Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Toronto Cop James Forcillo ID'd as cop in Sammy Yatim shooting

TORONTO - The governing body that oversees the city’s cops vows to do all it can to find out why an officer, identified Tuesday as Const. James Forcillo, shot and killed Sammy Yatim on a streetcar over the weekend.

The 14 Division officer has yet to speak publicly, but his lawyer said he’s “devastated.”

“We are waiting for the investigation to proceed,” Peter Brauti told the Toronto Sun Tuesday. “It’s important that people don’t rush to judgment because not all of the evidence is yet available.”

Police Chief Bill Blair suspended Forcillo, a member of the service for six years, with pay on Monday.

The Toronto Police Services Board said Tuesday members are anxiously awaiting the results of simultaneous investigations — by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit and Blair — into the shooting that killed 18-year-old Yatim and sparked widespread public outrage after witness video was posted to YouTube.

“The board assures the community that it is fully committed and determined to do everything in its power to pursue answers to the questions which are troubling us all and to ensure that appropriate action is taken as called for by the investigations,” TPSB chair Alok Mukherjee said in a statement.

After offering “sincere sympathy” to Yatim’s family, he went on to say the board “recognizes the serious concerns” of “members of the community at large” in the wake of the teen’s death.

“Like Mr. Yatim’s family and other Torontonians, the (TPSB) seeks to understand the tragic events that transpired (early Saturday) in order that appropriate action can follow,” Mukherjee said.

He said the board believes the two investigations are of the “utmost importance” and members support the chief ’s “unequivocal commitment to do his part to obtain the answers that we are all seeking.”

The SIU, which investigates any serious injury or death involving cops, is probing Forcillo’s actions and that of 22 witness officers.

Blair, who has pledged to “co-operate fully” with the SIU, is required under the Police Services Act to review the policies, procedures and training related to the fatal shooting as well as the conduct of all involved coppers.

The chief must report his findings to the TPSB within 30 days of the completion of the SIU’s probe.

The TPSB has made it clear to Blair that his review should be “comprehensive” and include “sufficient detail to address the very serious questions” the board has regarding Yatim’s death, Mukherjee said.
By Chris Doucette ,Toronto Sun
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New footage of Sammy Yatim shooting one more troubling snapshot

Over the past few days, Toronto and the rest of Canada has been granted access to online video recordings of the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, who was killed following a police interaction while brandishing a knife on an empty downtown streetcar.

The small video snapshots we've seen – with another, most vivid video coming on Tuesday – paint a picture that has even Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair calling the incident troubling. He is vowing to provide answers, we continue to demand them. But as we do that, we come to our own conclusions.

There is video of the incident shot from a long distance. There is video shot from much closer, captured amid a gathering of passersby walking in front of the camera on occasion. There is other video as well, all of it posted online for the world to see. To judge.

Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack has asked the public to hold judgment until the full story is out. Until the investigation is complete.

He says grainy cell phone video of the incident tells only part of the story. And he is right.

Even a newly-released video, seeming to be a recording from security camera footage, only shares a snapshot, another piece to add to the puzzle. But those pieces look very, very bad.

New footage posted online shows from another angle the incident that left the 18-year-old dead. And while it runs longer than the various videos shot on cell phone cameras and released online, it is the moment of the shooting that it captures most vividly.

In previous footage, someone can be heard shouting "put down the knife" before three gun shots are heard, followed by a pause and six more shots. A brief moment later a Taser is deployed.

The recently-released security footage, shot in black-and-white, is taken from a different angle. In it, viewers can see the person on board the streetcar. They can see the person fall to the ground after the first three gunshots. They can see the person's leg twitch amid the second round of gunfire.

The officer at the centre of the incident has been suspended with pay, news of which was released late Monday night. McCormack called the move "extraordinary" and points out that the officer had not been charged or even yet accused with any wrongdoing.

"A video is just one segment of a broader picture," McCormack told CBC's Matt Galloway on Tuesday. "We have always been about due process and due diligence, but it doesn't paint the entire picture. All I'm asking is let’s let the SIU do its job."

[ More Brew: Fallout from Sammy Yatim shooting won’t end soon ]

The Toronto Police Services Board released a statement on Tuesday, calling the ongoing investigations "of the utmost importance." Even Yatim's family agrees that patience is required.

In a formal statement, obtained by CityNews, the family thanks Chief Blair for everything he is doing to "ensure that this matter is being investigated thoroughly and judiciously."

The letter further reads: "We expect that this matter will be investigated with the fullest measure of the law, so that incidents like this can be better managed and deescalated before such extreme use of force is ever exercised again."

Yes, there is plenty of video online. Reports on the content of those videos and the recollection of witnesses suggest that Yatim at one point exposed himself. They suggest the 18-year-old shouted profanity at the officer as he was told to drop the weapon. They allege no one was in immediate danger.

And they may all be right, although any of us would be on edge while in the near vicinity of a troubled soul brandishing a knife.

But so much of what happened the night Yatim was shot dead is still unclear. So much of it not captured on video.

The Ontario Special Investigations Unit is investigating. The force itself will review what happened and the province will be holding its own inquiry into what led to Yatim’s death, according to Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin.

