Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rob Ford video recovered by Toronto police: Chief Bill Blair

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair says investigators have recovered a digital video file that depicts Mayor Rob Ford and is “consistent with what had been previously described in various media reports.”

Chief Blair also announced that police had on Thursday taken into custody the mayor’s friend, Alexander Lisi, and charged him with extortion. Lisi will appear in court today. 

The police chief said he was “disappointed” after viewing the video.

Chief Blair said the video was recovered as part of the Project Traveller raids on alleged gang activity in the city’s northwest end this summer.

“I think it’s fair to say the mayor does appear in that video but I’m not going to get into the detail of what activities is depicted in that video,” Chief Blair said in a news conference at a police headquarters.

He said it is “consistent with what had been previously described in various media reports.”

The Toronto Star and reported earlier this year that they saw video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine and making a homophobic slur about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

“We’ve done our job here,” says Chief Blair. He said a second digital file that was “relevant” had also been recovered.

“I have been advised that we are now in possession of a recovered digital video file relevant to the investigations that have been conducted. That file contains video images which appear to be those images which were previously reported in the press, with respect to events that took place, we believe at a house on Windsor Road in Etobicoke.”
THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Toronto Police Service
THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Toronto Police ServiceToronto Police Service released documents Thursday morning, Oct. 31, 2013 that show police surveillance photos of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (left) and Alexander Lisi, Ford's friend and occasional driver. 
Blair made the extraordinary announcement shortly after court documents were released, revealing Ford’s close relationship with Lisi, an alleged drug dealer.

Toronto police assigned one of its most senior detectives to specifically investigate allegations that Ford is captured on a cell phone smoking crack cocaine, according to the documents.

Details of the probe are contained in a lengthy “information to obtain” (ITO) used by police to obtain a search warrant in the case of Alexander Lisi, a friend of the mayor’s who is accused of drug trafficking. A judge ordered portions of the ITO released to media.
“On May 18th, 2013 Detective Sergeant [Gary] Giroux was assigned to investigate the matter brought forth by the Toronto Star and and their allegations against Mayor Rob Ford. Specifically to investigate the existence of a cellular phone containing a video of Ford smoking crack cocaine,” the sworn affidavit states.

The massive document includes pictures of Ford interacting with Lisi. The pair would often meet in parking lots and once met in “the woods.”

Payman Aboodowleh, a volunteer football coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, where Ford coached the team, told police that Lisi met Ford through him. He told police he was “mad at Lisi because he was fuelling the mayor’s drug abuse,” the document says.

The document alleges that Ford visited an Esso gas station and when Ford was inside, Lisi placed an envelope inside the mayor’s vehicle.

In July, police obtained a “production order” which allowed it to view a list of the telephone calls that Lisi made on his Rogers cell phone with a number of people, including Mayor Ford, Richview Cleaners, Fabio Basso, Liban Sayad and three people in the mayor’s office: Brooks Barnett, Thomas Beyer and Isaac Ransom.

The court file shows that Mayor Rob Ford repeatedly called Lisi in March, 2013. One line notes: “March 28, 2013: (Anthony Smith is killed). Lisi and Mayor Ford speak 7 times.”

In March, 2013, Mayor Ford called Lisi’s cell phone 44 times. On March 30, Ford called Lisi twice; the same day, Lisi phoned Fabio Basso, a man whose house appeared in a photo of the mayor connected to an alleged crack video, five times.

Police found four numbers associated with Mayor Ford in Lisi’s phone records, including the mayor’s OnStar, cellphone, home line and a fourth number believed to be a second home landline.

Between June 25 and July 19, Mayor Ford called Lisi 27 times, records indicate; 19 of those calls were from the OnStar number in the mayor’s Escalade.

During the same time period, Lisi called the mayor 18 times, but only called his cellphone once — a “dramatic change” from previous phone records, police say.

On July 11, police allege, Lisi placed a package in the mayor’s Escalade at an Esso gas station without speaking to him, after the pair exchanged brief phone calls earlier in the afternoon.

“Lisi can be seen walking around near the Mayor’s Escalade still holding onto the manila envelope,” the ITO states. “Lisi appears to be looking around, possibly scoping out the area. Shortly after this image he walks along the passenger side of the Mayor’s Escalade and walks out of frame… Mayor Ford exits the Esso Station, gets back into his Escalade and exits the parking lot.”

Under a heading called “Project Traveller and the Rob Ford connection”, the police affidavit details surveillance that occurred at 15 Windsor Road, a home “believed to be a “Trap House” (crack house) for the named parties to sell drugs from.”

15 Windsor is believed to be the backdrop of a now infamous photo that shows Mayor Ford with a man who was later murdered [Smith], and two other men who were later arrested. It alleges that surveillance crew observed activity consistent with drug trafficking and that “no known persons” were seen. “There were no arrests or seizures made during this operation.”

Then, large swaths of information are blacked out, but there is a first reference in the document to Lisi, with his address and a brief description of his interactions with Toronto police. A subsequent line states “a unified search query of Mayor Rob Ford does not reveal that his phone was reported stolen.”

Also interviewed by police in the document was Nico Fidani, a former junior member of Ford’s staff. Two detectives spoke with him on June 26, at the police 22 Division station. Much of what he told them is redacted from the document before it was released to the media.

“If the Mayor is obtaining illegal narcotics then it is probably Sandro who is taking him to get them,” Fidani told police, according to the affidavit.

Lisi, Ford met in secluded woods area, left behind vodka, juice bottles, police document says

On Aug. 12, police allege, Lisi’s Range Rover was parked in a lot on Royal York Road, and investigating officers discovered the mayor’s Escalade in a nearby parking lot for the Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy. The Escalade is “heavily tinted,” and neither of the two men were seen inside, the ITO says, noting Lisi was seen walking back to his vehicle from the area of the school a short time later.

A day later, on Aug. 13, police say they observed Lisi at home loading a large cooler bag into his Range Rover. Later in the day, he allegedly received a call from a cellphone associated with Deco Adhesive Products; Deco, an Etobicoke company founded by the Ford family. A short time later, the ITO says, Lisi left his home in the Range Rover.

“Lisi travelled to and parked on Westmount Park Road, he parked near a foot path that leads north into Weston Wood Park,” the ITO states, noting Mayor Ford was observed at the same time leaving a local gas station and parking near a footpath that leads south into Weston Wood Park. “Lisi and Mayor Ford eventually met and made their way into a secluded area of the adjacent woods where they were obscured from surveillance efforts and stayed for approximately one hour.”

They left separately in their own cars, the ITO says. Police later seized a vodka and juice bottle from the spot where the two had met, and left replacement bottles behind to conceal the fact officers had been there.

Ford refused to answer reporters’ questions about the documents Thursday morning at his home in Etobicoke. He screamed at media to “get off my property.”
Toronto Police
Toronto PoliceSurveillance photos from the court documents. 
The nearly 500-page document was released Thursday morning, one day after Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer found no “principled basis” on which the court should give notice to dozens of named parties.

Several media outlets filed an application to access the massive ITO (information to obtain a search warrant) after police this month raided a west-end dry cleaners, arresting owner Jamshid Bahrami and Lisi, the mayor’s friend and occasional driver.

The document, called an Information to Obtain a Search Warrant, referred to as an ITO, is a lengthy compendium of information used by police to convince a judge to issue a warrant that will allow them to search private property to further a drug investigation.

While not facts proven in court, it is information that officers swear gives them “reasonable and probable grounds to believe” there is evidence of a crime.

This ITO was used by Toronto police to search Lisi’s home at 5 Madill Street, and was sworn before a judice of the peace on Oct. 2 by Detective Constable Ali Nader Khoshbooi.

This ITO is unusually long and detailed for such a document.

For months, police have been investigating the mayor and a number of his associates, including Lisi, as part of Project Brazen 2, an offshoot of the June guns-and-gangs sweep dubbed Project Traveller.

Although it began when Lisi was allegedly caught trying to trade drugs for the mayor’s stolen cellphone, Brazen 2 was far from a simple drug probe. Toronto police put veteran homicide detective Gary Giroux in charge of the sensitive investigation, and cast a blanket of silence over his squad’s work.

Before Wednesday’s ITO release, few details of the project had emerged; there were reports that a Cessna was employed to track the mayor’s movements, and a leaked police document shed some light on Brazen 2′s genesis. The document revealed that police first picked up on Lisi’s name in March — two months before reports of an alleged video showing Mayor Ford smoking a crack pipe — when he was captured on an intercepted communication related to Project Traveller.

