Thursday, January 13, 2011

Idomo furniture's de Boer retiring

Has worked side by side with his wife in furniture business for 40 years

Idomo furniture's de Boer retiring. Idomo Furniture owner Gerrit de Boer takes a break in his Sheppard Avenue store yesterday. He is retiring and closing shop after 40 years in business. Photo/MATTHEW SHERWOOD
Gerrit de Boer walked into his Idomo showroom on the first day of his retirement sale to thunderous applause. 
With 40 years in the furniture business under his belt, the man with the beard is bidding adieu to bedroom and dining room sets to focus on other passions, he said.
"When I was 14 years old I made three goals for my life," de Boer said inside his 60,000 square foot, flagship store at Sheppard Avenue and Allen Road, which opened in 1992. "One was to build my own home, which I have done. The second was to build a pipe organ. I need to build 400 to 500 pipes and I have 60 so far. It's a 10-year project. The first year I focused on the keyboard. So I have eight more years to finish it, learn how to play it and put on a concert. The third goal is going to the moon. I just hope the Canadian Space Agency doesn't discriminate because of my age."
The 64-year-old, who has worked side by side with wife Nancy for four decades, said he became emotional Saturday, Jan. 8, three days after announcing his retirement and the first day of his everything-must-go sale.
"It was shoulder to shoulder in here," de Boer said. "People waited two hours to process their orders. The loyalty of the customers made me emotional. I was totally amazed by the patience people had."
When asked when the store will shut its doors for the final time, de Boer pointed to posters advertising his retirement sale.
"When it's gone, it's gone," he said, repeating the poster's words. "We have $2 million of inventory to go through. I'd say six to eight weeks but I really don't know."
de Boer opened his first furniture store in February 1971 on Supertest Road to compete against teak stores, which were all the rage at the time.
Idomo stores then popped up in Mississauga, Hamilton and Montreal, but those have since closed, de Boer said.
"Our collections have always been unique," he said. "We would mix modern chairs with colonial heavy duty tables from India. We had a loyal clientele. No one said our prices were out of line and we didn't buy from middle people. I travelled to over 24 countries a year. What I will miss most is our customers. And the hardest part of closing down is letting go of our 35 employees."
Once closed, de Boer said the Idomo building will be turned into sustainable office space, complete with a green roof and garden.
Noting condominiums under construction right beside Idomo, not to mention plans to turn neighbour Downsview Park into a sprawling community space, de Boer said he's been heavily involved with change in the surrounding area.
"What is being built is a community," he said. "There are condos up and down Sheppard but this is a community around a public park. It's a live/work environment."
Downsview Park was also the site of a 2002 Papal Mass, when 32,000 litres of raw sewage from 7,000 portable toilets flooded Idomo.
"That was really hard on us," de Boer said. "We were closed for seven months and it took years for us to build up again."
de Boer, who studied architecture at the University of Manitoba, said once retired he plans to design and build metal sculptures and spend time in the garden.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Etobicoke 'superjail' leaves some neighbours uneasy