Those investigations will consider the contents of all those public videos, video that has not yet come to light and witness testimony. Investigators will also pore over victim impact statements and first-hand accounts and render their decisions.

When all that is finished, there may be some of us who don't agree with the findings, or who question the methods or suspect the process.

Then we can demand to know the full story. But right now we are looking at snapshots. Damning, gruesome snapshots.
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Monday, July 29, 2013

Toronto Teen shot on TTC streetcar to cop: 'You're a f---ing pussy'

TORONTO - The abundantly available video evidence is as disturbing to listen to as it is to watch.

But you know it will be by a lot people.

“You’re a f---ing pussy.” These are believed to be the final words of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim as he was shot from the gun of at least one Toronto Police officer.

“Drop the knife” may have been the very last words he heard before being shot to death.

These are just some of many revelations on a new video taken by downtown resident Markus Grupp, who was walking by when the incident occurred on Dundas St. W. and Grace St. just after midnight Saturday.

The Grupp film, and others, will be studied relentlessly by the SIU. They already have been analyzed by, it seems, everybody else.

They offer a lot.

And beg many questions too.

Perhaps the most compelling is why did this shooting occur so soon after police arrived on the scene?

Were there other ways to go?

“The shots were fired less than two minutes after the cops arrived,” said Grupp.

Why not a better attempt at negotiations? Why not wait longer? Was there an immediate threat?

The deceased’s uncle Jim Yatim tells the Toronto Sun his nephew had no known history of mental illness.

So why was there shooting instead of talking?

“There were also eight to 11 cops at the front door at one point,” said Grupp.

“Not sure of the threat the victim posed to the public.”

But Grupp did make this observation.

“The (several) ‘you’re a f---ing pussy’ taunts came shortly before the first three shots,” he said. “If public safety was a concern, then there were no officers focused on containing the scene and moving away bystanders until after the shooting.

“Little effort was made to secure the rear door.”

The actions, anxiousness — in some cases the lack of — is also noteworthy.

At “12:04 a.m. (Saturday) one or more Toronto Police officers fire three shots, then a pause, followed by another burst of six shots,” Grupp said. “I hear what I believe is a Taser fired. Shortly thereafter, one or two officers board the streetcar and one officer runs on the back.”

But it was a female officer, standing next to what is believed to be the shooting officer, that has caught the eye of many.

“A female officer stands beside the subject officer with her arms folded in front of her, with no weapon drawn and no sign of any concern for her safety,” notes crime specialist Ross McLean, a former Toronto copper. “At the five-second mark, the suspect appears to raise both his arms, in a surrender-type movement, then as another officer runs around the back of the streetcar he holds the knife up for him to see.”

What does the TTC streetcar camera show?

The question is what was it the shooting officer, or perhaps officers, felt was the risk that other officers like the female did not seem to be concerned with?

Why was the area not more shut down with such a risk imminent?

“Several pedestrians and cyclists continue to pass through the scene from east to west,” said Grupp. “Several cars pass by the scene from west to east on Dundas.”

McLean notices two other interesting factors.

One is it appears the first three police bullets rang out while the suspect was standing. The next six when he appears to be down on the ground or on his knees.

“The final six shots, it appears the officer has now levelled the gun, as opposed to the angled up position of his arm previously, possibly indicating the final shots were fired at the suspect on the floor of the streetcar,” said McLean.

“Just 19 seconds later a police officer is seen running into the picture quickly carrying what appears to be a Taser in his hands, he moves to the first stair of the streetcar, and at 1:28 of the video, apparently deploys the Taser, 38 seconds after the final shot.

“The officer’s arm angle would appear to show he was deploying it on the suspect on the floor of the streetcar.”

Meanwhile, look at the Grupp video closely: You can see officers appear to be pulling the shooter officer away. Once the nine gunshots have stopped, “he is surrounded by officers who grab him and pull him back sharply (while) he appears to be pointing his gun at the suspect.” It’s a strange scene.

But thanks to the videos there is so much available for the public to see and so much evidence for the SIU to consider.

For public confidence and perception they, and Toronto Police brass and the association, have got to get this one right.

In the end, the SIU will decide whether a crime occurred in this police shooting. But either way regular citizens will decide if what went on there this weekend was a justified shooting or a fatal case of comply-or-die overkill.
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Downsview: Neighbours fight parkette at Jane and Sheppard

First the good news: a new parkette is under construction on Sheppard, east of Jane.

Now the bad news: a new parkette is under construction on Sheppard, east of Jane.

We have reached the point in Toronto where a neighbourhood grows angry and nervous when word comes that it will get a new green space.

In this case, an empty lot next to the Jane/Sheppard Library, location of a long-abandoned Toronto Hydro sub-station, is now being turned into what local Councillor Maria Augimeri calls “a reading garden.”

What a lovely idea — one you’d expect would be welcomed with open arms by all those within walking distance. The proposed space features a small amphitheatre with seating for a few dozen spectators. It will also have trees, flowers, benches, lawns and lighting.

Oh yes, the site has sat empty for years; the sub-station was falling apart and cordoned off by barbed-wire fencing.