“Lisi was heard to be brokering the return of a cellular phone stolen from an associate of his, with a payment of marihuana,” the document states. Although the document does not name the associate, it was allegedly Mayor Ford.

In June, after rounding up dozens of suspected gang members in the Project Traveller sweep, police began conducting surveillance on Lisi and discovered his connection to Mr. Bahrami’s dry cleaning business in Etobicoke. Investigators allege the pair, both charged with drug trafficking, were working together to sell marijuana out of the dry cleaners.

Lisi — who has multiple previous convictions dating back to 2001, including assault and threatening death — has been described by Mayor Ford as a “good guy” who is on the “straight and narrow.” The two are friends, and Lisi, who was angling for a job with the city of Toronto, sometimes drove the mayor around in his Range Rover.

Mayor Ford also wrote a character reference this past June when Lisi was being sentenced for threatening to kill a former girlfriend, touting the accused’s “tact and diplomacy” and lauding him as “an exemplary member of my campaign team.”

One of Lisi’s neighbours said she frequently saw Mayor Ford stop by; he parked at the curb and interacted with Lisi through the window of the car, neighbour Carol Peck said. A report in the Toronto Star said Lisi made “aggressive attempts” to retrieve the alleged crack video after the story broke in May.

In one of his only public responses to the ongoing scandal, Mayor Ford has said he does not smoke crack cocaine, and “I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist.” He has repeatedly declined to comment on Brazen 2 or on the specifics of the Lisi case, saying the matter was “before the courts.”

Faced Wednesday with the imminent release of the ITO, Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, said only: “I am not even paying attention to all that… Rob is the most honest politician in the country.”

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A chronology of controversies involving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

TORONTO - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been embroiled in a series of controversies since before he was elected to the city's top job in October 2010. Here are some of the more notable moments that made headlines:

Aug. 19, 2010: As the municipal election campaign heads into the home stretch, Ford holds a news conference to discuss a 1999 arrest in Florida for driving under the influence and marijuana possession. He ultimately pleaded no-contest to the impaired driving charge and the drug charge was dropped.

June 2011: Ford angers the city's gay community by declining to attend either the city's gay pride parade or the flag raising ceremony to kick off Pride week. Ford said he would be at the family cottage for the parade. His decision broke with tradition that saw the city's three previous mayors march in the parade.

July 26, 2011: A Toronto woman accuses Ford of giving her the finger after she asked him to get off his cellphone while driving. Ford says the incident was a misunderstanding.

Oct. 5, 2011: Another woman accuses Ford of talking and texting on his cellphone while behind the wheel. Calls flood in for the mayor to hire a driver, but Ford declines and describes such an expense as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Oct. 25, 2011: Ford makes numerous calls to 911 after being accosted by a crew from CBC's ``This Hour has 22 Minutes.'' Ford says he felt threatened by the presence of the crew and alleges they scared his daughter.

March 12, 2012: Toronto resident Paul Magder launches a lawsuit alleging Ford had a conflict of interest when he voted on a council matter involving his football charity. The matter eventually worked its way to court where Ford was found guilty of the charge, only to have the ruling overturned on appeal.

May 2, 2012: Ford calls police after a confrontation with Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale. Ford alleged Dale was spying on him at his home, while Dale contended he was on public property doing research for a story. Dale alleged he was physically threatened by the mayor, a claim Ford denied.

Sept. 19, 2012: While on an official visit to Chicago, Ford mistakenly identifies Winnipeg as a city located across the border from Detroit. Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz volunteered to give his Toronto counterpart some geography lessons, since Winnipeg is roughly 1,800 kilometres from where Ford had said it was.

Nov. 6, 2012: Ford comes under fire after a Toronto Transit Commission bus was emptied of passengers and rerouted to collect his football team. Police say the decision to commandeer the bus was made by an officer and not Ford. Ford himself placed at least two calls to the head of the TTC requesting information on the bus when it failed to show up as promptly as expected.

March 8, 2013: Ford vehemently denies allegations from former mayoral rival Sarah Thomson that he touched her inappropriately during a political dinner. Thomson claimed the mayor was behaving oddly and made suggestive remarks before grabbing her.

March 24, 2013: Ford calls into a local radio show to complain about the defence tactics used in a high profile court case. Ford scorned the ``not criminally responsible'' defence that was successfully used on behalf of a man who killed a police officer while driving a stolen snowplow. Ford's comments drew criticism from the defence lawyer, who called them ``prehistoric'' and took the mayor to task for speaking out as deliberations began.

March 26, 2013: Ford denies a published report that he was turfed from an official dinner due to drunkenness and an ongoing battle with alcohol addiction. Ford described the Toronto Star story as an ``outright lie.''

May 16, 2013: Reports surface in both the Toronto Star and U.S.-based news site Gawker that Ford was seen on video smoking what appears to be crack cocaine. The Toronto Star also reported that Ford can be heard referring to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in disparaging terms. The video could not be independently verified, as the purported videographer was demanding a six-figure dollar amount for it. Ford has denied allegations of drug use and said the video does not exist. To date it has not surfaced.

Aug. 9, 2013: Videos appear on YouTube showing Ford interacting with fellow attendees of a local street festival. Ford is slurring his speech and allegations surface that he was drunk. Ford addresses the allegations on his radio show, saying he had ``a couple of beers'' but was not intoxicated.

Oct. 1, 2013: Ford's friend and occasional driver, Alexander Lisi, is arrested and charged with four drug-related offences, including trafficking marijuana. Ford defends Lisi the next day, calling him a friend and a ``good guy.''

Oct. 23, 2013: A Superior Court judge releases documents that show Ford wrote a character reference for Lisi following the man's conviction of threatening to kill a woman. The letter dated June 4, 2013, praises Lisi's leadership and work ethic and was part of a pre-sentencing report. Lisi is appealing his conviction. ___

Oct. 31, 2013: A police document is released saying the alleged crack video was the focus of an investigation that led to dozens of arrests. The document detailed evidence collected in order to get a search warrant for Lisi. The document shows friends and former staffers of Ford were concerned that Lisi was "fuelling" the Toronto mayor's alleged drug use.
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Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair: We have images consistent with Mayor Ford video reported in the press

TORONTO - Toronto police have seized a video of Mayor Rob Ford "consistent" with allegations that have been previously reported in the press," though the chief said they have no "reasonable" grounds to criminally charge the mayor.

Allegations of a video appearing to show Ford smoking crack cocaine surfaced in May when reporters from the Toronto Star and the U.S. website Gawker reported they were shown the video.

Newly released court documents show Toronto police opened an investigation into those allegations, headed by a senior detective.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced Thursday that earlier this week officers examined a hard drive seized in "Project Traveller," a drugs and weapons investigation and recovered a digital video file of Ford.

"That file contains video images which appear to be those images which were previously reported in the press," Blair said.

The mayor has repeatedly said he does not use crack cocaine and the video does not exist.

Alexander Lisi, a friend of Ford's, was charged earlier this month with four drug offences. As a result of discovering the video, Lisi is now also charged with extortion and the video will be presented in that case in court, Blair said.

Blair, who has personally watched the video, said it's believed it relates to events at a home on Windsor Drive. The home is referred to in court documents released Thursday in Lisi's drug case by a confidential informant as a "crack house."

"As a citizen of Toronto I'm disappointed," Blair said. "It's an issue of significant public concern."

Asked whether Ford could face charges, Blair said there's nothing in the video that would allow police to "form reasonable grounds" to support the laying of a criminal charge.

The police document shows that friends and former staffers of Ford were concerned that Lisi was "fuelling" the Toronto mayor's alleged drug use.

The lengthy document details evidence police collected in order to get a search warrant for Lisi, Ford's friend and occasional driver. The document contains police allegations used to obtain search warrants, and those allegations have not been proven in court.

Ford former staffer, Chris Fickel, told police he didn't know where Ford got marijuana from, but "has heard that 'Sandro' may be the person who provides the mayor with marijuana and possibly cocaine," the document alleges.

However, Fickel added, he has never seen Lisi provide the mayor with drugs. The mayor would call Fickle and tell him to tell "Sandro" that "I need to see him," Fickle told police.

Payman Aboodowleh, a volunteer football coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, where Ford coached the team, told police that Lisi met Ford through him. He told police he was "mad at Lisi because he was fuelling the mayor's drug abuse," the document says.

A photograph of the mayor with three men, one of whom — Anthony Smith — was gunned down on a city street, accompanied the Star story published in May. The other two men in the photo, which was taken in front of a house, were arrested as part of "Project Traveller.''