Residents of south Etobicoke have mixed feelings about the opening next year in their community of a maximum security “superjail” that will house 1,650 inmates.
Some welcome the massive 67,000-square-metre Toronto South Detention Centre that will house inmates now held at Mimico Correctional Centre and the Toronto Don Jail that are slated to close.
The facility will hold adult inmates, including those with special needs, who have been sentenced to two years less a day.
It will also include the Toronto Intermittent Centre for those serving weekend sentences.
The project, which was launched in May 2008, will hire about 500 workers and dole out $120 million in salaries during construction, according to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Ministry officials said about 2,900 person years of employment will be generated from the project.
The site at 130 Horner Ave., near Kipling Ave., is busy with activity from dump trucks ferrying soil and workers building its three towers that range from four to six storeys high.
Ward 6 Councillor Mark Grimes, in whose riding the jail is located, said hundreds of “good-paying” correctional services jobs will be located at the facility when it is completed in September 2012.
“This project will be great for the economy of the area,” Grimes said as he gave a tour of the riding that includes the MasterCard Centre and Toronto Police College.
“Well-paying jobs will be created and people will be spending in the community.”
Grimes showed several prefabricated concrete cells, each with a sink and toilet that will be used in the jail.
Area residents said they didn’t realize how big the facility would be and many doubt it will bring economic gain to small businesses along Lake Shore Blvd. or Queensway Ave.
“I think this will give us a reputation for having a superjail in the area,” said John Scheffer, chairman of the Lakeshore Village Business Improvement Area.
“I don’t think there will be much economic spinoff for us because we are some distance away.”
Those visiting prisoners aren’t in the area to shop, Scheffer said.
“I don’t think this facility will have much of an impact to the area,” he said.
“It will mean more traffic and congested roads.”
Two female merchants with stores on Lake Shore Blvd. W., near Islington Ave. said they won’t feel safe once the jail is open.
“These are all bad people who we are talking about,” said one who didn’t want her name used.
“They are being visited by a similar type of people who will be driving around the area.”
Another woman said she’s worried that the jail is less than five-minutes drive by car from her store.
“I think this is too close for my comfort,” she said.
“I have daughters and already I feel scared and the jail is not even open yet.”
But physiotherapist Gui Mansilla, an area resident, said he’s pleased to see new people and potential customers moving in.
“You have to put these people somewhere,” he said.
“I think this will be good for businesses to have new people in the area.”
Correctional services officials claim the jail will be the greenest in Ontario and use ground source heat pumps to reduce natural gas consumption by 75% and special technology to reduce water consumption by 20%.
Ministry officials have said the site is best suited for the centre because it is accessible by highways and public transit and is located in an industrial and commercial area that won’t require a change of zoning from the city.
“It will be built to the highest security standards ensuring every measure is taken to maintain community safety,” said Terence Foran, Ontario Infrastructure communications adviser.
“The project is more than 40% complete and is on time and on budget.”

