professional who tried his utmost to be fair and balanced and had a special way of explaining the human side of the streets of Toronto,” Fantino said, adding Dailey was a unique talent who knew reporting and policing. “He was with you in bad times as well as good times and he leaves a huge legacy.”
Former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman said he wishes he had used Dailey for his Bad Boy store commercials.
“He was a sweet man all the way through — and that voice — I never ever heard a voice better than that,” said Lastman, who praised the “classy” Dailey as a “great Torontonian” who was proud of his city.
Broadcast legend Ted Woloshyn said Dailey had the voice that everyone in the business wished they had.
“He was a nice man, a giving man,” Woloshyn recalled. “He did so much for this community. He was a good one who, had he not been taken so early, was on his way to being one of the great ones.”
Dailey won numerous awards for journalism and was a spokesman for the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada.
He received Toronto’s Award of Merit and a Letter of Appreciation from the governor general of Canada for community service.
He died in Sunnybrook hospital with family at his side.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ex-con Gentile hired by councillor

Once written off as a “dead fish”, ex-con Mario Gentile is poised to make a back-door return to civic politics.
And the white knight who’s giving the former convict a helping hand is his former rival, Coun. Fank Di Giorgio, who represents York South-Weston (Ward 12).
“Absolutely I think he’s paid his debt, in the context of some other people that have got themselves into a hell of a lot more trouble,” Di Giorgio said. “I point to people like ... Conrad Black. They basically have done things that are much more atrocious than whatever Mr. Gentile did.
“And I’m not sure exactly what he did.”
Gentile was convicted of breach of trust and accepting secret commissions in 1994 for taking money and benefits from developer Lou Charles while a Metro Toronto councillor.
He was also found guilty of tax evasion and pleaded guilty to breach of trust in a separate incident involving a U.S. firm that wanted to sell garbage trucks to North York.
Di Giorgio said he is working out a contract with Gentile to do part-time constituency work for him, and spoke glowingly of the man he defeated soundly in the 2000 civic election.
“Mario and I worked together in North York in the late ’80s, early ’90s. We did a lot of good things,” Di Giorgio said.
“The reality is that a lot of things that were introduced in North York were spearheaded by Mario. He was primarily responsible for the kind of snow clearing that we introduced in North York.
“Unfortunately he got himself into trouble, but I anticipate that he could help me do a lot of positive things.”
Gentile could not be reached for comment but when he earned day parole in 1995, he visited Metro council and told the Sun: “You should have seen some of those faces ... they thought I was a dead fish. I had the guts to show up and make sure people don’t forget I’m around — as a taxpayer.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How a man named Nobody became the battered face of G20 protests

How a man named Nobody became the battered face of G20 protests


From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010 3:00AM EST
Last updated Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010 10:39AM EST
Adam Nobody was face down, his arms held behind his back, and a police officer’s fist smashing into his face, a now infamous video shows. He had left his house to see what the G20 protests were about.
Now he was under arrest. His case has become the collision point for those demanding a public inquiry into the policing of the G20 protests.