On March 28, the day Smith was killed, the document says Ford and Lisi spoke on the phone seven times, with the mayor initiating five of the calls.

The document says police compared that photograph to an address that a confidential informant told police was a "crack house," and found it had the same colour, overhanging light, white trim, brick colour and pattern.

Hours after the Gawker article was published, phone records show Lisi called Mohamed Siad, who the police report says "is believed to have been one of the people trying to sell Mayor Ford crack video." He also called one of the residents of the "crack house" several times.

The Toronto Star has identified Siad as one of the men it says showed its reporters the alleged video. Siad was arrested in June as part of Project Traveller, a massive sweep targeting gang activity.

According to the document, police were conducting surveillance on Lisi and on June 26 saw him meet with Ford at a soccer field.

They spoke for a few minutes then Lisi returned to his vehicle, retrieved a white plastic bag appearing to contain some items, put some cans of Minute Maid in it, then Lisi put the bag in Ford's SUV, then walked back to meet up with Ford, the documents allege.

On July 11 Ford is seen on surveillance cameras parking at a gas station then walking straight to the washroom. Shortly after, Lisi arrives at the gas station. Lisi is seen walking near the mayor's SUV holding a manila envelope.

"Lisi appears to be looking around, possibly scoping out the area," the document says.

Lisi is then seen walking along the passenger side of the mayor's vehicle then goes out of the surveillance tape frame and isn't seen again. Ford spends about six minutes in the washroom then buys a pack of gum and drives away.

On July 28 police watched Lisi and Ford meet behind a school. After they left police seized garbage that Ford threw out and it contained two empty vodka bottles.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ordered the release of the document Wednesday following an application by media lawyers who argued it contains information that is in the public interest.
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Toronto Police recover video which appears to show mayor Rob Ford smoking crack

Toronto Police appear to now have the video of Mayor Rob Ford appearing to smoke crack cocaine.

Chief Bill Blair announced Thursday that police obtained a "digital video file" that was "consistent with those reported in the press."

"We have recovered a digital video file which is consistent with that that has been described in various media reporters," Blair said.

Blair said the file was recovered this week and led to one arrest Thursday morning.

This latest bombshell in the Ford crack video controversy comes the same day the media obtained the censored police document.

The chief wouldn't directly say the video is the video first reported by back in May.

"The mayor does appear in that video," Blair told reporters.

Asked if he was shocked by the video when he watched it, Blair said he was "disappointed."

As a result of the file recovery, Blair said police arrested Sandro Lisi.

Lisi, Ford's friend and occasional driver, was charged with extortion Thursday.

Ford has repeatedly denied publicly that the video exists.

"I can't comment on something that I've never seen or doesn't exist," he told reporters following the Project Traveller raids.

"I don't know how many more times I've got to say this."

In a statement a week after news of the video broke, Ford denied he's addicted to crack cocaine or uses the drug.

"I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist," he said at that time.

This story is developing, keep checking for updates.
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The top 10 subscription & delivery services in Toronto

Delivery Services Toronto
Delivery services and subscription clubs, I've recently discovered, can be a cheerful addition to the mail, as well as a convenient way to cross off mundane errands from my to-do list. I signed up for organic produce deliveries on a bi-weekly basis a year ago, and recently my partner has tried out an online subscription for cheap razor refills. This made me wonder what other essentials (or not) busy Torontonians can put on autopilot?
Here's a round-up, in no particular order, of delivery services and subscription clubs that ship to Toronto.
Coming home to a bin full of organic vegetables has become one of the highlights of my routine. In the GTA the main players are Front Door Organics and Mama Earth. Both services start at about $35ish per order, which is easy for me to rationalize if I consider what a take-out dinner costs when I don't feel like going to the store. Plus, the regular deliveries keep my fridge stocked with exceedingly fresh seasonal veggies that are locally sourced (as much as possible). See a more comprehensive round-up of organic delivery options here.
To make meal planning a little easier there's Fresh Canteen, a Toronto-based service that offers a choice of six entrees each week and then delivers all the fresh ingredients necessary to cook the recipes at home (some pantry items might be required). The service isn't totally on autopilot since meal selections must be made weekly in advance, but it's not like Columbia House: you'll only get charged when you place the week's order.
Chef Butler, another Toronto-based subscription service aims to appeal to those who like to experiment in the kitchen. Each order supplies recipe cards, dry pantry ingredients and spice mixes (plus shopping list for extra proteins or produce) needed to whip up an internationally-themed, three course menu for four.
Snackbox is a Vancouver based company that assembles care packages spotlighting 10-12 varieties of all-natural, gluten-free snacks for monthly shipments. Subscriptions are available in one to three month plans ranging from $24 to $33 and are geared to be a thoughtful gift or a cheery, healthy infusion to order for yourself at the office.
Carnivore Club, the monthly club for charcute-lovers that we wrote about last month is now operational and accepting members for regular deliveries for $50 per month. Each order features 4-6 selections of internationally-sourced cured and smoked meats.
Local roasters like Birds & Beans and Detour Coffee Roasters do subscriptions geared at introducing coffee lovers to new beans for home brewing. Bags by weight can be ordered to the desired grind but are usually left to the purveyors selection so that it doesn't just replenish the home or office supply but also offers something new.
Wine clubs are a fun and easy way to try new bottles offered directly from local vineyards like Beamsville's Thirty Bench and Niagara' Peller Estates, or from online clubs like Savvy Selections (whose sommeliers select exclusively from Ontario) and Wine Collective that deals in international bottles. For a longer list of wine clubs and delivery services, check out our roundup post.
The CBC (that's Canadian Beer Club) was one of the first to offer subscriptions to suds, but sadly the club isn't currently accepting new members. Picking up the extra demand, and do 6-packs or 12-packs for roughly $40 to $50 per month. The services are more discovery-oriented rather than value-packed, but I can see this perking up any beer lover's routine. Failing that, you could get Steam Whistle delivered with your groceries.
The Period Store delivers lady products in time with subscribers' monthly cycles. Starting at $24, these packages certainly aren't a cheaper alternative, but they come complete with feminine products, over the counter pain killers, sweets, teas and limited edition art prints. Bonus points for offering a broader selection than local drugstores; along with big brand names, there's a selection of international and eco-friendly products available too.
Dollar Shave Club is an alternative to expensive drugstore brand razor blades that are usually sold from behind alarmed plastic dispensers. For Canadians, the club isn't a dollar a month like the name suggests, but there's a choice of three tiers of blades, delivered four cartridges at a time for $3.50 to $9.50 each month (or every two months). Shipping is included. Quality-wise they seem pretty decent. No word if they'll pause the subscriptions over Movember.
Man Packs offers guys customizable quarterly deliveries to replenish grooming products, refresh supplies of socks and undies, and even condoms. Costs for razors are higher than just going to the drugstore (an 8-pack of Gillette razors will run $25-$34) but, the selection of boutique grooming products and Hanes undies are priced on par with brick and mortar retailers.
For $12, Socking Behaviour, the online men's accessories store, will send gents a fun new pair of colourful patterned socks each month. It's not exactly an essential, but it'll spice up the mail as much as it'll spice up a boring wardrobe. Shipping to Canada is free.
BarkBox is geared towards dog owners looking to treat their best friends. Each order is shipped on the 15th of each month and includes a sampling of toys, goodies and hygiene products. Subscriptions are offered in one, three and six-month plans starting at $19 each month (plus $5 shipping). Ten percent of each order goes towards animal rescue groups.
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Toronto public housing repairs could top $2.6B in 10 years — but there’s a plan

The long-standing backlog of repairs to Toronto’s aging public housing buildings has ballooned to more than $860 million and could triple in 10 years.

But it could be solved for good if the city, Queen’s Park and Ottawa sign on to a bold new 10-year plan to tackle the problem together, says a staff report to the city’s executive committee.

The first-ever long-term capital financing plan for Toronto Community Housing recommends the city pick up one-third of the $2.6-billion anticipated bill, or $864 million, and calls on Ottawa and Queen’s Park to pay equal shares of the rest.

The proposed funding plan to replace the public housing company’s many dilapidated kitchens and bathrooms, update heating and electrical systems and repair crumbing balconies and parking garages will be debated by the committee Wednesday.

If approved by council and senior governments, the plan assumes that the city and Toronto Community Housing will be able to cover capital needs for the company’s 58,500 units on their own after 10 years.

“We’re breaking ground with this 10-year capital plan,” said Councillor Ana Bailao, chair of the city’s affordable housing committee. “For the first time, the city is putting operating money into the capital needs of Toronto Community Housing.”