New biker gang moving in

There’s a new biker gang in town, the Vagos — and it’s growing fast.
And so is the threat of a deadly war with its traditional rivals the Hells Angels, law enforcement sources say.
“They’re at war with the Hells Angels in California” and any other place where each have chapters, share the same territory, Ontario Biker Enforcement Unit Det.-Sgt. Len Isnor says.
“If they spread into Canada, the Ontario Hells Angels will do whatever it takes to support their brothers in California,” he says.
“So there could be violence.”
A state of animosity between the Vagos and Hells has existed since the 1960s — mostly over turf and drugs but sometimes it’s because they simply hate each other.
“I think it comes into the machismo thing. I think it’s as simple as that in a lot of cases,” says a source with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The most recent violent spat between the Vagos and Hells Angels was in Chino Valley, Ariz., last July when members exchanged about 50 rounds in a street gun battle.
The U.S. Department of Justice alleges in a fact sheet the Vagos have been implicated in assault, extortion, insurance fraud, money laundering, murder, vehicle theft, witness intimidation and weapons violations.”
Vagos members in Canada, known as the Nomads chapter, are so far only wearing soft patches, such as T-shirts and hoods with gang insignia, but it’s expected members soon will be officially patched — wearing the traditional vest with the logo on the back.
The California-based 1% biker gang known as Green Machine or Green Nation absorbed nine Toronto-area Rock Machine members, including its founder, in November.
(The term “1%” refers to biker gangs who live beyond the law and shun society’s rules.)
The Ontario members of the Rock Machine — a gang reborn three years ago with some surviving members of the now defunct Bandidos — were ousted in a nationwide vote among members on Nov. 23.
The members were kicked out in “bad standing,” including the founder of the reborn Rock Machine and then-national president, Sean “Dog” Brown.
The explanations for the vote vary, but sources say those who remain with the Rock Machine wanted to expand faster than Brown did.
The Rock Machine spread from the GTA to include Winnipeg, Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and a Montreal chapter. They are also in Australia, the U.S., and Indonesia.
Brown took pains not to provoke the Hells, and wanted to stay out of Quebec, concerned it could rekindle old animosities.
The original Rock Machine and the Quebec Hells were locked in a deadly drug-fuelled feud in the 1990s that left about 160 bodies on the streets.
In 2008, Brown relaunched the Rock Machine, using the same eagle-head logo but different colours.
He took pains to publicly declare the group is no threat to any other gang, particularly the Hells Angels, and was reportedly staying clear of drugs and Quebec.
Brown envisioned a return to the “glory days” of the 1940s and 1950s before the focus turned to drugs and money.
During the three years he ran the Rock Machine, they generally stayed out of trouble, both with the law and Hells.
But when a Rock Machine chapter recently formed in Montreal, it was an early sign Brown was losing control.
And since the Nov. 23 ouster of the Ontario members, a Rock Machine member in Edmonton was murdered.
Andrew Block, also known as Rock or Blaklistid, was found shot to death in mid-December and the slaying appears to be biker-related.
Contacted by the Sun, Brown refuses to comment about the ouster from the Rock Machine or the arrival of the Vagos.
“I have no comment on this matter,” Dog says.
However, piecing together Internet chatter on both the Rock Machine and Vagos websites, it appears Ontario’s Rock Machine members were considering jumping ship as early as last summer.
“Happy holidays to all my brothers around the world from all of us in the Green Nation Canada,” Brown wrote Dec. 23, using his nickname.
“It was many long months in the making my brothers and all our love goes out to the Vagos brothers who helped make this happen.”
“Canada’s finally gone Green! Live Vagos, Die Vagos,” Brown posted.
Other posts suggest American Rock Machine members also patched over in the summer.
Brown was successful at expanding the Rock Machine, so it’s not surprising the Vagos want him on board.
And it seems his building skills have already had an impact.
It’s believed the Vagos’ first Canadian chapter has already swelled from the nine bikers who joined with him to about 25, including members and prospects.
Originally called the Psychos and the Los Vagos, the Vagos were formed in the mid-1960s, incorporating an image of Loki, the Norse god of mischief, in its patch.

n 2007 — A new Rock Machine biker gang forms in the GTA along with a chapter of the Mongols, a California-based biker gang, after Bandidos Canada disappeared and police cracked down on the Hells Angels.
n July 2009 — The Mongols shut down their Canadian experiment, in part because of unrelenting pressure by law enforcement in California. The former members are now planning to launch the Forty Thieves.
n 2010 — While being courted by the Vagos, a number of Ontario-based members of the Rock Machine were ousted in bad standing last November. They turned to the Vagos and established a Nomads chapter.
n 2011 — The Rock Machine continues to expand from the GTA, moving into Alberta and Manitoba, and eastward to Montreal, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, along with chapters in the U.S., Australia and Indonesia.
n 2011 — Outlaws Canada is actively recruiting new members, including launching a Kawartha chapter, while reportedly planning others in south Toronto and Durham Region. Police said they are also wooing the Swordsmen of Newmarket, and formed a puppet gang called the Vigilantes.

The move by the Vagos into Canada comes after major police actions against the Hells in Ontario and Quebec and the demise of the Bandidos in 2007 left a biker power vacuum.
“So all the Hells Angels in Quebec are in jail, a lot of big name Hells Angels in Ontario are in jail or are on some sort” of court restriction, Ontario Biker Enforcement Unit Det.-Sgt. Len Isnor says.
“So this is the perfect environment right now for somebody to try and establish a club in Ontario.”
Before that crackdown “either you’re a Hells Angel in this province, or you’re an Outlaw, or you’re a nobody because no one is allowed to start up a 1% gang” without their approval, he says.
The Outlaws and Hells weren’t going to sanction another biker gang in their territory unless it was a puppet gang “to do their dirty work,” Isnor says.
The only way to circumvent that barrier is to be sanctioned by another major U.S. 1% gang, like the Vagos, he says.
“Unless you’re one of those big clubs from the U.S., you’re a nobody,” Isnor says.
The Bandidos imploded violently in 2006 in Shedden, Ont., near London, when six members, a prospect and an associate were massacred in an internal power struggle. The charter for Bandidos Canada was pulled by its Texas parent.
“There’s a number of Bandido people that were basically left without a gang, and the Outlaws weren’t taking them on and the Hells Angels for sure weren’t going to be taking them on,” Isnor says.
“They were looking for somewhere to belong,” he says.
“This is just another route that group of people are trying to take and they don’t want to settle for being just a motorcycle club. They want to be a 1% club.”