More related to this story

What Mr. Nobody says happened next wasn’t caught on tape. He said in an interview with The Globe and Mail that after being led behind a police wagon shielded from public view, another officer asked him his name. “Adam,” he replied. He was again face down, an officer’s boot resting on his head.
“Adam what?” the officer asked, according to Mr. Nobody’s recollection.
“Adam Nobody,” he said.
He said the officer lifted his boot and kicked him in the face. He kicked him again. And again. “Stop being a smartass,” the officer said.
“It’s my name,” Mr. Nobody said he told the officer. The officer pulled the man’s ID from his back pocket. “Shit,” he said. “This guy really is a Nobody.”
Mr. Nobody ended up with a shattered cheekbone, and a broken nose. Blood poured from his head. His eye was swollen shut.
The Special Investigations Unit, which is charged with investigating police, said the video of his arrest at Queen’s Park was evidence of a “probable use of excessive force,” but did not lay charges. Toronto police chief Bill Blair said on Monday the video evidence of Mr. Nobody’s arrest, uploaded to YouTube, was “tampered with,” and that the missing seconds would explain why he was arrested. He said on radio Monday that his impression was the police were dealing with a “violent armed offender.”
On Monday night, John Bridge, who shot the video of Mr. Nobody’s arrest swore an affidavit that contradicts Mr. Blair’s assertion. He said Mr. Nobody did not attack any of the police officers, and was not armed.
Mr. Nobody said he was troubled by Mr. Blair’s comments.
“After all I’ve been through. ... It’s too much. It’s uncalled for. Very deliberate on his behalf and I do not appreciate it whatsoever,” Mr. Nobody said.
Mr. Nobody is a 27-year-old freelance stage builder. He said he changed his name from Adam Trombetta about two years ago because it made for better puns. He suggested the headline for his story should be Nobody hurt at Queen’s Park.
On the morning of June 26, the Saturday of the G20 summit, Mr. Nobody heard about the protests but wasn’t much interested. Eventually, he wandered over to the designated protest area at Queen’s Park to see what was going on. Bored, he went to buy some beer and a poster board to make his own protest sign. When he returned to Queen’s Park he busied himself with his sign, a joking homage to an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, which read “Let Donna Graduate.”
“I thought it would be funny,” Mr. Nobody said. As he finished writing, a line of police approached from behind. He started to back away, and then an officer charged at him. Mr. Nobody said he turned and ran. He threw away his bag, and then the officer dove and tackled him. This is the sequence that can be seen on the YouTube video.
“The next thing I know, there’s cops on top of me punching me, kicking me in the face, having at me,” Mr. Nobody said. “People around us are just screaming, “What are you doing. You’ve got him. Stop beating him.’”
The SIU investigators identified two officers who were the subject of their investigation, but those officers declined to be interviewed, as is their right. The SIU concluded it could not lay charges. Mr. Blair has not said whether the officers are members of the Toronto police or officers brought in from elsewhere.
Mr. Nobody said he remembers thinking, as the blows kept coming and the world became a shiny haze, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.
“Not only was it a beating, it was humiliating. It was like I was nothing.”
Mr. Nobody said several officers laughed later on as he was beaten behind the police wagons. He was charged with assaulting a police officer, and obstruction of a police officer. Mr. Nobody’s defence lawyer Christopher Murphy said the Crown withdrew the charges.
“They had no evidence,” Mr. Murphy said.
Mr. Nobody spent 31 hours in jail. He spent three days in hospital. He went through several hours of surgery to repair his broken nose. He couldn’t lie down to sleep.
He has retained lawyers Julian Falconer and Sunil Mathai. They have up to two years to decide whether to bring a lawsuit. In the meantime, they are asking the SIU to reopen the investigation.
One of the key questions is who arrested Mr. Nobody. The officer listed on the arrest record provided a badge number that doesn’t correspond to anyone on the Toronto force, according to the SIU, or to any officer believed to have worked in G20 policing.
At his court appearance last month, the Crown conceded that there was no evidence to support the assault charge. The Crown lawyer said the officers’ notes did not indicate an assault had taken place. The Crown also said Mr. Nobody’s “assaultive behaviour” did not amount to reasonable and probable grounds for arrest.
“The Chief of the largest police service in the country has made an allegation of fabricating evidence against Mr. Nobody and Mr. Bridge in circumstances where, apparently, according to the arrest document, the police have falsified a badge number,” Mr. Falconer said. “The police refuse to come forward to acknowledge who beat Mr. Nobody. This is the stuff of totalitarian regimes.”

G20 probe slammed by Toronto police chief

G20 probe slammed by Toronto police chief

G20 probe slammed by Toronto police chief
Toronto's police chief says an Ontario police watchdog used unreliable evidence to conclude that excessive force was likely used during the arrest of a civilian at a G20 summit protest.
Bill Blair on Monday questioned the legitimacy of a YouTube video that was a part of a probe by the Special Investigations Unit in the case of Adam Nobody, who suffered a facial fracture while being arrested by police at a protest at Queen's Park on June 26.
The video shows about a half-dozen police officers chasing and then tackling Nobody at Queen's Park. SIU director Ian Scott said the video appeared to show one of the officers striking Nobody repeatedly while he was on the ground.
Police forensically examined the tape and found it had been altered, Blair said.
"The evidence that they're relying on is false. It's been edited. A significant portion of it has been removed," he told CBC's Metro Morning.
"And I think that portion ... removes any opportunity for a reasonable explanation of the force that was used."
Blair said his impression was that the officers were arresting a "violent, armed offender. The use of that weapon has been removed from that tape."
SIU defends investigation
But the SIU is standing by its investigation.
"What I can say is that if the chief has relevant information that will assist us in furthering these investigations, we'd certainly be willing to take them and review them and take any necessary action," SIU spokesman Frank Phillips said.
The SIU concluded that excessive force was "probably" used against Nobody. But after reviewing the video, interviewing a civilian witness and eight officer witnesses, they were unable to identify who was responsible for using that force. The SIU also identified two "subject" officers who were the focus of their investigation.
But those two unidentified officers declined to be interviewed by the SIU, a right that is enshrined in the constitution.
Blair did not specify whether those two subject officers were members of the Toronto Police Service, or affiliated with one of the many other forces that helped police the summit, which was held in downtown Toronto on June 26 and 27.
The SIU, which investigates cases where civilians are seriously hurt or killed in interactions with police, investigated five other cases where people alleged mistreatment at the hands of police during the G20. In one of those other cases, the SIU found officers had likely used excessive force. But the watchdog is not proceeding with criminal investigations on any of the complaints, citing a lack of evidence or an inability to determine how exactly the complainants sustained their injuries.