So one could be forgiven for assuming the neighbours would be thrilled. But no, in 21st-century Toronto mere mention of such a facility strikes fear and loathing into local hearts. The concern is that it will draw criminals and attract crime.

Don’t bother with arguments about safety in numbers, eyes on the street; residents aren’t buying either. Their logic seems to be that everything is just fine as it is, even though that’s manifestly untrue.

Or perhaps it’s fear of change: Things may not be great, but leave them alone or they will only get worse.

This sort of knee-jerk negativism has become standard in cities, certainly in Toronto. The siege mentality is more widespread than ever. We no longer believe in the idea of progress; the prevailing assumption is that we have entered a long downward spiral from which there is no escape.

Who could argue?

Life feels especially hard in a time of diminished expectations. Despite what we’re told, we face a future that doesn’t look so friendly. Though crime is down and property values up, the world appears uglier than ever. No doubt, some might argue, feelings such this are experienced all the more intensely at Jane and Sheppard. With few community-building opportunities, residents, many of them in the area for decades, have grown understandably apprehensive about what they see unfolding around them. They have heard Rob Ford’s warnings about the big bad city, media conspiracies and enemies lurking at every corner, and they have listened.

We can only hope that the parkette manages to win over skeptical neighbours with its charms and obvious good intentions. Perhaps it will instill new faith in disbelievers.

Perhaps these reluctant city-dwellers chose this post-war neighbourhood in the former North York because they wanted nothing to do with Toronto and its urban pretentions. They preferred go forgo the hurly-burly of a public park for the comforts of shared isolation.

But like some enormous organism that consumes all before it, the city has now reached their corner and started to absorb them. Already the library has raised the spectre of urbanity and suggested, quite subversively, an alternate vision of Sheppard and Jane. This one imagines a public realm full life of activity — non-criminal activity — and an engaged neighbourhood.

These lapsed Torontonians will have nothing to do with it.

On the other hand, maybe they’re right. Maybe the new park will become a magnet for drug addicts, drug dealers and gang members using one another for target practice. Maybe the park signals the beginning of the end. If so, the neighbours will at least know who these kids are and where they live.
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Sunday, July 28, 2013

What Parliament Street used to look like in Toronto

Parliament Street History Toronto
A visual history of Parliament Street is a post that probably could have been compiled a long time ago given the stature and visual interest of the subject in question. Named after the provincial legislative buildings that once sat at the corner of Front Street, Parliament has its other legacies, from its history as an industrial hub to the role that it played in the construction of the Bloor Viaduct.

Parliament is one of the streets that has drag appeal. Like a few other streets I've written about, between Gerrard and Wellesely, Parliament has the character of a main street, serving a community which has been built around it. And this is, of course, the case for the most part. While the street originated as a trail that John Graves Simcoe would use to commute from the parliament buildings to Castle Frank, by the early 20th century it had developed a vibrant commercial scene to the north and a booming industrial presence to the south.

Along with the old Gooderham & Worts Distillery, which sprawled beyond the current confines of the "District" back in the day, evidence of former industrial activity can be spotted in the form of the Victory Soya Mills Silos, just to the south. Even in the aerial shot from the 1970s (or perhaps early 80s), it's possible to spot the degree to which the southern end of the street had a grittier character.
In general, Parliament was a fairly well to do thoroughfare until the post-war era, when it was surrounded by middle-sized single dwelling homes. With the arrival of large-scale housing developments, the street's character slowly changed to adapt to the residents who made up a more culturally and economically mixed group.

Parliament Street Toronto
660-664 Parliament, 1913
Parliament Street Toronto
674 Parliament, 1913
Parliament Street TorontoPre-Bloor Viaduct, 1915
Parliament Street Toronto
Looking south on Parliament from Howard, 1915
Parliament Street Toronto
Queen & Parliament, 1917
Parliament Street Toronto
Bloor Viaduct near Parliament, 1917
Parliament Street TorontoParliament Street dump, 1926
Parliament Street TorontoParliament Street subway, 1927
Parliament Street Toronto
Old CPR crossing, 1932
Parliament Street Toronto
352 Parliament, 1937
Parliament Street Toronto
Looking south from 243 Parliament, 1938
Parliament Street TorontoParliament near St. David, 1938
Parliament Street Toronto
141 Parliament, 1940
Parliament Street Toronto
287-307 Parliament, 1942
Parliament Street Toronto
237 Parliament, 1943
Parliament Street Toronto
Joy Oil Station at 317 Parliament, 1947
Parliament Street Toronto
243 Parliament, 1947
Parliament Street Toronto
325 Parliament, 1947
Parliament Street Toronto
Eclipse Theatre, 1949
Parliament Street Toronto
375-379 Parliament, 1949
Parliament Street Toronto
367-371 Parliament, 1949
Parliament Street Toronto
307 Parliament, 1957
Parliament Street Toronto
Queen & Parliament, 1959
Parliament Street Toronto
151 Parliament, 1960s
Parliament Street TorontoParliament & Gerrard, 1962
Parliament Street Toronto
Aerial view of Distillery & Corktown, 1970s
Parliament Street Toronto
Foot of Parliament, 1979
Parliament Street Toronto
Former Consumer Gas Building (now 51 Division), 1980s
Parliament Street Toronto
King & Parliament, 1994
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Saturday, July 27, 2013

That time anti-Semitism blighted Toronto: the Beaches , Christie Pits

toronto swastika
On a blazing hot summer's day almost 80 years ago in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood, hundreds of members of the Balmy Beach Swastika Club painted nazi symbols on their shirts, daubed anti-semitic slogans on two-foot placards, and took to the streets in an attempt to intimidate Jewish members of their community.