The Vagos biker club is accelerating hard to recruit new members and is quickly catching up to its archrivals the Hells Angels.
“I think it’s as simple as the Vagos want to expand as quickly as possible,” says a source with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
It now has about 900 known members in the U.S., the ATF source says.
Other sources indicate the gang has about 1,300 members worldwide, which includes chapters in Mexico.
“I think these guys are blossoming everywhere,” the source says. “They have almost as many chapters as the Hells Angels in the United States. They probably have equal numbers to the Hells Angels in the United States.”
He refused to speculate about the gang’s aims in Canada: “It’s tough to do that. The only thing that is very clear is the continuing expansion efforts of this group.”
But some say drugs are at the root behind the international expansion.
“My best guess would be to extend their drug trafficking, maybe drug manufacturing,” says a criminal intelligence specialist with the California justice department.
The U.S. attorney general’s 2008 report to congress on the growth of street gangs in suburbia alleged the Vagos were linked to Tijuana’s Arellano-Felix drug trafficking cartel, particularly for supplies of marijuana and cocaine.
The ATF source believes a new Nicaragua chapter was formed to help in the drug trade.
Last March, the gang’s chapters in California, Utah, Nevada and Arizona were targeted in Operation Everywhere. Police seized weapons and drugs, and uncovered a meth lab.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No cop layoffs for budget — Blair

Cutting up to 1,200 employees would help Toronto’s police force fall in line with City Hall’s decree to trim $40 million from its 2011 budget, Chief Bill Blair said Wednesday.
But after warning that such a budget cut would require a “significant number of reductions in personnel,” layoffs won’t happen, Blair told the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB).
“I don’t have the authority,” he said.
The current 5,617 officer level was “set by this board and by the city council,” Blair said. And any orders for cop cuts “must be approved by the Ontario Civilian Commission on Policing.”
Toronto Police also employ 2,068 civilians.
Staff salaries and benefits represent 88.5% of the budget and union negotiations are due this year.
The board decided to revisit the police, TPSB and Toronto Parking Authority budgets and delay submitting them to city officials until Tuesday.
During a review of this year’s proposed $915-million police budget — which includes a call for a 3% increase worth $26.7 million — officials outlined cost savings that include $7 million after 233 officers retire, no new initiatives, plus reduced computer maintenance, training programs and consultant use.
Asking for an over-all 5% reduction “is in direct contradiction” of previous council orders and is “virtually unachievable,” Blair said.
Mayor Rob Ford, who will meet next week with the chief, has eased his recent election campaign to add 100 officers.
“I’m not going to tell the police how to do their job,” Ford said Wednesday, adding he wants to discuss ways to keep the city safe and ensure officers “have the tools to do their job.”
Vice-chairman Michael Thompson, who initiated the postponement, called the police budget “complex,” since Ford demands no “gravy train” spending while maintaining services.

