Saturday, August 30, 2014

A night with a Toronto's TAVIS rapid response team

TORONTO - On the surface, it’s just another quiet night in a relatively safe summer that is quickly winding down.

But TAVIS — Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy — rapid response teams seek out the ever-present trouble that lurks beneath the surface, so for these Toronto officers there’s rarely a dull moment.

And these days they face the added challenge of dealing with angry bystanders — unfortunate fallout from the recent police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., as well as last summer’s Sammy Yatim killing and lingering animosity from the G20 in 2010 — which is apparent during a ride-along last week.

“We are the pointy end of the stick,” Toronto Police Sgt. Mark Hayward explains as we hit the street Friday night.

His 16-member team is one of four TAVIS RRTs that take turns patrolling the city, bouncing around from division to division, pro-actively hunting bad guys.

And once their cars are spotted in a neighbourhood, the smart criminals tend to lay low.

“It all about high visibility,” Hayward says as we cruise around Rexdale, scoping out known trouble spots.

Rival gangs in government housing projects such as Jamestown and Mount Olive have been feuding recently and his team aims to keep the bangers’ guns at bay.

The evening starts out slow enough with a seemingly routine vehicle stop on Islington Ave., just north of Albion Rd.

Officers search the Chrysler 300 and find two baggies, which they suspect had contained marijuana, and one of the three occupants has a wad of cash.

They also discover a baseball bat tucked in the backseat. The three men are handcuffed briefly while cops investigate.

The driver admits to officers he keeps the bat close by for “protection” because “it’s a rough neighbourhood.”

Turns out he was stabbed in the face six weeks earlier.

While the team is suspicious, they let the men go without weapons dangerous charges and without the bat.

The officers then seize an opportunity for a positive encounter with the public when they spot six-year-old Jayce Kelly and his twin sister, Kara, out for a stroll with their grandmother.

They allow the youngsters to peak inside their cruiser and share a laugh before hitting the road again.

As we head into the Jane-Finch area, Hayward chuckles at the mention of how quiet it’s been this summer.

“It’s no summer of the gun, but I wouldn’t say it’s been quiet,” Hayward says, explaining much of the violence his team sees doesn’t make headlines.

There have been no shootings like the one at the Eaton Centre in June 2012, which saw two gang bangers killed and five innocent bystanders wounded, or the one on Danzig St. a few weeks later that left two dead and 23 injured.

“But we did have that double shooting outside of the C Lounge just a few days ago,” Hayward pointed out, referring to the incident Tuesday in the Entertainment District.

A 25-year-old man survived despite being shot five times. But Jelena Loncar, 31, was hit by a single stray bullet and died.

“She was an innocent young woman minding her own business and she got killed,” Hayward said.

We chat further about the lack of heat waves this summer and how that may have minimized the gunplay.

“When it’s hot, people are out and tempers tend to flare,” Hayward says. “So the weather has definitely been our ally.”

The tension rises just before midnight when two officers who had been watching suspected drug dealing in Yorkwoods Plaza suddenly become engaged in a foot pursuit.

A young man approaches their unmarked vehicle, looks inside and shouts “police” to alert others in the area. The youth takes off and the chase is on.

The call comes over the radio letting the team know the teen has run across the street into Turf Grassway — a housing complex they were warned about in their briefing earlier as a potential danger zone for cops.

Hayward and the other team members race to back up their fellow officers.

Suddenly we’re travelling up Jane St. at 120 km/h, emergency lights flashing. Hayward brakes hard to make a sharp turn, then heads around to the back of the complex hoping to cut off the fleeing teen.

The smell of burning rubber and brake pads fills the cruiser.

The team tracks the suspect down almost immediately. But he turns out to be “a decoy.”

When we pull into Yorkwoods Plaza afterward, Hayward learns the suspected drug dealers took off while his team was chasing the teen. The youth is arrested for obstruction.

One of the suspected dealers return to the plaza soon after and officers talk to him, careful not to rile the crowd gathered out front of a nearby restaurant.

The man is on probation for trafficking and he’s carrying “a blunt.” But it’s such a small amount of drugs that officers cut him loose.

Then, as the team gets set to do a walk-through at Turf Grassway, they suddenly become involved in another foot pursuit.