Flag this message Toronto police farce: Part 2



Toronto police farce: Part 2

In the finale to a story that’s been making headlines, detective Garry Carter reveals what he believes to be the real reason the biggest mob sting in Canadian history died a premature fate: to keep the investigation of Susan Eng from ever becoming public

BY Derek Finkle   November 25, 2010 00:11
After coordinating a secret, year-long investigation involving Susan Eng, then the head of Toronto’s Police Services Board, Intelligence Unit detective Garry Carter was, by the spring of 1992, eager to begin pursuing some bona fide criminals.

Having used surveillance, undercover operatives and wiretaps — some of which exceeded the boundaries of their judicial authorization — on both Eng and her friend and unofficial advisor, criminal lawyer Peter Maloney, Carter and his fellow officers hadn’t been able to catch Eng engaged in any illegal activity, but there was still some lingering concern about Maloney.

Maloney’s telephone lines, Carter had quickly discovered, were frequently used to contact known drug dealers. In the end, however, Carter and his fellow investigators realized that it wasn’t Maloney buying and selling drugs; it was friends who had regular access to his telephones. According to a report authored by Carter on March 30, 1992, the investigation of Maloney had been ordered by his superiors, including Superintendent Julian Fantino, six months before Fantino left Toronto to become the chief of police in London, Ontario. Carter says Fantino was concerned that the head of the Police Services Board was friends with a man who’d been charged a decade earlier for being one of about 300 men rounded up during Toronto’s infamous gay bathhouse raids in 1981. By the time Carter wrote his 1992 report, he was ready to leave the Maloney-Eng investigation to other detectives and move on to the more than 50 drug traffickers — including well-known Toronto organized crime figures Eddie Melo and Peter Scarcella, the latter of whom was reputed to be one of southern Ontario’s most powerful mobsters — Carter had stumbled onto through the various interceptions of Maloney’s telephone lines.

Beginning October 28, 1991, Carter had obtained judicial wiretap authorizations for the 50 suspected drug traffickers, a list that initially included Maloney and grew as the investigation gathered steam. As a result of the success of these ever-expanding wiretaps, Carter says, the investigation, dubbed Project Atom, received a great deal of financial support from Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario (CISO), an advisory unit for police agencies across the province that was funded by the Policing Services Division of Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General. From June 1992 until the end of 1994, in excess of $2 million of Ontario taxpayers’ money was funnelled to Project Atom to fight organized crime. Carter now admits, however, that he was advised by his former boss at the Toronto police force’s Intelligence Unit, Inspector Ron Sandelli, to omit the names of Susan Eng and Peter Maloney from the funding applications.

Carter, likely the most experienced undercover officer on the Toronto force at the time, decided to use some of the CISO money to do what he figured he could do best — infiltrate the mob. Utilizing an informant that he had developed ties within Scarcella’s organization, Carter managed to ingratiate himself with the mobster, who had once been the driver for notorious Toronto gangster Paul Volpe before he was slain in 1983. Carter posed as a First Nations cigarette smuggler named Grayson Carter. He managed to convince Scarcella to allow him to rent office space for his fictitious trucking company near a bakery popular with Toronto mobsters. Carter, along with four other undercover officers, began to operate Grayson Transport. They obtained a transport truck from the city’s Works Department and received special training to drive it. One of the officers would occasionally take it out for a spin on the highway to make it look like they were working.

“[Scarcella and his associates] used to come in and have coffee with us every day,” Carter would later tell the press. “Their biggest joke was what they thought was the ineptness of the police. They’d say, ‘The police have been trying to get us for years.’ They were thumbing their noses at the police all of the time, and we were right under their noses.”