What a deal! $6M in property for $260Gs City sells 14 homes to Native social-housing agency

Sold! Fourteen city-owned houses collectively worth over $6 million to a Native social-housing agency for $261,281.
The day before Mayor Rob Ford and Toronto’s new council took office, Toronto Community Housing Corp. quietly transferred the houses to Wigwamen Inc, selling nine well under market value and giving five away essentially for free.
The houses, all left vacant and dilapidated for years — and originally paid for with taxpayer dollars — were sold for whatever was left owing on their mortgages, nine of them sold for an average of $29,000, and five had a mortgage balance of $0.
The 14 houses are among 20 the TCHC is transferring over to Wigwamen after receiving approval from Toronto’s outgoing David Miller-led council back in May.
While the deal was supposed to close on Oct. 29, it was put on hold after Ford, then mayor-elect, met with TCHC officials to question it.
The remaining six houses will be transferred pending land-severance approvals and the relocation of existing tenants, TCHC spokesman Jeff Ferrier said.
And because Wigwamen is a charitable organization it’s exempt from paying property taxes on its houses, said Alex Mozo of the city’s finance and administration department.
Ford spokesman Adrienne Batra said the new mayor and council could do nothing to stop the sale because it was approved by former council.
“Mayor Ford will be working with TCHC to ensure any future sales (are) in the best interest of the taxpayers of Toronto,” Batra said in an e-mail to the Sun.
That’s good, said Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, because such deals are not in the interest of Toronto taxpayers who were paying for the houses while in the hands of the TCHC.
“They are not selling properties for market value,” he said.
“We can get into any of the complicated questions about whether or not (TCHC) should be replacing houses with apartments or whether they should be in this business at all, but ... when you sell property below market value, you’re losing money,” Gaudet said.
And it gets even worse, he said, adding that if they were sold on the open market — and not to a charitable organization — they would then generate property tax revenue.
But the TCHC’s Ferrier said the deal will save taxpayers money. The TCHC will not have to repair the houses or replace them, as it is obligated to do under provincial social-housing rules.
“For these 20 houses, this is saving taxpayers $3 million, because we had a requirement to replace these houses if we sold them on the open market,” he said.
It’s an explanation he’s heard all too often, Gaudet said.
“There isn’t a government department that doesn’t make an announcement and allege that it is somehow saving money,” he said.
“It’s like selling your houses to your neighbour for $50 and saying ‘Wow, I got a great deal on this’ ... the only incontrovertible area here is a ton of money is being lost.”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Energy-from-waste plan to be pitched to Toronto

With Canada’s largest city now dumping its garbage in nearby Elgin County, London’s mayor plans to call his Toronto counterpart to try to refocus the region’s trash-tinged optical nightmare. Joe Fontana says he’ll contact Mayor Rob Ford to propose teaming up on a trash-to-energy plan at Green Lane landfill, where as of last week Toronto began sending its garbage.
Beyond any environmental benefits, Fontana is partly motivated by a concern Toronto may view London — not far from its new garbage dump — as a trash bin.
“(We) could turn it into a joint effort on renewable energy,” Fontana said during the weekend as the first trucks of Toronto trash started arriving at Green Lane. “Turn it into a positive.
“That’s my approach, as opposed to being a dumping ground for Toronto.
“That’s not what I want for our city.”
Until last week, Toronto, long unable to handle its own trash, had been shipping truckloads daily to Michigan.
Three years ago, Toronto received provincial approval to buy the privately owned Green Lane landfill, about a five-minute drive from the Ford plant in Talbotville, for $200 million.
It could be home to Toronto trash for the next 20 years.
Fontana indicated he’s more than irked about having to deal with the optics of an issue — it was front-page news in the Toronto Sun last week — that he feels should have been blocked by the previous council.
What that council could have done differently is unclear, but Fontana took the former council to task nonetheless.
“It could have been beat had the leadership in place taken a more firm position,” he said, adding he raised the issue during his failed 2006 mayoral bid.
“But we lost that battle and now we’re dealing with the consequences.”
In 2000, Toronto city council had approved a $1-billion deal to truck its trash to an abandoned mine near Kirkland Lake, in northern Ontario. It sparked huge protests from environmentalists.
The deal fell apart, though, leading Toronto to start sending its garbage to Michigan — a setup that continued until last week.
If Toronto’s waste-diversion efforts, such as recycling and composting, continue keeping about half the waste out of trash bags, Green Lane could have enough space to accept its garbage for about two decades.
How Ford will respond to any Fontana proposal is unknown, but Fontana’s idea to invest in green-energy technology with Toronto is a unique one.
And he has some knowledge on the subject.
In addition to his work with Omniwatt, a solar-power company he’s often discussed publicly, Fontana sits on the board of a company called GPEC Global, which transforms waste into renewable energy.
“I was on the board, am on the board, but I just don’t have the time” as mayor to continue, so will leave the post, Fontana said.
Cutting-edge green technology is an idea worth considering for those worried about the London area’s image, he added.
“That would be seen in a much more positive light than being Toronto’s dumping ground.”
Fontana also said he plans to revive a sustainable energy council started by his predecessor, Anne Marie DeCicco-Best. He called renewable energy work one of London’s “strengths.”