The Balmy Beach Canoe Club followed suit, prominently displaying a large outdoor swastika and painted "Heil Hitler." Throughout the property, blue and red signs were nailed to stakes or pinned to doors, the Toronto Telegram reported.

As the crowd marched through the east end in modified crimson and white sweat shirts flashing nazi salutes, a gift shop on Queen Street sold badges and other souvenirs bearing the appropriated symbol of a genocidal German dictatorship.

The events of that dark summer and a festering undercurrent of resentment among factions of Toronto's predominantly Protestant population would lead directly to the six-hour Christie Pits riot a few weeks later.
toronto leslie beach
Acts of aggression and intimidation by radical members of Toronto's largely white, Protestant population toward Jewish newcomers were at all-time high in the depression years of the early 1930s. Though they made up just 7.2 per cent of people living in the city, the Jewish community was the second largest minority group at the time.

The Swastika Clubs, of which there were several, were careful not to specifically declare a distaste for any particular group, referring only to "the recent influx of obnoxious visitors," though witnesses to the groups and their actions knew the score.

"While the name 'Jew' is nowhere specifically mentioned in announcements or literature, prominent Toronto Jews have no hesitation declaring their belief that anti-Semitic action is the chief object of the Swastika Clubs," wrote the Telegram on 1 August, 1933.

By the time of the 1933 march, the six groups in old Ward 8 boasted a total of 400 members, according to newspaper reports that likened the various chapters to the Hitler Brown Shirts, the Nazi paramilitary wing that provided protection and intimidation on behalf of the larger political party.
Meyer Steinglass, the editor of the Jewish Standard, labeled the clubs "not merely threats to Jewish rights but to the democratic rights of all Canadians."

The store owner who was found selling nazi souvenirs was keen not to be identified when first approached by the Toronto Star. "One of the [Swastika Club] boys in here is selling them. He just works here, that's all," he claimed when quizzed about the 20-cent nickel pins.

"It is not a gang of hoodlums or an anti-Jewish organization. [The swastika] is merely a good luck emblem to give our organization good luck in gaining its objective" to keep the Beaches "clean and nice," he continued. The "Heil Hitler" signs were added afterwards by a third party as a joke, he insisted.
fernie swastikas
His protest isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. The swastika is an ancient symbol that dates back more than 5,000 years in the Mediterranean and Indian subcontinent. The word is derived from sanskrit and means "lucky" or "auspicious" and it was widely used in that way until the early part of the 20th century.

The hockey teams Windsor Swastikas, Fernie Swastikas (pictured above,) and town of Swastika, Ontario, located about 130 kms southwest of Timmins, are evidence of the original usage. The design was co-opted and rotated 45 degrees as a symbol of the Third Reich in Germany around 1920.

Civic officials for their part went some way to removing the nazi symbols and slogans from Toronto's public property. Rocks close to the beach and several park benches had to be taken away or repainted after the appearance of some hastily daubed symbol. On weekends, swastikas could be seen on sun clothes and swimsuits.

"The feeling is growing really tense," a Kew Beach goer prophetically observed. "So far there have been no violent clashes, but some day there is going to be one, and then I predict a real fight. Even the sea cadets are wearing the swastika sign on the back of their wind-breakers."

toronto swastika clubFollowing front-page coverage in several of Toronto's newspapers, the clubs quickly went underground. Seemingly all public signs vanished when it was reported a march in support of the Jewish community would visit the Boardwalk.

Sensing a confrontation, young "Beachites" at a Balmy Beach clubhouse dance gathered lacrosse sticks and broom handles as the 500-strong group approached. Police at the Main Street station turned out in force as the rally paced around the outside of the party. Girls leaned out clubhouse windows and over the fence, watching tension build.

Another group, the "up-town gang," led by Al Kaufman, the "self-styled King of the Hoboes," arrived to add muscle to the nazi opposition. Kaufman walked ahead of his group with a large dog on a leash, the Star reported. When he passed the Balmy Beach club house his group were able to walk among the remaining dancers, the nazi devotees having moved elsewhere.

Kaufman and his gang would later case the neighbourhood for signs or posters but couldn't find any. As a precaution, the dance organizer decided to call it quits for the night before any trouble could start.

Mayor William James Stewart said the city would investigate claims of uncleanliness, a common gripe cited by the Swastika Clubs, but emphatically labeled the hate groups, however thinly veiled, "un-British and un-Canadian."

Tensions appeared to simmer down over the following days. The Balmy Beach Swastika Club claimed to have disbanded and editorials appeared in the Toronto papers denouncing the racist activity.
toronto swastika club
A few days later, the small confectionary shop at 2209 Queen East that sold the controversial pins became the focus of attention after it was reported to be the Swastika Club headquarters. Incensed, Bert Ganter, the owner, telephoned for police protection and, perhaps foolishly, declared that the club hadn't in fact disbanded.