Scarcella was finally arrested in December of 1994, after a carefully orchestrated sting operation. Carter claimed that Scarcella had agreed to barter some heavy construction equipment (allegedly stolen) in exchange for several hundred cases of “stolen” cigarettes — which, in fact, had been purchased from Imperial Tobacco using almost $300,000 of the funds from CISO. Once the transaction had taken place, Scarcella was charged with possession of the stolen equipment and attempting to defraud the Ontario and Canadian governments of excise and sales tax.

A few weeks later, on January 10, 1995, Scarcella’s pal, Eddie “Hurricane” Melo, a former Canadian boxing champion, was rounded up with eight others on fraud and gambling charges (Scarcella, already out on bail, was among them). Carter says the police were also preparing to lay other, drug-related charges based on evidence from wiretaps and room probes. Project Atom was hailed as a tremendous success. The day that Melo was arrested, Carter’s boss, Ron Sandelli, told the Toronto Star: “From our standpoint here in Canada, it’s as deep as we’ve ever gone [into an organized crime group].”

Peter Scarcella (left) and Eddie Melo: as part of Project Atom, the mobsters were arrested in early 1995 on fraud and gambling charges — leading one senior police officer to remark that “it’s as deep as we’ve ever gone [into an organized crime group.]” Those charges later disappeared under mysterious circumstances     

As it turned out, this was the full extent of the positive press Project Atom would receive.

In the months following these arrests, Carter claims he was preparing the case against Scarcella for court and drafting new charges to add to the existing ones. He also, at the age of 47, decided to take one of the buyout packages being offered as part of cost-cutting efforts on the Toronto police force, effective March 31, 1995, but said he would see his Project Atom cases through to trial.

Yet, despite this assurance, the charges against Scarcella and most other targets of Project Atom were withdrawn in late 1995. Sandelli and Detective Sergeant Margo Boyd, Carter’s immediate supervisor on Project Atom since the genesis of the undercover portion of the investigation in 1993, both lay the blame for this squarely at Carter’s feet. Sandelli and Boyd claim Carter didn’t complete the necessary affidavits and other paperwork required for the various prosecutions. Boyd, who now lives in Edmonton, where her husband, Mike, is the chief of police, told me in late 2007 that the Crown attorney overseeing the Atom cases, Michael Leshner, pulled the charges because the cases hadn’t been properly prepared. “We took everything Garry ever gave us to the Crown,” says Boyd, “and I was told it wasn’t enough. [Leshner] went into the courtroom and read a statement on the record, I believe, to withdraw [the charges].”

When contacted recently, Leshner, who’s now retired, confirmed that he did indeed withdraw the charges and gave detailed reasons for doing so, some of which were on the record. “I was very concerned that I was being stonewalled by an investigating police officer [Carter] and wanted to make sure that the public had every confidence that a Crown attorney had moved heaven and earth to move the prosecution along and that it was a police problem,” says Leshner. “The backdrop [of this] is all police, not Crown attorney. It’s all police.”

There’s little, if anything, to dispute Leshner’s assertion that this was almost entirely a police problem. And two police camps state clear, but opposing, positions. The first is the one espoused by Boyd and others: that Carter, for whatever reason, didn’t fulfill his disclosure obligations as the investigating officer and Project Atom fell apart as a result.

The other side of this he-said-she-said scenario is, of course, Carter’s, whose view is that he was stonewalled by police brass in his attempts to prepare the case. He says that, as early as May 1995, he supplied a Project Atom detective with a list of files he would need to complete his affidavits for this complex, four-year investigation but didn’t hear from anyone overseeing the case again until August 31, 1995.

By October, Carter was starting to become suspicious — and frustrated. First, he was refused access to his daily memo books (which, as part of standard procedure, remained police property subsequent to his retirement). Carter said they were crucial to the completion of his affidavits. Plus, when he was given access to some of the files he’d requested, it was on a computer at a police station an hour’s drive from his house. Boyd, in an act of desperation, had put an affidavit together that was a patchwork of statements provided from the memo books of other officers involved in Project Atom (something Boyd acknowledged in my interview with her). Acting Inspector Vaughan O’Toole, who’d taken on the job of dealing with Carter because of the tension Boyd says existed between her and the retired detective, met with Carter and asked him to sign the document she’d pieced together. Carter refused.