It will allow the public housing company to begin to address the long overdue work in an organized way and give tenants certainty that the repairs will happen, she added.

“We’re talking about kitchens and bathrooms that are falling apart and are unusable, children’s bedrooms where they can’t sleep because of the mold,” said Councillor Pam McConnell, whose Toronto Centre-Rosedale ward includes Regent Park, St. James Town and many other public housing buildings.

“This is about putting apartments back to a place in which families are happy to have their friends over and they aren’t embarrassed by the accommodations they are living in,” she said.

“It holds (the housing company’s) feet to the fire and ensures they will use this capital money to do the work,” she added.

The city’s one-third share includes $50 million a year from Toronto Community Housing’s operating budget, or $545 million over 10 years, when adjusted for inflation.

The plan proposes raising the remaining funds through mortgage refinancing, property tax exemptions, development charges and the sale of some of the housing company’s single-family homes.

The report, which acknowledges that Ottawa and Queen’s Park are currently battling budget deficits, says funding from senior governments won’t be needed until 2016.

The plan dovetails with a national campaign by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities launched Monday, urging Ottawa to work with provinces and municipalities to develop a long-term housing strategy.

“Canadians need their three orders of government to come to the table to resolve this housing crunch, because it’s too complicated for one government alone,” McConnell said.

“What we are saying in Toronto is we are putting our money where our mouth is,” she added.

A spokesman for Ontario Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey said the Liberal government “remains committed to ongoing dialogue with the City of Toronto, and any recommendation or resolution received from the (city) will be considered carefully.”

A spokeswoman for federal Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen said Ottawa does not get involved in funding specific housing proposals, as they are “decisions that are made at the provincial and local level.”
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Toronto considers charging more for heavily paved lots

Despite raising water rates 9 per cent a year since 2006 to replace worn-out pipes, Toronto needs to continue hiking rates because there’s still a $1.6-billion repair backlog, a new report says.

It seems residents are victims of their own success. Revenue has slipped because people continue to conserve water through efficient appliances and low-flush toilets so consumption has declined by 15 per cent over the last 10 years, the report says.

However, the costs needed to run the city’s water system remain constant. The average residential water bill would have almost doubled from $451 in 2006 to $854 in 2013 but with reduced consumption this year’s average bill is $768.

Water officials provided four revenue-raising options to be considered Wednesday by council’s executive committee headed by Mayor Rob Ford:

Raise rates by 6 per cent annually, for seven years starting in 2015.
Bring in a stormwater sewer charge on the water bill, where you pay more if you have more pavement and therefore more runoff.
Borrow the money. This would be a departure from past practice of pay-as-you-go — Toronto Water is debt-free.
Introduce a local improvement charge in basement flood-prone areas, which you pay based on the width of your lot.

First, Toronto Water needs to report how it spent the extra money that came in over the past nine years, said Councillor Cesar Palacio.

“How much of that money that’s been collected has gone into water infrastructure?” Palacio said. “Are we taking some of the money and diverting it for other purposes?”

Focus groups on the issue show people felt a rate increase was the simplest and easiest to understand while a stormwater charge is seen as fair because it relates to the actual runoff of a property. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said he likes the stormwater levy because it’s “user pay.

“Somebody with a 1,000-car parking lot that sends a tidal wave of water into the storm sewers and overloads it should have to pay more proportionally than a single homeowner with a beautiful lawn, lots of flowers and a tree.” People with lots of paving would have an incentive to install runoff tanks or plant trees, De Baeremaeker added.

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, whose Scarborough ward has been hit with basement flooding, said the local improvement charge would amount to “targeting victims of basement flooding.”

Council’s budget chief, Councillor Frank Di Giorgio, agreed, adding basement flooding is often because “infrastructure is inadequate (and) that’s not the people’s fault, it’s the inability of the water department to rectify the problem because they weren’t able to get the money approved by council.”

The choice is either bite the bullet now or pay more later, De Baeremaeker said: “We’re not charging the proper price for water and we’re not fixing the basement-flooding areas fast enough.”
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Activities near motel on The Queensway irk Etobicoke residents

Etobicoke residents say they are tired of looking out their front windows and seeing questionable activities happening near a budget motel on The Queensway.

“I’ve seen drug deals happening on the corner where the motel is. . . . I’ve seen stoned, cracked-out hookers half naked walking the streets, could barely walk, could barely talk. I’ve seen it all over the last couple of years, right in the area, right on my street,” said Vladimir Trkulja, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 15 years.

Trkulja was one of about 40 people who came to St. Louis Catholic School one evening last week to voice their concerns about Queensway Motel on The Queensway near Royal York Rd.

Russell Silverstein, lawyer for the motel’s owner, Andy Mehta, said he’s sympathetic to residents’ concerns but noted his client has a right to run a budget motel.

The motel rents rooms for 24 hours for about $80, and also has a four-hour rate, Silverstein told the crowd.

“He’s not breaking the law. He doesn’t harbour lawbreakers, he doesn’t want them on his property. He co-operates with the police every way he can to keep criminals from using his property,” Silverstein said after the meeting. “But nonetheless, it is a budget motel.”

There isn’t anything Mehta can do to ensure criminal activity isn’t happening on his property, Silverstein said.

“It’s no Royal York. It’s toward the end of the spectrum of hotels. But there’s a demand for it and my client satisfies that demand.”

A budget motel is bound to attract a certain crowd, area councillor Peter Milczyn told residents, adding there’s not much the city can do about it. Hotels and motels aren’t licensed municipally and there aren’t any real issues with the building’s property standards, Milczyn explained.

“The solution to a business like that is for it to move on and to be replaced by something that’s more in keeping with the aspirations of the community for their neighbourhood.”

The area around the motel is evolving, but the transformation won’t happen overnight, said Milczyn, adding he’s lived in the neighbourhood his entire life.

“The Queensway’s an odd place because you have some great restaurants, some great businesses that attract customers from all over the place. And then you have these anomalies in between that are sort of holdovers from a different era.”

Mehta would be more than willing to sell his property for the right price, Silverstein said.

“If somebody wanted to offer my client enough money to turn his property into a restaurant or something, he’d be thrilled.”

But residents such as Trkulja are frustrated about what’s happening in the area now. He said his young son and teenage daughter are starting to notice the activity outside the motel and ask questions.

“It’s hard to explain to a 15-year-old girl,” Trkulja said.

Several people at the meeting questioned two local police officers about what they were doing to keep the neighbourhood safe, and said they’d like to see a larger police presence in the area.

“We’re doing what we can with our resources,” said Nitin Bhandari, an officer from 22 Division.

Bhandari encouraged the residents to collect information about what they’re seeing outside the motel, such as the licence plates of vehicles visiting a number of times in a single day. That request doesn’t quell Trkulja’s concerns.

“I don’t think the residents of the area should be having to look out their window 24/7, trying to write down licence plates and try to call police that are going to take three, four hours to show up.”

Someone needs to put pressure on the motel owner, Trkulja said. But after the meeting, he wasn’t feeling confident that the pressure was on its way.

“I don’t think anything is going to be done,” he said. “Everyone looks like they’re just trying to pass the buck to someone else.”
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Mayor Rob Ford: Nix waterfront affordable housing plan

Mayor Rob Ford slammed the idea of building affordable housing on Toronto’s waterfront.

Ford came out swinging Tuesday at a proposal, approved unanimously by the affordable housing committee, to spend $15 million to construct 71 affordable rental apartments inside a yet-to-be-built East Bayfront condo building.

“You don’t use your waterfront — prime property — for affordable housing,” Ford said. “But when you get an opportunity to get the feds and the province on board, obviously you’ve got to take advantage of that.

“So I’m split, the location to me is ridiculous, again you don’t use prime property for affordable housing, but then again can we get the province and feds to give us money for affordable housing which we need, put it somewhere else, yes we need that.”

The mayor said he’s not sure where the affordable housing should go if the city receives money from other levels of government.

“But it shouldn’t be on the waterfront,” he insisted.

The issue goes to Ford’s executive committee for approval on Wednesday and, if it survives, would still have to be approved by city council next month.

Councillor Ana Bailao, the affordable housing committee chairman, stressed the project was about “building a community.”

“We are getting the 20% of land from the developer at no cost, we are paying construction costs — construction costs cost the same no matter if you are at the waterfront or Rexdale,” Bailao said.

“It is part of our official plan; it is how you develop a city. We don’t want to create ghettos ... there is only one kind of citizen and one kind of city we want to build and that is a mixed community.”