"We are more determined than ever to keep the east end beaches free of obnoxious visitors," he spat. As he spoke, youths attracted by the police entered the back room and flashed "jocular" nazi salutes to each-other, the Star reported.

That weekend, a sunny day at the beach turned dark when fights broke out between Jewish and swastika-clad bathers. Shirts were ripped and signs destroyed in a series of scuffles before police stepped in.

toronto christie pits riot
The Balmy Beach Swastika Club officially changed its name to the Beaches Protective Association but the tone of anti-semitism persisted. Worried, Toronto Star took the remarkable step of cabling Adolf Hitler in Germany to ask whether the Third Reich was behind the activity in Toronto's east end. The response came from Ernst Hanfstaengl, an aide and spokesman for the chancellor:

"Absurd to say Canadian anti-Jewish outbreaks in any way connected with the Nazi movement here," he wrote. "The Nazi movement is purely German and is unconnected with any other country."

It would be wrong to assume the sentiments were confined solely to the east end of the city. During a baseball match at Willowvale Park, now Christie Pits, between Harbord Playground, a Jewish team, and St. Peter's was disrupted when shouts of "Hail Hitler" rang from the bleachers. When the game almost ended in a fist fight, a large swastika was painted on the roof of the club house.

Two days later, the tinder box spectacularly ignited.
toronto christie pits riot
During a repeat match between the two baseball teams, a group of spectators raised a white flag bearing a nazi slogan and the game quickly descended into a brutal fistfight. Hearing about the brawl, gangs sympathetic to both sides flocked to the area wielding pipes, clubs, and other makeshift weapons.

"Heads were opened, eyes blackened, and bodies thumped and battered as literally dozens of persons, young and old, many of them non-combatant spectators, were injured more or less seriously by a variety of ugly weapons in the hands of wild-eyed and irresponsible young hoodlums, both Jewish and Gentile," the Toronto Star reported.

"From 7:30 o'clock to until nearly 2 a.m. the region in and around Willowvale Park surged with scenes of the wildest excitement ... squadrons of police, late to arrive on the scene, were hard pressed to handle the situation, which threatened to get completely beyond their control.

"Even when, resorting to the use of billies, horseback advances, and clouds of motorcycle exhaust smoke, they had succeeded in partially scattering the mob, the trouble-makers, and their curious throngs of spectators refused to disperse."

For six hours hundreds of people fought and attacked each other in a roiling mass of bodies that moved south down Montrose Avenue to an area north of College Street. When the dust settled just two people had been arrested but scores were in hospital with head injuries, facial lacerations, cuts, and bruises.

The only person charged with a crime, Jack Roxborough, had to pay $50 for carrying an offensive weapon. A charge for carrying a knife against one Russel Harris, 23, was laid but later dropped.
toronto christie pits riotAngered at the clumsy police response to what had been clearly an escalating period of tensions, Mayor Stewart warned that anyone displaying a swastika in Toronto would be subject to immediate prosecution, even Boy Scouts who were using the sign in its original, peaceful form on one of their patches weren't exempt.
Local leaders called for police chief Dennis Draper to resign when Elmore Philpott, a politician and journalist, revealed just six officers were on hand at Willowvale that night while two hundred were occupied with dispersing a peaceful meeting at Trinity Bellwoods Park. He stayed, however.
toronto christie pits riotLater in August 1933, a handful of Jewish people were accepted as prospective members of the Beaches Protective Association during a meeting held at Kew Beach public school.
In a return to their stated aim of beautification, the members decided the Beaches required more police and that men should not be allowed to roll their bathing suits down to the waist in public.
Mr. Ganter, the candy store owner who sold the inflammatory paraphernalia, admitted that several financial backers of the Protective Association had withdrawn over the negative press. Undeterred, he announced plans to start a new faction that would continue the Swastika Club's original aims.
Though the movement would continue, tensions never erupted as spectacularly as they did at Christie Pits that August night, though swastikas still occasionally appear on the Boardwalk today.
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Toronto real estate: New condo buyers could face big bills at move-in time

Thousands of people who’ve bought preconstruction condos in the City of Toronto over the last two years or so could find themselves faced with an unexpected extra bill when it eventually comes time to move in.

If city council goes ahead with a proposal to double development charges, those extra costs — some $7,671 on the average one-bedroom unit and $10,624 on the average two-bedroom — are likely to land right in the laps of unsuspecting buyers.

“Most new condominium contracts provide that the buyer is responsible for any increased development charges that the developer incurs after the date that the agreement (of purchase and sale) is signed,” says veteran real estate lawyer Mark Weisleder, who writes about real estate law for The Star.

The get-rich-quick mentality that became the hallmark of the condo boom of the last few years may have also left thousands of buyers of preconstruction units vulnerable.

Some buyers became so convinced they could make a quick buck by the time the unit was built and ready to occupy, they didn’t have lawyers even review the complex sale documents and may not know the clause even exists, says Weisleder.

Real estate lawyers have been able, in many cases, to negotiate a cap on any potential increases from developers keen to make the sales targets needed to get bank financing, but others have simply refused to assume the possible risk, he notes.