Around that time, Carter began recording many of his telephone conversations with O’Toole and other officers who were still involved with Project Atom, recordings he’s given me access to for this story. These tapes raise legitimate questions about who was responsible for stonewalling the prosecution.

In one such conversation from October 1995, for instance, O’Toole asks Carter if he can say how long it would take him to prepare his statement:

CARTER: No, I can’t because, as I told you before, I could sit at that computer, Vaughan, from now until the 16th of November and I still wouldn’t be able to get my statement done by then. It’s an impossibility. I’ve told everyone consistently, since I met with your guys in August, that if I was given [the materials] on a full-time basis, unrestricted, and I sat there and did nothing else, it would take me two months to do it. On a part-time basis, I said it would take a minimum of four months. That would have taken us from September to January.

O’TOOLE: OK, let’s take this hypothesis, then. How about a verbal statement — on tape — that’s subsequently transcribed?

CARTER: Then I’d have to sit there and read everything off the computer.

O’TOOLE: Well, you’re not going to have to read everything. I mean, you’ve got a pretty good handle on this investigation.

CARTER: You want me to sit and record a statement?

O’TOOLE: No, no. I’m just offering this as a hypothesis.

CARTER: Listen, Vaughan, I want to talk to the Crown attorney [Leshner]. He’s going to prosecute this case. I want to be certain he knows what’s going on and what has to be done. I’m not going to operate on what-ifs and hypotheses. I want to sit down with the prosecuting Crown attorney, so that when we present this case, it’s presented properly. There’s been all kinds of roadblocks put in the way of presenting this case. There’s all kinds of charges that have never been laid.

O’TOOLE: Listen, that’s water under the bridge right now.

CARTER: Maybe it’s water under the bridge but it’s still all going to have to come out because it’s all part of those affidavits. I wish someone would sit down and read my affidavits. They’re on the computer. Take the time to sit down and read them and then maybe you’ll get a handle on what we’re dealing with here.

O’TOOLE: I know it’s quite detailed, Garry.

CARTER: Then sit down and do it. But until I can sit down and talk to the Crown attorney, I will act on his instruction after he talks to me and he is made aware of the complexity of this case…. This is getting totally out of hand. That stupid thing you brought in here from Margo Boyd, that thing she constructed from everyone else’s memo books. Come on, Vaughan, let’s be professional. Let’s do the proper job on it and give me the tools to do the job. That’s all I’m asking for — nothing else. I’m afraid the Crown isn’t fully aware of what he’s dealing with. I don’t know if that’s because he’s not being told or if it’s because of inexperience. I don’t know. But people are slamming doors in my face. I don’t like it and I want to have that opportunity to discuss it…. I put this thing together and to now be shut out and left on the outside is craziness.

O’TOOLE: Well, we certainly don’t want that, Garry. We want the matter prosecuted. You have to understand my situation. I’m in the middle here.

CARTER: I understand completely. I don’t know who you’re dealing with and who you’re getting your instructions from but let’s face it, there’s only one word to describe this whole thing and that’s ludicrous.

O’Toole told Carter he would be in touch with Leshner, but Carter decided to take matters into his own hands. Shortly after this conversation, Carter made recordings of his own attempts to reach Leshner by phone, leaving at least one message with his receptionist. Carter says Leshner never called him; Leshner told me that he had no recollection of ever speaking with Carter, though he says he was very much hoping to.

When Carter heard about the charges being withdrawn against Scarcella, Melo and the others in December of 1995, he says he was livid. (Melo was later killed in a 2001 gangland slaying; Scarcella is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence as a result of his role in a gunfight in 2004.) For months, Carter had been calling his former colleagues on the force, along with Leshner and Fergus O’Donnell, the federal Crown attorney Carter says had been involved throughout Project Atom, to get to the bottom of why matters were being handled the way they were. (In another conversation with O’Toole, Carter implores him to set up a meeting between Leshner, himself and O’Donnell to “resolve this” because, otherwise, Carter says, “it’s going to be the silliest prosecution in history and we’re going to look like a bunch of asses. So stop treating me like a leper and let’s set up a meeting with the Crown attorney.”)

Carter also had his tape recorder on when he was speaking to one of the Project Atom detectives he’d worked with closely, John Beswick, an experienced surveillance officer who’s now retired. After the charges had been dropped, Beswick told Carter that “it smacks of cover-up” before alleging that Boyd had ordered the destruction of a number of wiretap tapes from Project Atom.