Councillor Doug Ford said the city has it “wrong” on this one.

The Etobicoke North (Ward 2) councillor questioned who would draw the names of the lucky people who will live on the lake.
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Ford slams move to eliminate recreation program fees

Mayor Rob Ford was fuming Tuesday at a bid to scrap recreation fees that could cost the city $30 million.

The city’s community development and recreation committee voted Tuesday to ask council to provide “universal access” to programs at recreational centres across the city as part of the 2014 budget.

The issue goes to city council next month where Ford is expected to try to kill the recommendation in order to avoid a budget crunch.

“We can’t afford it,” Ford said Tuesday. “There is $30 million or $40 million and we have the lowest fees around — $1 or $2 or $5 for a family to use some of these facilities and we’re going to give it for free? You have to pay for stuff in this life and nothing is for free and people understand that.

“Even some of the poorest people, they can afford a dollar or $2.”

Ford accused councillors on the committee of pandering for votes.

“The left is trying to get votes and say everything is for free,” he said. “Well why don’t they give up their office budgets and give up their salaries and stuff? ...It is just game-playing. I’m not going to support it.”

City officials warned the move would cost around $30.6 million a year..

Councillor Joe Mihevc argued the vote “moves the ball” in the right direction.

“We need to make sure that the financial piece is never an obstacle to children, to seniors, to adults, to teenagers participating in recreation programs that it is a right of citizenship or residency in the City of Toronto to be able to access these programs,” Mihevc said.

“Nothing is free, the issue is how you pay for it. The question we need to ask ourselves as Torontonians, is the health of all the kids in our neighbourhood, is that something that we should be communally concerned about?”

Mihevc argued dropping recreation fees could be phased in over a term or two terms of council.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sears is shipping out of the Toronto Eaton Centre

The Eaton Centre's flagship retailer is shutting up shop. Sears Canada has announced it is selling the lease on its downtown Toronto and Sherway Gardens stores in an attempt to claw back around $400 million in rent.

Under the plan announced early this morning, the struggling retailer will sell back its lease to Cadillac Fairview and close in February at the expense of around 950 jobs company-wide. Sears' headquarters on the upper floors of the building will remain.

Sears took over the space from Eaton's when the company that built the 1,720,000 square foot mall filed for bankruptcy in 1999. Sears Canada began closing stores last year, handing back the lease on its Yorkdale and Square One outlets in the GTA and some in B.C. Several were taken over by upscale U.S. fashion retailer Nordstrom.

CEO Doug Campbell said the move was part of Sears' plan "to improve the business and make Sears more relevant to Canadians."

Will you miss the cheap underwear at Sears? How would you like to see the Eaton Centre space filled? Feel free to speculate about which companies could realistically fill the massive, multi-floor premises. Could this sate Walmart's apparent need for a downtown location?
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East Bayfront condo may incorporate affordable rental units purchased by City of Toronto

You won’t have to be rich to live next to Lake Ontario in one of the sparkling new condos popping up along Toronto’s downtown waterfront.

In a ground-breaking pilot project being unveiled Tuesday, the City of Toronto is proposing to buy between 70 and 75 units in a condominium to be built as part of the recently announced $1.1 billion Bayside neighbourhood development.

The units in the proposed building east of Sherbourne Common and George Brown College would be owned and operated by a non-profit housing company and offer affordable rental housing for low- and modest-income residents, according to a staff report to be debated by the city’s affordable housing committee.

“This is definitely a landmark,” said subcommittee chair Councillor Ana Bailao.

“The fact that this affordable housing is being built so early in the development and the fact that it is going to be incorporated in the same building is remarkable. We haven’t done anything like this anywhere before,” she said.

The affordable apartments, which will have the same range of views as the market condos, will function as a separate entity in the building and will have their own lobby, amenity space and parking. However average unit sizes will be greater than market condo units, with one-bedroom rental units of 590 square feet, two-bedrooms of 725 square feet, and three-bedrooms of 1,000 square feet, according to city documents.

The units, estimated to be worth about $22.5 million, or $312,897 each, are being purchased from developers Hines and Tridel Corp., with $15 million from last spring’s federal-provincial affordable housing program.

The prospective non-profit or co-operative housing company that will own and manage the units will kick in $500,000 and take out a mortgage for the remaining $7 million that will be covered through rents, according to the staff report.

The pilot project is part of the city’s plan to ensure housing in the East Bayfront area is accessible to Torontonians of all incomes, the report adds. Under the city’s Central Waterfront Secondary Plan, 20 per cent of all new housing in the area must be affordable.

The 11- to 12-storey condo will include about 330 residential units, with a grocery story on the ground level, said Hines director Samidha Thakral. But the developer can’t start design or go to market until the city makes a decision on the affordable housing component, she said.

“Bayside was planned to be a community that welcomes the city to the water by integrating market condos with employment and cultural uses, ground-floor retail and affordable housing,” Thakral said. “We like building communities that are good for the city, so we really like that Bayside has everything.”

A handful of affordable apartments have been incorporated into about half a dozen downtown condominium developments in exchange for added height or density under Planning Act provisions.

But this is the first time about 20 per cent of a condominium development in the city is being proposed as affordable rental housing, said Sean Gadon, director of the city’s affordable housing office.

In the past, affordable housing development in communities such as Regent Park has been offered in separate buildings and built after ownership condominiums have been built and sold, he noted.

“The pilot will test an approach where the partnership between the private and non-profit sectors (allows each to) do what they do best — one builds and the other operates,” Gadon said.

If successful, it could be a new model for the future, he added.

Under the proposal, which goes to council next month, the city is buying 33 one-bedroom units, 27 two-bedroom units and 11 three-bedroom units.

The non-profit or co-op will be responsible for selecting tenants from households on, or eligible to be on, the city’s affordable housing waiting list. Rents will be at or below 80 per cent of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s average market rent for Toronto.

For example, a one-bedroom apartment will rent for about $800; a two-bedroom apartment will go for between $950 and $1,000 a month, while a three-bedroom will rent for about $1,100.

Meantime, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities announced Monday a renewed effort to get Ottawa to work with provinces, municipalities and the private sector to develop a long-term housing plan. Bailao, who is representing Toronto in this latest campaign, said she hopes to introduce a motion to council on the issue this fall.
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Monday, October 28, 2013