“I always recommend the cap, and while many developers agree, some developers still refuse to give it.”

While it’s almost impossible to determine exactly how many buyers of preconstruction units could be impacted if city council supports staff recommendations to double development charges, there were more than 20,000 condos in the preconstruction phase across Toronto as Q1 of 2013, according to market research firm Urbanation.

And thousands more are just in the excavation phase and also likely to be impacted. That’s because development charges in Toronto only kick in after the foundation has been poured and the “superstructure” building permit is issued.

“Builders have two choices here — they can pass the added costs on to buyers or they can absorb them. But these proposed increases are so great, they can’t be absorbed in most cases,” says Bryan Tuckey, president of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), the umbrella group for the development industry.

“It has been brought to the City of Toronto’s attention that there are a number of buyers who will be impacted.”

A city official declined to comment on the issue, other than to say that any increases would likely be phased in over a year, to July, 2014, and are need to cover the costs of city services, from transit to sewers and water mains, that are impacted by every condo project that’s built.

The increases would still leave Toronto development charges below what’s charged in 905 municipalities.

Developers have asked the city for more time to assess the impact and have cautioned that the sudden jump (increases in 2008 were phased in over four years) could further threaten the condo industry, which has already been impacted by softening sales and tougher mortgage lending rules imposed by Ottawa that have knocked many first-time buyers out of the market.

This could knock out more, notes Tuckey.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Is GTA’s condo boom too much, too little or just right?

GTA condominium construction continues to be strong. As of June 30 there were a record 251 new condo projects being built across the region, for a total of 64,670 units.

The numbers are revealed by RealNet’s GTA new-home market results for June, which were released last week, and mark the halfway point for 2013.

What better time for a bit of healthy perspective on the market?

Some see this condo construction boom as a threat to the overall housing market. Others see it as a huge success: intensification in action.

Those who consider the current level of condominium construction a market danger typically wonder who’s going to buy all these units once they’re completed.

But the fact is that most of the units are already sold. Condominium builders undertake extensive pre-sales programs to ensure that their projects are financially feasible before starting construction.

The projects are under construction because 87 per cent of the units were sold to purchasers who are now expecting them to be delivered, and have binding agreements of purchase and sale (with deposits that are, on average, 20 per cent of the purchase price).

Many market watchers worry that all of the units under construction will be delivered at the same time, flooding the market with supply.

This simply won’t be the case. Unlike traditional single-family homes, which can be delivered within a year, high rise condominiums take three or four years to complete. Condominium units being built today are mostly the result of sales from 2009 to 2012.

It’s also important to note that all this condo activity was spurred by government intensification policies calling for more high-rise development, and less low-rise development, across the GTA.

The market today has been fundamentally transformed by intensification efforts initiated seven years ago.

Just look at the most recent RealNet numbers: During the first six months of 2013, total new-home sales across the GTA were at the second lowest level in a decade, at 13,424 units.

The decline is largely attributable to the continuing decline in low-rise homes sales. Near-record-low supplies and near-record-high prices drove low-rise sales in the first half of 2013 down to 6,044, the lowest level in a decade, and 41 per cent below the 10-year average.

High-rise home sales in the first six months of 2013 also dipped, down to 7,380 units, which is 19 per cent below the 10-year average. Unsold inventory is at a near-record high of 22,651 units, mostly in pre-construction projects.

Those with condo-market concerns should take note: GTA builders are proceeding with caution here.

Developers across the region reduced the number of new launches in the first half of 2013, introducing only 7,995 new units through 45 projects. That’s 49 per cent fewer than the same period last year.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

End of an era for 'The Maple Leaf Forever' tree

TORONTO - The Maple Leaf might actually live forever.

The tree believed to have inspired Alexander Muir to write his 1867 song The Maple Leaf Forever toppled around 6 p.m. Friday after the city was hit by a storm.

It split in two and landed on top of a power line outside of Maple Cottage at Laing St. and Memory Lane, near Queen and Leslie Sts. It remained there until around 2 p.m. Saturday when city crews were finally able to cut it down.

“It fell with so much force that it landed on a live wire and shifted the cement poles on each side of it, and ripped out of the mast of several other houses,” Toronto Hydro crew leader Ross Russell said.

The more than 150-year-old tree has deep roots in Canadian history and huge sentimental value attached to it, as was evident by Leslieville residents who lined up along yellow police tape anxious to get a piece of history.

“I’ve been taking leaves from this tree for 60 years. I’m going to take these home and press them and so I can keep them forever,” said Toni Muse, with a small branch in her hands.

Large pieces of the maple were loaded into the backs of two trucks and smaller ones were shredded.

Some people looked devastated.

“This truly is the end of an era,” longtime area resident Maria Loria said.

“I’m going to take this to a woodworker and have them make me miniature paddles,” said Richard Chambers, who walked away with a smile and a small piece of a branch.

Chris Hazard, who had waited patiently with his wife for a memento, said: “I want to do something that reflects what it is and where it came from, something inspired.”

But it looks like the tree is going to live on, in a way.

Crews left the stump intact and said they believe it is going to be turned into a sculpture.