CARTER: [Boyd] had tapes destroyed, didn’t she?

BESWICK: Yeah, work tapes, yeah.

CARTER: So she had tapes destroyed before there was even a decision on whether they were going to proceed with [the case] or not, so obviously she’d already made her mind up.

BESWICK: Yeah, she had the tapes destroyed.

When I spoke to Beswick more than 10 years later, in 2007, and asked if documents and wiretap tapes had been destroyed, he wasn’t quite as clear. “I think so,” he said. “I think that was happening. I can’t say for sure.”

But what Beswick did recall in great detail was how people wanted to distance themselves from Atom. “It was like rats leaving a sinking ship,” he said. “They just wanted it to go away.”

After Carter left, Beswick says there were about 300 wiretapped conversations he wanted transcripts of. When he requested them, he was told they hadn’t been transcribed. “So then I went to Margo Boyd and said I need to have these for preparing the case,” Beswick told me. “She said, ‘John, we just want Atom to die a natural death.’ She told me that in the hallway at Intelligence.”

When I mentioned this to Boyd, she said, “I don’t recall that conversation. That was a project that had gone on for years, and I was very interested in seeing that something came out of it.”

As for the destruction of tapes, Boyd responded to the allegations by saying, “I don’t know. A lot of the tapes were in Italian, and so they had translators, people in the wiretaps who spoke Italian.” So while Boyd herself denies destroying any evidence, she didn’t seem to be closing the door on the possibility that it might have happened.

Carter responded to the Crown’s decision to withdraw the charges against Scarcella from the sting involving the cigarettes by writing a letter to Ontario’s assistant deputy attorney general at the time, Michael Code. In his four-page missive, dated December 17, 1995, Carter pleads for the ministries of the Attorney General and Solicitor General to launch an investigation in order to get to the bottom of why evidence was destroyed and why the prosecution of Scarcella hadn’t proceeded as planned. If that didn’t get Code’s attention, Carter also alleged that his former superiors at Intelligence had improperly diverted CISO funds intended for Project Atom to other investigations (a claim that Sandelli, now the director of team safety for the Toronto Blue Jays, conceded to me in a 1997 interview “might have some good points”).

When contacted in the fall of 2007, Code, who’s now a judge with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, said that he remembered Garry Carter but had no recollection of his 1995 letter. (A spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General declined to carry out a request to search through its files for it.) Though it appears to have nothing to do with Code, there was, unbeknownst to Carter, a forthcoming investigation into Project Atom. In fact, it was reportedly launched in early 1996, just weeks after Carter had penned his letter, which had also been copied to Toronto’s chief of police, David Boothby, and Vaughan O’Toole. It had one of Atom’s senior officers in its crosshairs, but this person wasn’t Julian Fantino or Ron Sandelli or even Margo Boyd. It was Garry Carter.

Julian Fantino (left), Mike McCormack and Billy McCormack: the McCormack brothers got caught in the crossfire of Fantino’s war on corruption in the force. Though they were both completely exonerated of any wrongdoing, it led to a full-blown feud between Fantino and McCormack Sr., two men who were once unified in their distrust of Susan Eng

Carter wouldn’t find out about this investigation for another year and a half when, in late September of 1997, he was arrested on charges that he’d diverted $47,000 of the CISO funds intended for Project Atom to his own personal bank accounts.

His initial reaction was that this was a form of payback from his former colleagues for penning the letter to Code. Carter also thought it was possible that he’d become the scapegoat his old Intelligence Unit had created to explain to CISO what had gone wrong with Project Atom.

News of the charges came as a shock to his former boss, Sandelli, who’d retired from the Toronto police force six months after Carter. “I find it hard to believe that this has happened,” Sandelli said in a press interview at the time. Years later, he told me that “Garry never displayed the lifestyle of someone who would spend money that way. He wore the same clothes every day. He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke.”

Sandelli also defended the possibility that Project Atom money had made it into Carter’s personal bank accounts: “When you’re running an undercover project, you may very well be using your own bank account.”

A forensic audit of Project Atom had determined that, of the $2.1 million in funding it had received, about $560,000 was paid out directly to Carter. By all accounts, Carter was less than thorough when it came to reconciling the numerous payments he received, either with receipts or a letter of explanation when a receipt wasn’t available.