The evolution of the TTC subway map

toronto subway mapToronto's glacial transit expansion passed a major milestone late last week: for the first time in more than a decade, the TTC released an updated version of its subway map. Though it makes assumptions about the Finch and Sheppard LRTs, the updated design includes the Spadina extension and Eglinton-Crosstown for the first time, which feels very exciting indeed and is a perfect excuse to take a peek in the archives.
The Toronto subway map might not be as iconic as London's or as comprehensive as New York City's but it has its own charms. From day one, the TTC has (mostly) stuck to its policy of naming its stations after roads, excluding "avenue," "road," and other suffixes, or landmarks artfully distilled into a single word: "Museum," "Osgoode," "Union."
(Trivia lovers: Main Street is the only station named for a road to retain its suffix. The change was made during construction of the Bloor-Danforth line for clarity, lest some hapless soul think it was the nexus of the subway system. Also, St. Patrick station could have become a neat bookend for Museum station: the TTC briefly toyed with renaming the stop "Art Gallery" in the late 70s.)
toronto subway mapThe first Toronto subway map, shown at the top of the page, borrowed heavily from London Underground, mimicking its style and famous Johnston font. The creator of the famous lettering, the eponymous Edward Johnston, taught Eric Gill, whose own iconic Gill Sans typeface is often confused for the (officially) unnamed TTC font.
In 1963, with the arrival of the University line, Toronto's first subway expansion, the map was altered and the famous U shape was born, making St. George briefly a terminal station. Things really began to catch fire three years later, in 1966, when the original Bloor-Danforth line brought the first east-west addition to the Toronto subway.
toronto subway mapThe Bloor-Danforth line wasn't always marked in green. Early on-board subway maps used red for the Yonge-University line - matching the original red Gloucester trains - from Eglinton to St. George and yellow for subway from Keele to Woodbine, the original kick-off points.
toronto subway mapThe Bloor-Danforth line appears to have gone green with its first expansion, which took trains to Islington and Warden - into Etobicoke and Scarborough - in 1968.
By this time the TTC subway had settled on the now-familiar black background design for its rapid transit map. A minor tweak a short time later would remove the gentle curve north after Main Street station in favour of an angular hockey stick sweep.
toronto subway mapThe rapid pace of transit expansion continued in the The 1970s. The Yonge-University line was extended to York Mills, then Finch, and the Spadina line opened in 1978, the legacy of a bitter and protracted battle against running a highway from Eglinton down Spadina Avenue.
Minor additions to the subway map appeared with the addition of Kipling and Kennedy stations in 1981, bringing the Bloor-Danforth line to its present state. Plans to run the west end of the track down to Sherway Gardens and possibly to Mississauga would later fizzle.
toronto subway mapThe first new splash of colour to the two-toned map came with the Scarborough RT in 1985, which heralded a slowing of Toronto's once frenetic rapid transit building. Over the next 18 years - more than the time it had taken to dig out tracks under University Avenue and complete and expand the Bloor-Danforth line - the TTC would add only two more stations, North York Centre in 1987 and Downsview in 1996, which resulted in only minor tweaks to the wayfinding material.
(More trivia: North York Centre station is something of an oddity because it was installed between Finch and Sheppard long after the line had opened. The unusually thick support columns between the north and southbound tracks hint at the station's origins as a section of cut-and-cover tunnel.)
toronto subway mapThe most recent map addition came in 2002 with the controversial Sheppard line. Originally intended to bridge the gap between Sheppard and Downsview (the latter built partially in anticipation of the new subway) and continue east to Scarborough Centre, the line was eventually completed to an abbreviated design with the support of PC premier Mike Harris and Toronto mayor Mel Lastman.
Ridership on Sheppard is still drastically lower - less than 10% of the rest of the system.
toronto subway mapAnd now we move into a new era, one with numbered lines and a rainbow of underground transit. Assuming the new map is built as currently planned (insert lengthy caveats here) the TTC will find itself in charge of 41 new stops - an increase of 65% - within the next decade.
Here's to more rapid transit joining the TTC's 59-year-old map very soon.
toronto subway mapBONUS MAPS:
toronto subway mapIt's tempting to picture the Queen subway line, first proposed in 1942, as a missed chance to anticipate the need for a Downtown Relief Line but it was only ever seriously considered as an alternative to the Bloor-Danforth subway. Had it been built as originally conceived, the line would have been designed with streetcars in mind and had stops at City Hall, Grange Park, Spadina, Bathurst, Trinity Park, and Dundas West. Some drawings show it running at grade.
As it happens, City Hall station was roughed in beneath Queen station as a cost-saving exercise but never completed (the shell is behind an anonymous silver door in the walkway between the north and southbound tracks.) When Osgoode station was built in the 1960s, utilities and sewers were diverted to make adding a Queen tunnel easier, but that's as far as the line ever went.
toronto subway mapIt's no secret that there is a bona fide abandoned platform beneath Bay station. Lower Bay, as it's come to be known, was built along with a complex (and very expensive) track intersection north of Museum with the idea of running trains directly downtown via Union station from the Bloor-Danforth line.
In fact, that's how the subway ran for about six months in 1966: a passenger waiting at any station could catch a train to any other station without having to change. The system had its downsides, however, particularly for users of Bay station, and was permanently nixed a short time later. Lower Bay is now a film set and occasional relief route during construction.
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Wilson Ave. windsock is tattered and full of holes: Windsocks that commemorate Downsview's aviation heritage are easily frayed by the elements.

Some socks are meant to have a hole in them, but when the holes outnumber toes, it’s time to find another.

Downsview has a long history tied to de Havilland Canada, which built a manufacturing facility in the 1920s near Sheppard Ave. W. and Allen Rd., along with an airstrip to test its planes.

The plant manufactured planes used in the Second World War, while the airstrip was expanded and became a Royal Canadian Air Force base after the war.

Even now, Bombardier Aerospace builds aircraft at the facility and military planes still use the airport, but a large part of the airfield is now a national park.

To celebrate Downsview’s aviation heritage, the city put up windsocks a few years back in a parkette on the north side of Wilson Ave., east of Keele St., and recently on two corners at Wilson and Dufferin St.

But we suspect a lot of people in the area are oblivious to its aeronautical history and probably wonder what the windsocks stand for.

Jeff Green emailed us photos of thoroughly shredded windsocks at Wilson and Keele, saying he thinks they’re a waste of public money.

“The socks fade and develop holes, tears and rips after a short time,” said Green.

“I understand they have already been replaced three times, (likely) at great expense to taxpayers,” he said, noting “they are non-standard custom designs.”

We know that they’ve been changed at least once, after we wrote about the same problem in March 2011, when most of the five socks at the parkette were in bad shape.

We found just one tattered sock at the corner last week, but saw others that look like they’ll fray when the wet fabric freezes and is whipped by wind, the same way flags are shredded.

They’re an interesting touch, but maybe propellers mounted to poles would also work as a reminder of the local history, and last a lot longer.

STATUS: We’ve asked Bob Crump, who’s in charge of North York parks, if he can get the damaged sock replaced.
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Honest Ed's Site at Bloor and Bathurst Sts Sold

TORONTO - Honest Ed’s will remain open during the next few years, despite the tentative sale of the iconic discount store to a Vancouver-based developer.

Businessman and theatre impresario David Mirvish said Monday that Westbank Properties plans to rent the property back to him for up to 3 1/2 years.

He added that Honest Ed’s — at Bloor and Bathurst Sts. — will continue to operate under Mirvish management during that time.

Mirvish started seeking a buyer in July for the property that includes one of Toronto’s most famous and colourful retail stores. His late father, Ed Mirvish opened the outlet in 1948 and expanded his businesses interests over the year to take up the better part of a city block.

It was reported the asking price for the property was $100 million, plus conditions that certain considerations be made around enhancing the immediate area and community.

“(It was about) finding a sensitive buyer who was ambitious for the community, and a longer-term vision, and I do believe these developers have that,” said David Mirvish, declining to discuss what Westbank may have planned for the site.

“There is no immediate pressure on them, but they want to be thoughtful and do something intelligent.”

“These are people who are building at a level that will challenge ... what is going on in the city and raise the bar and make architecture an important component of this city,” Mirvish said, adding that potential buyers were asked to come forward with offers they thought were appropriate for the property.

Westbank is a developer of hotels, office buildings and luxury residential buildings, and is responsible for the Shangri-La hotels in Toronto and Vancouver.

Mirvish also talked of concerns voiced by business owners who have been long rented space at the site.

“They are my tenants, and they will continue to by my tenants during this 3 1/2-half year period because I’ve rented the property,” said Mirvish, adding that many have paid “extremely reasonable” rent over the years.

The deal is expected to close later this year.
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Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair calls for traffic enforcement cameras

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair wants expanded “photo enforcement” placed in the busiest parts of the city to help ease congestion and gridlock.

Blair vocalized his desires to install traffic enforcement cameras at Toronto’s busiest intersections while speaking at a Canadian Club luncheon Monday — an event where the chief addressed the challenges of policing a major city.

Blair said cameras take photos of those committing infractions such as making illegal turns or disobeying red lights.

“In almost every other major city in the world, they do photo enforcement,” he added. “You can put a camera (at an) intersection, and you can put up a sign that (nobody) could miss, that says ‘If you make this (illegal) turn ... if you go through this red light, or if you (jam) up this intersection, you’re going to get a ticket.’”

He said while 87 red-light cameras now capture images of errant motorists at intersections across Toronto, there’s a need for a more comprehensive form of enforcement.

Blair acknowledged some would view the introduction of traffic-enforcement cameras as nothing more than a revenue tool, but argued his force requires a deterrent and a way to free up officers to deal with other demands.

“It strikes me as almost an absurdity that we keep on using the most archaic way of dealing with (this), putting a police officer or two police officers or three police officers at an intersection,” said Blair, who added he has raised the issue with Transportation Minister Glen Murray.

When a red-light camera now catches a motorist disobeying traffic signals at an intersection, the owner of the vehicle is issued a $325 ticket through the mail.

Demerit points are not assigned to anyone caught by the cameras.

If a police officer nabs a red-light runner, the driver is issued a $325 fine, plus three demerit points.
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Toronto Radio host John Downs describes run-in with cops

This journalist covering a crime scene was handcuffed, arrested and jailed.

Toronto Police’s Professional Standards branch has opened a probe into how,earlier this year, a veteran Toronto radio personality was detained and held in a cell for a night.

Law-abiding. but sometimes critical of Toronto Police over the past decade — and post the lessons learned from the G20 — John Downs would also like to know.

“The relationship has occasionally fallen into the dysfunctional but by no means did I expect this,” said Downs.