And just down Memory Lane, a small maple stands behind the cottage.

Realizing the maple didn’t have long to live, Carolyn Swadron and her husband, Bill Wrigley, planted 13 keys from the tree back in 2000. One survived.

It is the baby of the tree.
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Saturday, July 20, 2013

70% of TTC subway passenger alarms misused last year

Transit riders know the frustration of subway delays when they’re already late for work or just want to get home.

It turns out those delays can often be blamed on unnecessary use of the passenger assistance (PA) alarms.

In 2012, more than 6,000 passenger alarms were activated on the subway and roughly 70% of those were non-emergencies, resulting in 51 hours of delay of service, the TTC says.

Officials are urging riders to be more aware of what their options for assistance are in non-emergency situations.

“It’s not that we’re pointing blame at customers, we absolutely want them to use the PAs in an emergency,” TTC spokesman Brad Ross said Thursday.

“We’re asking customers to consider other options that might work better, such as the Designated Waiting Areas, to make sure trains are moving smoothly for the other 1.7 million riders.”

The Designated Waiting Areas at each stop are equipped with intercom access to the station collector, benches, railings, enhanced lighting, CCTV cameras and a payphone.

When a passenger alarm is activated, the train proceeds to the next station. In the meantime, transit control is made aware of the alarm and they notify 911. At the next stop, the train is delayed so police can investigate.

“There is a domino effect when an alarm is pulled,” Ross said. “It can cause other delays down the line. Avoiding this will free up valuable resources from our emergency responders such as police, fire and EMS.”

The alarms are small yellow bars on subway cars that can be pushed and an alarm will immediately sound. On the newer trains there are also emergency intercoms that allow the transit control centre to see and speak to the distressed rider.

The TTC has released a YouTube video explaining how and when to use the passenger alarms, like when another rider falls unconscious or being witness to or experiencing an assault.

Ross explained that feeling fatigued or faint is not a reason to pull the emergency alarm.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Toronto councillors vote against cutting council size

TORONTO - Like asking the turkeys to vote for Thanksgiving.

Councillors voted 25 to 13 Thursday against cutting the size of council from 44 to 25 seats but not before getting an earful from the Ford brothers about why there are too many councillors.

Mayor Rob Ford tried to get colleagues to vote to cut council to match the 25 federal Toronto ridings in time for the 2014 election in response to a petition request from the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition.

Ford argued taxpayers want “less politicians and more action.”

“I have never come across one taxpayer that wants more councillors, numerous (taxpayers) want less councillors,” Ford told council. “They look at this as dysfunctional.”

He argued City Hall would be more efficient with just 25 councillors.

“Right now we have 44 councillors and it is chaotic,” Ford said.

The mayor — who campaigned on cutting council in half — said under the City of Toronto Act council has the power to reduce council immediately.

Councillor Paul Ainslie successfully got council to vote in favour of rejecting the petition and instructing legal staff to defend the city’s position at the Ontario Municipal Board if the coalition makes good on a threat to drag the city there.

Ainslie stressed the city is already undergoing a ward boundary review — which council just approved last month — that’s set to be done in time for the 2018 election.

“That is the proper process to be taking place,” Ainslie said.

Councillor Doug Ford said some councillors oppose the cut because “they’re scared they’ll lose their jobs.”

“A lot of them couldn’t get a job paying $100,000 — let’s call the facts the facts,” he said.

“That’s why they’re terrified, folks.”

The Ward 2, Etobicoke North councillor accused colleagues across the political spectrum of “protecting their nest.”

“All the lefties chirping behind me, they want to get that gravy train going again,” he said.

Toronto Taxpayers Coalition president Matthew McGuire wouldn’t rule out taking the city to the OMB over Thursday’s council decision.

“We’re disappointed by council’s inaction,” McGuire said.

As councillors squabbled over another issue after the cut vote failed, Speaker Frances Nunziata argued they were showing why council needs to shrink.

“You see, that’s why we have to reduce council because of the way we act in here,” she said.
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Where is Gawker sending the Rob Ford ‘Crackstarter’ money ?

Remember that crazy time, not so long ago, when all anyone was talking about were the allegations that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford had been videotaped smoking from a crack pipe?

That seems like a lifetime ago. Two months later, no video has surfaced and, despite reported ties to a criminal investigation and being the subject of a massive crowd-funded bid to purchase a copy of the video, it seems like it just wasn't meant to be.

U.S. gossip site Gawker, the first group to report seeing the video, launched a bid to raise $200,000 to purchase the video from a group of men who had been attempting to sell it.

When the story went public, those men fell off the radar, according to Gawker. The fundraising campaign – coined ‘Crackstarter’ – continued, however, and the site easily reached its target.

Gawker editor John Cook announced today what will happen to that money. He had promised to send the money to a Canadian charity, should the website fail to obtain the video, and the official announcement was made today.
John Cook writes:
The total take from Crackstarter was $201,199. Indiegogo, the service that hosted the campaign, withheld $8,047.96 in fees. PayPal, which processed the payments, withheld $8,368.43. That left the Crackstarter with a net take of $184,782.61, which has been held in a non-interest bearing account since PayPal released the money to us.
We are splitting this sum four ways, with $46,195.65 going to each of the following organizations.