Carter’s dismal accounting skills didn’t come as much of a surprise to John Irwin, a detective recently retired from the Toronto police who was one of the officers working under Carter on Project Atom. Irwin, who was brought on board by Sandelli to play the role of a gay drug buyer in order to gather evidence against Peter Maloney and his associates, says he has trouble believing Carter would steal. The more likely problem, Irwin feels, was that Carter was a “dig-in-the-dirt investigator” as opposed to a “detail guy,” and that he’d had difficulty keeping track of multiple identities, vehicles, apartments and bank accounts over the course of a complex, prolonged undercover operation.

“Does it really make sense that a guy whose ego was so wrapped up in getting bad guys would steal $47,000?” asks Irwin. “Given the kind of money Carter was dealing with, it almost certainly boils down to bad handling. My speculation is that he didn’t intentionally steal that money.”

Irwin’s take on Carter’s misdeed wasn’t too far from the explanation Carter offered in court during his sentencing hearing on September 17, 2002, when he told the court that responsibilities on Project Atom had been “overwhelming.” “I’m not an accountant,” he said. “I never set out to take the money.” Nevertheless, Carter was sentenced to serve a year of house arrest and was ordered to repay the $47,000.

If this sentence seems light, it’s because Carter and his lawyer had worked out a plea arrangement shortly after a meeting with a senior Crown attorney based in Brampton named Stephen Sherriff. Carter and his lawyer, Gary Clewley, met with Sherriff at his office in January 2002. In failing health (Carter’s back problems were largely responsible for the lengthy delays in getting his case before a judge) and hoping to protect his long-time partner from the negative publicity of a trial, Carter expressed his willingness to plead guilty.

Sherriff and Carter both agree that Sherriff came on strong in the meeting, accusing Carter of conducting a corrupt investigation designed to bilk CISO and asking a lot of accusatory questions about how funds had been dispersed. Sherriff also recalls Carter defending himself by bringing up the fact that he’d been ordered to conduct a dubious investigation of Susan Eng that had involved unlawful wiretapping. Carter now says that part of his decision to plead guilty was based on Sherriff’s assurance that despite being a “good friend” of Julian Fantino’s, he would look into the matter and investigate any misconduct, particularly by his friend, who was then the chief of Toronto’s police force. Sherriff, however, told me in early 2008 that he “vehemently denies” making any such promise, saying that “it would make no sense” for him to launch a criminal investigation based on Carter’s word when Sherriff says he “had no use for his word.”

Carter claims he then told Sherriff what he believed was the real reason for Project Atom’s failure.

“You’re a Crown attorney,” Carter recalls telling Sherriff. “Think about what happens if you prosecute Scarcella and Melo. What happens if the defendants bring a motion to go into those wiretap authorizations, which they have a right to do, and they open them? Whose name is going to be found in those authorizations as someone Peter Maloney was speaking to? Susan Eng’s. The chief and those beneath him never wanted those authorizations opened. They never wanted to go to court. It was too embarrassing. They never caught Susan Eng doing anything dirty. If they had, every single one of those organized-crime targets would have been prosecuted. And that’s the real reason Project Atom died; it had nothing to do with me.”

Sherriff says Carter never mentioned any such “big conspiracy theory.” “That would have stuck out in my mind,” says Sherriff. “That’s a world-class allegation — that the police force was sabotaging an organized crime project and deliberately ripping off CISO for millions. I would have wanted to follow up on that.”

Stories of police corruption were so common around the time of Carter’s sentencing in 2002 that his guilty plea didn’t get as much attention as it might otherwise have.

In the following day’s news, his case was overshadowed by the start of the “fink fund” trial, in which two Toronto officers were defending themselves against charges that they’d stolen less than $1,000 from a fund used to pay off snitches. Similar cases involving Toronto police officers snowballed over the next two years during Fantino’s term as chief (from 2000 to 2005); eventually, things got so bad that Toronto Mayor David Miller would famously comment to his visiting counterpart from London, England, “Is your police force in jail? Mine is.”

Among the incidents that caused Miller to make this quip, two involved sons of former chief William McCormack Sr., who retired in 1995. In May 2004, William “Billy” McCormack Jr., then a 28-year veteran of the Toronto police force, was criminally charged, along with three other officers, in relation to an alleged kickback scheme in which bar owners in the city’s entertainment district paid officers in return for tips about pending enforcement initiatives. A week earlier, Billy’s younger brother, Mike, a detective-constable who’d recently been elected to the police union board, had been charged under the Police Services Act for allegedly having inappropriate links to a cocaine addict and car thief who died from an overdose.