For trying to take a picture for his news outlet’s website, the Newstalk 1010 host of Friendly Fire with Ryan Doyle found himself in a not-so-friendly incident with police last winter.

“My left cheek is up against the cold sidewalk. My chin is burning after being scraped along the cement. A right knee is digging into my back. My right arm, pinned under my chest. With firm direction, the officer tells me to,“Stop resisting!” as if I have any choice regarding the position of that right arm.”

It was Jan. 18, 2013. He and his girlfriend went out for dinner and drinks with friends.

It was fun night.

“We boarded the streetcar to go home when at Brant St. and King St. W. I could see the lights of an ambulance and a young man lying on the street with blood covering the pavement beside him.”

The newsman reacted.

“The reporter part of my brain takes over,” he said. “I rang the bell on the streetcar and told my girlfriend I’d see her at home soon.”

Not so soon, though.

“I jogged a couple of hundred feet back west to the scene and snapped two photos. Both bloody.”

A Toronto firefighter took exception even when Downs told him he was media.

“He either didn’t believe me or didn’t care,” said Downs. “He said, ‘You want me to get the cops over here?’”

Good idea.

“I’d just explain to the police who I was, show them my ID, and assure them I had no intention of hampering their investigation.”

It didn’t help.

“My phone was swiped from my hand, landing on the sidewalk,” he said. “I was grabbed by my shoulders and thrown face first on to the sidewalk. My left arm was held behind my back. My right armed, pinned under my chest. I tried to comply with the officer’s demands of ‘Do not resist!’”

But Downs said the problem was “his right knee digging into the small of my back made it near impossible to free my wrist which was sandwiched between my rib cage and the cold cement.”

Disgusting escalation. Not necessary.

And this is not Pyongyang.

“I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong,” said Downs.

Still the wrath of authority began to pile up — even though he knew a police officer on the scene.

The focus shifted to questions about how much he had to drink?

Downs said he had consumed some alcohol but was not intoxicated.

“They just used that to detain me,” he said.

The real focus was something else.

“He says you took a swing at him,” the officer said of the firefighter.

Downs heart sank.

“It was completely fabricated,” he said. “I know knew I could end up going to jail.”

He was right — to 14 Division and locked up over night.

In the morning, his girlfriend came to bail him out but was told he had already been released. With his house keys were lost and his cellphone dead, healso had a difficult time connecting with her or getting back into his home.

He was charged with public intoxication — an offence which was later withdrawn.

“Being taken down and cuffed in the middle of the King West crowd was pretty embarrassing,” said Downs.

Toronto Police said they will not comment, other than to confirmed professional standards is on it.

Downs has been interviewed by two detectives but said he will not pursue any formal action.

“I just wanted to share the story so people could understand that if a wild turn of events like this could happen to someone in a position like mine,with the power to tell the story, you have to wonder how often it happen to the powerless?”
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Sunday, October 27, 2013

City of Toronto gives OK to controversial mural

City officials are washing their hands of the controversy surrounding a mural in Little India which some say calls for a holy war against non-Muslims.

Toronto city manager Joe Pennachetti says no action will be taken on the part of the city when it comes to a municipally-funded mural on the side of a mosque at 1330 Gerrard St. E. The mural’s script — written in Arabic in colourful calligraphy — consists of a passage from the Qur’an which translates to “With Allah’s blessing, a victory is near.”

Some say it refers to the victory of overcoming life’s adversities. Others insisted it stands for victory over non-Muslims.

The mural, funded by the city’s StreetART program, was completed in 2012. A petition surfaced calling for its removal.

Tarek Fatah, a Toronto Sun columnist and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, complained about the mural to Councillor Paula Fletcher, sparking the review by city officials.

Pennachetti wrote to Fatah on Friday, saying that the city’s office of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights was involved in the review and that the mural’s creator and Islamic law expert Anver Emon, a professor at University of Toronto, were consulted.

“We are satisfied with the responses that have been provided during our preliminary inquiries into your concerns and do not believe that the mural is contrary to City policy or Canadian law,” writes Pennachetti.

“There are various ways by which to determine what these words mean,” wrote Emon in his assessment of the mural. “Can they be made to valorize militancy? Sure. Can they be a source of comfort for people suffering economic hardship as they struggle to feed their children? Sure.”

City of Toronto spokesman Jackie DeSouza said it was all about the interpretation of art.

“I think the people in the community, many of them were Muslim ... nobody expressed concerns about the mural,” said DeSouza, suggesting that complainants could take the issue to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Fatah points to the Tafsir Ibn Kthir, a commentary on the Qur’an that states the passage means “if you fight in Allah’s cause and support his religion, he will grant you victory.”

Fatah, who said the slogan is sometimes inscribed on weapons, calls the defence of the mural a smokescreen.

“This is not art at all,” insisted Fatah, adding nobody from the city consulted him or other moderate Muslims about the mural’s message. “If they are so confident that they are right, then why is there reluctance to meet with us?”
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TCHC officials mum on costs of youth event

Toronto’s beleaguered and cash-strapped social housing provider was silent Sunday on how much it cost to host a youth summit at an expensive downtown hotel.
Toronto councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam mentioned the event in a Twitter posting, saying she had heard the Toronto Community Housing Corp.’s If I Ruled T.O. youth summit cost around $100,000.
The all-day summit at the Sheraton hotel on Queen St. W, between Bay St. and University Ave., hosted about 1,400 people, between ages 13 and 29, who live in TCHC communities throughout the city.
TCHC CEO Gene Jones generated controversy last week after announcing that a $2 million renovation to the TCHC’s Rosedale headquarters would include a larger office for himself. The next day, Jones nixed all the reno plans.
The TCHC is currently facing a $862 million repair backlog on its social housing properties.
On his Sunday radio show, Mayor Rob Ford said he was happy Jones called off the renovation plans.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Three stabbings in GTA overnight

Three men were rushed to hospital with serious injuries following separate stabbings in the GTA.

Toronto Police said officers responded to Spadina Ave. and Bulwer St., a block north of Queen St. W., around 3:30 a.m. Saturday for the last of the three stabbing calls.

“Once on scene an unconscious male was located with stab wounds,” Const. Wendy Drummond said. “He was rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries.”

She said the victim, believed to be 23, was undergoing “trauma surgery.”

No further update on the man’s condition or details of the stabbing were immediately available.

And no arrests had been made.

Drummond said the Homicide Unit has been “notified” but 52 Division detectives are still handling the case.

About 45 minutes earlier, a couple of blocks up Spadina Ave. near Nassau St., police from 52 Division dealt with another bloody incident.

“A passerby alerted police to the scene,” Drummond said.

A man, thought to be in his 20s, was found suffering from stab wounds to his chest and abdomen.

“The victim was taken to hospital where he is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries,” Drummond said.

No arrests have been made in the incident.

Police could not immediately say if the two Chinatown stabbings were connected.

Around 2:25 a.m., cops north of the city were called to a stabbing at a Newmarket home.

York Regional Police said a man, 31, suffered serious injuries in an altercation on Maurice Ct., northeast of Davis Dr. and Yonge St. He was rushed to a trauma centre in Toronto.

A man, 32, was taken into custody but there was no word on charges.

All three incidents remain under investigation.
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Karen Stintz will run for Toronto mayor

TORONTO - TTC chair Karen Stintz will run to be mayor of Toronto.

In an exclusive interview with the Toronto Sun, Stintz confirmed she will be a candidate in the 2014 mayoral race.

“I’m running,” Stintz said Friday. “I’m assembling a campaign team because I believe that elections are about choice and I want to be able to offer a choice to the people of Toronto.”

Stintz is one of the first credible conservatives to formally throw her hat in the ring as a challenger to Mayor Rob Ford next year.

The revelation comes as the one-year countdown to election day begins and pulls the cover off a campaign many City Hall watchers had known was quietly in the works for the last few months.

“I’ve been working hard for the people for the last 10 years and I want to continue working hard for them in the next four (years),” Stintz said.

While other possible conservative candidates like John Tory have yet to declare their intentions in the 2014 race, Stintz said she made it clear to Tory back in August that she’s not waiting for him to make up his mind and would be running next year.

The Eglinton-Lawrence (Ward 16) councillor argues she is an alternative to Ford.

“We’re different people with different views around what it means to work for the city and work for the people,” Stintz said. “If Ford gets re-elected we will stand still for four years.

“The David Miller years are still fresh in people’s minds and I think many people fear going back to a (David Miller mentality), which I believe would take us back. So it is a question for the city, ‘Are we going to go back, stand still or move forward?’”