The Somali Canadian Association of Etobicoke
Seems like a fair candidate. Reports identified those who recorded the video as Somali drug dealers living in Etobicoke. Some argued the description unfairly maligned Toronto's Somali community, so here is some just desserts.

The South Riverdale Community Health Center
Gawker says this group acts as a drug outreach service in the city's southeast end. The money will go toward its drug programs, including needle exchanges and providing crack kits.

Unison Health and Community Services
Another community outreach centre. It has several locations in Toronto, including  a presence in Etobicoke. Again, the money will go to funding drug and addiction programs.

Ontario Regional Addictions Partnership Committee
This committee works in conjunction with the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program in Ontario. Gawker says the donation will go to training drug and alcohol counsellors, and buying equipment. It isn't a non-profit group, but Cook said he was confident the money would be used properly.

So there you have it, the four winners of Canada’s biggest political circus.

None of these groups were on the list of presumed frontrunners, but congratulations to them all. Hopefully the $46,195.65 they each receive will make a difference.
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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sun Media to cut 360 jobs and close 11 of its newspapers, including three free urban dailies

Sun Media Corp. announced Tuesday it is cutting 360 jobs and closing eight of its local publications as well as three of its free commuter papers as it searches for more cost savings while print revenues continue to decline.

Here are the publications Sun is closing down

24 Hours (Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton editions)
L’Action Régionale in Montérégie (Québec)
The Lindsay Daily Post (Ontario)
The Midland Free Press (Ontario)
The Meadow Lake Progress (Saskatchewan)
The Lac du Bonnet Leader (Manitoba)
The Beausejour Review (Manitoba)
Le Magazine Saint-Lambert (Québec)
Le Progrès de Bellechasse (Québec)

The Quebecor Inc.-owned company said the restructuring changes are expected to lead to $55-million in annual savings.

Julie Tremblay, chief operating officer at Sun Media, attributed the cuts to the “unprecedented transformation” sweeping the print publishing industry.

“The management decisions we are making are difficult and highly regrettable, particularly the job cuts,” she said in a statement. “However, the downsizing is necessary to maintain a strong positioning for our new media outlets on all platforms and more broadly to secure our corporation’s future success in an industry that is being revolutionized by the advent of digital.”

A memo from Tremblay circulated to staff said the cuts represented about 8% of the company’s workforce.

“Our vision is to continue to be the leading news media provider in Canada while being the most profitable in the industry,” the note said.

“This means that we will continue to focus on great journalism, hard hitting information that reports on issues that matter most to people. It also means that we will continue to partner with our advertisers to offer them innovative solutions in reaching customers and furthering success.”

Sun Media plans to close its 24 Hours newspapers in Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, leaving the free urban daily operating in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

It said it decided to focus on a single urban newspaper in each market except for Toronto and Montreal, where it also publishes the Toronto Sun and Le Journal de Montreal and where mass transit systems justify the continuation of the free dailies as well.

The company said it has already shuttered or will cease publication at The Lindsay Daily Post and The Midland Free Press in Ontario, L’Action Regionale in Monteregie, Le Magazine Saint-Lambert and Le Progres de Bellechasse in Quebec, The Meadow Lake Progress in Saskatchewan, and The Beausejour Review and The Lac du Bonnet Leader in Manitoba.

Tremblay said the layoffs will be sprinkled across the country, not just at the papers that are being shut down.

Paul Morse, president of the Southern Ontario News Media Guild, which represents workers at 13 Sun Media papers in Ontario, said 15 of the union’s members have lost their jobs.

Tyler Anderson/National Post
Five Toronto Sun employees are losing their jobs.
Five are at the Toronto Sun, five at the St. Catharines Standard, three at the Brantford Expositor, one at the London Free Press and one at the Ottawa Sun, Morse said.

Morse worried about the affect the layoffs will have on Canadian journalism.

“One of the reasons that we enjoy the freedoms that we have in this country and the standard of life that we have in this country is because we have a press that operates independently and professionally,” he said.

“If we lose that, it’ll have a major impact on our lives as we know it. It’s a very, very slippery slope.”
Quebecor also announced Tuesday that Wendy Metcalfe, editor-in-chief of the St. Catharines Standard, will become the new editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun.

She replaces James Wallace, who stepped down on Monday.

Declining advertising revenues have hit the newspaper industry hard.

Quebecor warned earlier this year that it would not rule out further cost-cutting efforts to address the drop facing its newspaper business.

Last year, it announced plans to cut some 500 jobs at its Sun Media newspaper division, a move that included the closure of two production facilities in Ottawa and Kingston.

Sun Media has 36 paid-circulation daily newspapers and three free dailies as well as almost 200 community newspapers, shopping guides and other specialty publications.

During the first quarter of 2013, revenues at the company’s news media division were down 11% to $207.6-million from $233.1-million in the same period a year earlier.

When the company announced the quarterly results in May, outgoing CEO and chairman of Quebecor Meida Pierre Karl Peladeau said in a statement that, “News media segment management took immediate steps to adjust its cost structure again in light of the conditions experienced in the first quarter of 2013.”

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