Saturday, January 1, 2011

TAVIS credited with helping reduce crime rates

TAVIS credited with helping reduce crime rates

TAVIS credited with helping reduce crime rates. Deputy police chief Tony Warr talks to Toronto Community News about crime in 2010 and what the future holds for 2011. Staff Photo/ANDREW PALAMARCHUK
January 1, 2011

If the mayor's election promise of a 100 new police officers is kept, there's no shortage of ideas of where they would be put to use.
"We haven't really got into a discussion with the mayor's office about how and when that would take place, but certainly we'll welcome 100 new officers," deputy police chief Tony Warr said. "We could maybe add to the school resource officers, add to the (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy's) rapid response teams and just generally build up our front-line resources."
The promise comes at an annual cost of about $10 million.
"I'm sure the mayor is going to come through with his promise...but it may not happen tomorrow," Warr said in a year-end interview. "He has to find the money. We'll have to work in ways to bring 100 new officers into the service. They have to be trained...we have to find positions for them."
Warr credits TAVIS with helping bring down crime rates in 2010.
The program was formed in 2006 as a rapid response unit, flooding an area with officers once a serious violent crime had occurred. It has evolved over the years to include the summer neighbourhood initiative, which allows officers to spend time in a crime-ridden area to get to know the residents and gain their trust.
"It also gives the neighbourhood a sense of safety and encourages people in the neighbourhood to make better use of their facilities," Warr said. "If they make better use of them, it doesn't leave any room for the drug dealers and the bad guys."
Warr hopes to bring in another 18-member team to the TAVIS rapid response unit. The unit now has four teams.
Warr also hopes to expand the school resource officer program. "That's been a very worthwhile program where we have in some high schools an officer assigned full time while the school is operational," he said. "This builds up a better level of trust...I think we'll see that pay off in the years to come."
In 2010, Toronto Police took back the responsibility of policing the transit system.
"We now have 80 officers assigned full time to the transit patrol. They're mostly in the subways, but they're also on the surface routes," said Warr. "A million people a day use the TTC so the exposure to that community is also going to help with our outreach and hopefully with bringing down the crime rates."
Warr said 2010 has been "a fairly good year" though there were challenges with the G20.
"We're looking at studying our public order tactics to be better able to respond to a very mobile fast crowd," he said. "We did things according to our training, according to our planning. And now that we can look back in hindsight...we can see some areas where we could do it a little differently next time."
There has been a gradual downward trend in homicides in the city since 2007. There were 60 murders in 2010 as of Dec. 28, down from 62 in 2009. Toronto had 70 homicides in 2008 and 85 in 2007.
"We're reasonably pleased with the way things are going," Warr said. "We've had some spikes. There have been some violent weekends, but generally the numbers are down."
Police also had success with three cold cases in 2010.
In October, police charged a 52-year-old man in connection with the strangulation deaths of three Parkdale prostitutes in the 1990s.
Though the overall crime rate is down, there has been a spike in marijuana grow operations and meth labs in 2010.
"They're a danger to the community they're in, they're a danger to our officers when they execute search warrants, they're a danger to the people who are tending them," said Warr, noting in some cases police have found families with children living in grow houses.

Source: Toronto Police Service