The palpable tension this situation created between McCormack Sr. and Fantino, men who were once unified in their mistrust of Susan Eng, turned into a remarkably public feud. The bad blood only intensified when the cases against both McCormack brothers failed to yield a single conviction. Billy’s marathon pretrial hearings finally came to a close on August 3 of this year when the Crown withdrew all outstanding criminal charges against him; his brother Mike was acquitted in early 2006 of any wrongdoing.

When Carter’s 1992 report about the investigation of Eng and Maloney was leaked to the CBC in the spring of 2007, it was openly speculated that this then-15-year-old document had been made public in order to discredit Fantino. Who would want to do that? There were quite a few Toronto police officers facing charges who would have been motivated to discredit Fantino at the time, including those in the pro-McCormack camp. But despite an investigation (albeit a fairly cursory one) into the source of the leak in 2007 by the current chief, Bill Blair, the identity of the person who leaked Carter’s 1992 report remains unknown. Carter, who insists he wasn’t the source, says he left a signed copy of the report at the Intelligence Unit when he began to focus on the undercover portion of Project Atom.

If whoever was behind the leak of Carter’s 1992 report did it out of support for the McCormacks, Stephen Sherriff, the Crown attorney who oversaw the prosecution of Carter eight years ago, believes the move will ultimately backfire. “Carter never, ever told me he met with Chief McCormack about any of this,” he says, referring to McCormack’s admission to me that he’d read Carter’s report during a meeting with Carter and Intelligence inspector Sandelli, which was outlined in part one of this EYE WEEKLY series last week. “Carter never told me he’d had meetings with Fantino, either. What the hell is a lowly detective doing meeting with the chief of police? That suggests a black ops or covert operation…. That meeting verifies Carter’s story in a huge way. But I have no idea why he didn’t bring that up during our meeting in 2002.”

At the time of our interview, in 2008, Sherriff mused that wiretaps had become a contentious issue in the case being heard then involving chief McCormack’s son Billy. He obviously believed that a leaked document that connected Fantino to a similarly questionable use of wiretaps had a specific and malicious intent. “What a strange moment in history [for someone] to leak wiretap problems to the universe,” Sherriff told me. “I don’t see it as a coincidence. I regard it as a suicidal mission to accomplish god knows what.”

Garry Carter is one of the most decorated undercover officers in the history of Canadian policing. After joining the force as a motorcycle cop in 1966, he quickly rose through the ranks and was recruited in 1976 to work on a wiretap investigation of Jamaican pimps and drug traffickers — a case that led to the largest-ever seizure of cocaine in Canada up to that point. Here, some highlights of a career spent fooling the bad guys:

Officer in charge of the organized crime investigation centred on Hy’s Restaurant in Yorkville. Approximately 45 to 50 people charged; largest seizure of coke in Canada to that point.

Posed undercover in an investigation of Satan’s Choice, Para Dice Riders and Vagabonds. Resulted in numerous arrests for drugs and weapons offences.

Officer in charge of undercover investigation into nine unsolved homicides in Toronto’s gay community. Led to the infamous bathhouse raids (total arrests — around 300 — was largest number since the implementation of the War Measures Act).

Officer in charge of the Rowbotham drug investigation. Approximately 50 people charged. Resulted in the largest seizure of marijuana and hashish in Canada to that point and the first life sentence for drug importing in the state of Maine.

Officer in charge of Jamaican Organized Crime Squad; led to multiple arrests for drugs and weapons offences. Also that year, officer in charge of the Patrick Mancini kidnapping case, in which Mancini, godfather of the North Bay mafia, was abducted by four people and held for ransom. Carter and other officers rescued him from the trunk of a car near Toronto.

Officer in charge of both the Combined Forces Biker Enforcement Unit and Outlaws Motorcycle Gang investigation. Wiretap and undercover work led to the arrests of 84 Outlaws members in Ontario and Quebec — the largest biker investigation and arrest to that point.

Transferred to the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit. Officer in charge of Project Orcus, an investigation of the mafia in Toronto and Montreal.

Started the Maloney-Eng investigation, then focused on Project Atom in the fall of 1991 until his retirement on March 31, 1995.

Posed as a hitman during the investigation of Peter Gassyt and Arnold Markowitz, who allegedly hired Carter to kill a business associate. Both men were convicted on a sole count of conspiracy to commit murder in 1993. Five years later, the Ontario Court of Appeal set aside all verdicts from the case and ordered a new trial; the case was never retried.