Looking at the 2014 race, Stintz predicted it will focus on pocketbook issues.

“People are still worried about their finances so they need to know that city hall is continuing to look out for them and their interests,” she said.

“We need to restore confidence in city hall and make sure people are confident that we are respecting their dollars but we also need to continue to make their lives easier – making decisions on transit, building transit, making sure that businesses want to come here, making sure our tax rate isn’t too high.”

A Ford versus Stintz match up has been brewing throughout the current council term.

Although Stintz was Ford’s hand-picked TTC chair in 2010, she quickly found herself at odds with the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford.

Back in 2012, Stintz led council against Ford in a bid to revive Transit City. She lost a fight with the Ford administration to save TTC chief general manager Gary Webster’s job but successfully orchestrated a council coup to dump Ford-friendly transit commissioners. Late last year, she led a move to restart the debate over the Scarborough LRT, setting up this year’s debate over the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway. That debate had Stintz and Ford on the same side, both voting for the subway over the light rail project to replace the Scarborough RT.

Ford shared the win with Stintz following the Scarborough subway victory at council.

“We worked as a team, we have our differences but at the end of the day the people of Scarborough got the subway. We marched it down field and scored the touchdown when it counted,” Ford said.

But, the Fords have also lashed out at Stintz in the past.

Earlier this year, Doug Ford lamented the decision to appoint Stintz as TTC chair.

“The biggest mistake we ever did was put her in the TTC,” he said.
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Friday, October 25, 2013

What Yorkville looked like when it was still a village

toronto yorkville villageIt's tough to picture the tony streets of Yorkville as a pastoral independent village north of Toronto, but it was once so. Before Hermes, Gucci, and Prada, Yorkville was populated by Jarvises and Bloores, by blacksmiths and painters, "cabin'd, cribb'd, and confined within its narrow limits."
It was here, north of the first concession road, now Bloor Street, that William Jarvis, the owner of the lush 120-acre Rosedale estate, and Joseph Bloore, a brewer with property in the area, would 130 years ago sow the seeds of a new community, the first Toronto commuter suburb and the city's first annexation.
toronto bloor jarvisThe most famous image of Yorkville co-founder Joseph Bloore is a difficult one to forget. Clad in a smart suit and large bow tie, Bloore stares - positively pierces - with eyes bleached white by an unfortunate overexposure. His manic, bewildered expression and crop of wild blonde hair makes him look like a lost cousin of the Addams Family.
Bloore - now Bloor - was born in Staffordshire, England and arrived in York around 1818. He owned and ran the Farmers' Arms pub near the St. Lawrence Market for more than a decade before switching to alcohol production at a purpose built brewery built a the neck of the Rosedale Ravine.
He dammed the sparkling creek that once flowed along the floor of the valley, forming a large pond popular with skaters, and built a red two-storey brick building with a steep pitched roof and water wheel for processing his product. Just up the north wall of the valley lay the sprawling Rosedale estate of Sheriff William Botsford Jarvis.
toronto yorkville villageJarvis was an important member of society in early Toronto. As the elected sheriff of the Home District, an early sub-region that included York, he would later temporarily snuff out an uprising against the close-knit group in charge of Upper Canada, the Family Compact. The Upper Canada Rebellion culminated in a bloody battle at Montgomery's Tavern just north of Yonge and Eglinton, presently the home of Postal Station K.
Jarvis and Bloore both dabbled in land speculation and worked to lay out the earliest parts of the village of Yorkville, just west of Yonge. At the time, the little community would have been no more than few simple homes surrounded by open land. Yonge Street served as the only connection to Toronto and the principle transit route for the horse-drawn carriages of William's Omnibus Line, an early transit provider that ran shuttles from the St. Lawrence Market.
The town was incorporated in 1852 and elected its first council the same year. The inaugural group of leaders consisted of a brewer (John Severn,) a butcher (Peter Hutty,) a carpenter (Thomas Atkinson,) a blacksmith (James Wallis,) and a builder, James Dobson, as reeve. Their professions and initials became the basis of the town's coat of arms, which is still visible on several buildings, including the Yorkville Fire Hall.
toronto yorkville mapIn 1858, English builder George Tate was in charge of erecting the town's parish church. During his time in Canada he helped build the Don Jail at Gerrard and Broadview and worked to lay the tracks of the Grand Trunk Railway east to Quebec. In his spare time, Tate liked to collect watercolours of the streets and houses in Yorkville and Toronto.
His friend and architect Edward Radford sketched domestic interiors and painted scenes typical of the area: men cutting wood, the first golden leaves of fall, speeding horse-drawn carriages, gardeners tending to flowers. His family would later assemble Tate's collection of Radford watercolours and anonymous sketches, possibly his own, into a book that provides a tantalizing glimpse at everyday village life in Yorkville and the images for this post.
toronto yorkville villageThe white wood frame of St. Paul's Anglican Church, Yorkville's first place of workship, was hammered together near Yonge and Church on land donated by Samuel Peters Jarvis, the namesake of the north-south street, in 1842. Its design was prepared Canada's official surveyor and civil engineer, John George Howard, one of the major land donors that helped create High Park.
Despite its simple appearance, raising the 85-foot spire posed a significant engineering challenge for the builders of the day. According to Yorkville In Pictures, a booklet produced by the Toronto Public Library by Stephanie Hutcheson, it consisted of four tree-length pieces of timber turned on end.
Just 18 years later, owing to the rapid growth in the area, the original St. Paul's was at capacity and members of the congregation were forced to stand. A new, larger church was built elsewhere and the first building, barely 20 years old, demolished.
toronto yorkville villageYorkville had its own water works, town hall, fire hall, and cemetery, the York General Burying Ground, more commonly known as Potter's Field, located on a grassy plain at the northwest corner of Bloor and Yonge. The non-sectarian burial ground was funded by a group of citizens concerned about the limited options for non-religious burials in the Toronto area.
As Jamie Bradburn recalls in history of Potter's Field, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic faiths were well endowed with places of rest. For anyone not of a religious bent, poor, sick, or otherwise maligned, the options were scant. Many were turned away for fear their interred remains would somehow taint sacred soil.
Potter's Field became a popular burial ground and was at capacity by the late 1840s. The site was closed in 1855 and the remains of 6,685 people were moved to Toronto Necropolis, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, or to other locations arranged by living relatives.
Almost two-thirds of the dead went unclaimed, stalling the sale of the land for more than 20 years. As a result, the uncollected bodies were ultimately fated to be scooped up and mixed together - skulls, ribcages, and all - and reburied in a common grave at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in 1876.
toronto yorkville villageThe off-white bricks of King Street's St. Lawrence Hall, St. Michael's Cathedral, St. James Cathedral, and University College all owe their look to Yorkville's biggest industrial concern, the Yorkville Brick Yards.
From a series of pits under today's Ramsden Park, workers chipped at the ancient sand deposits left by the shoreline of ancient Lake Iroquois, a larger version of today's Lake Ontario that once lapped at the base of the hill north of Davenport Road.
Above ground, the clay and gritty soil was pressed into bricks and fired in giant kilns with the factory's other product, ceramic tiles. Clouds of white smoke from the fires can be seen rising over the tree-lined residential streets in pictures of the plant.
toronto yorkville villageApart from the brick yards, the Yorkville of the mid-19th century was mostly quiet and residential. The community was an ideal outpost for people who preferred to live away from the clamour of Toronto, which at the time was largely confined to a few blocks directly adjacent to the lakeshore.
The people that staffed the village's stores, tended to its gardens, and made its furniture were mostly middle-class and of British descent. In 1870, roughly half the population were born in the British Isles - the rest in Ontario. Stephanie Hutcheson records labourers, painters, blacksmiths, bookbinders, timekeepers, and shoemakers living on Birch Avenue.
They paid low taxes - a point of pride at the town hall - but as a result the vital infrastructure was left lacking. Most of the homes had no plumbing and water was gathered from Yonge Street.
When Toronto annexed the community in 1883 it became officially known as St. Paul's Ward. The takeover heralded an important improvement in services and triggered the town's metamorphosis from rural village, to Victorian residential neighbourhood, to hippy hangout, and finally to Toronto's nexus of glitz, glamor, and sky-high real estate prices.
If they could return for a day, the village's residents would never recognize the place they used to call home.
toronto yorkville villageA sketch of the Yorkville skyline in 1858.
toronto yorkville villageThe exterior of Yorkville House.
toronto yorkville villageInterior of Yorkville House.
toronto yorkville villageA sketch of lunch at Davenport.
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