Officers spot a group of four teens, one of whom appears to be clutching his waistband as though he might have a gun. They approach the boys to talk and they take off.

Still catching their breath from the earlier incident, the team springs into action again.

Hayward spins his tires and turns into a townhouse complex. This time his cut-off move works.

Two of the teens are caught like deer in his headlights.

The suspects quickly glance around to see officers moving in from every direction, guns drawn, ordering them to “get down on the ground.”

The teens put their hands up and drop to the ground. The officers quickly move in and slap handcuffs on their wrists.

The situation goes from bad to worse though as several angry women, who witnessed the gunpoint takedown, begin screaming at the officers.

“Leave them alone, they’re just kids,” one women shouted. “You tackled them for no reason.”

Still unsure if one of the teens is armed with a gun, Hayward and his partner, Sgt. Peter Karagan, are now forced to take time out to calm the women down.

But their yelling draws residents of a nearby highrise out onto their balconies. Then suddenly “smash,” a glass bottle crashes to the ground nearby.

It’s a potentially volatile situation, but the TAVIS team takes it all in stride — just another day on the job.

The canine unit is called in to search the area in case one of the teens tossed a gun, but no firearm is found.

Hayward said one of the suspects, 17, later told officers “he ran because he was afraid.”

The teen’s concerned mom, who had just come home from working a midnight shift, showed up at the scene to find her son in the back of a police car.

“He’s a good boy,” the woman said, as Hayward filled her on what happened.

“If he and his friends had just stopped when the officers approached, we would have talked to them briefly and sent them on their way,” he explained. “Instead, we’ve now wasted an-hour-and-a-half dealing with this.”

Meanwhile, other TAVIS officers had a good talk with the teens, “dusted them off” and sent them on their way.

“That’s sometimes just as important as the take down,” Hayward said. “When we’re dealing with kids who are polite and respectful, as these guys were, we want to try to make sure they leave on a positive note so that hopefully the next time they don’t run from us.”

He said police have had a tough time with some citizens lately, especially since the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson — an incident that has nothing to do with Toronto officers.

“Unfortunately there are some people who have an opinion of us and there’s nothing we can do to change their minds,” Hayward said. “But we do what we can.”
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Toronto's new streetcars of old

TORONTO - Since the creation of the new municipally owned TTC on Sept. 1, 1921 (a major improvement over the virtually uncontrollable, privately owned Toronto Railway Company), the commission has acquired a wide variety of electric streetcars.

Over the years, the TTC’s equipment would include old and “long in the tooth” vehicles acquired from the defunct TRC as well as new and, at the time, state of the art “Peter Witt” motors and trailers and the ultra-modern Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) cars soon after they were introduced.

Added to the mix were 205 second-hand vehicles purchased from a variety of American cities (Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio, Birmingham, Alabama and Kansas City, Missouri). These communities had decided the streetcar had outlived its usefulness. Interestingly, several of these cities (and a number of others) have subsequently decided the electric streetcar is not the “dinosaur” as they had once regarded it and, in fact, are building brand new electric lines.

And so it was in keeping with long held public transit traditions that took place in 1921, 1938, 1979 and again in 1988 that the TTC is introducingTorontonians to their newest streetcar at a public event at Spadina Station on Sunday.

The pictures accompanying this column depict several of those earlier Toronto streetcar introductions.
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Friday, August 29, 2014

A key day in Toronto's TTC history

TORONTO - A new era in the history of Toronto will begin Sunday and driving and commuting in Toronto will never be the same.

The TTC will roll out its new street-trains Sunday.

You can call them new streetcars but these are 30-metres long compared to the traditional 15-metre cars or the 23-metre versions with the accordion in the middle.

The current streetcars have two doors, the articulated versions have three. The new ones have four.

They will first be used on the 510 Spadina route and expand to other routes from there.

Some are calling this a new age streetcar but they are trains.

I leaned on TTC spokesman Brad Ross to help me out with the stats and, as usual, he was dynamite in providing them. That guy is a gem and on the good days or bad days always does his job with such professionalism. He tells me the new streetcars will be able to seat 180 people and handle 250 seated and standing at rush hour, if necessary. The current streetcars can take on 140 both standing and seated and we all know how much fun that is.

The jury is out on these things. People must keep an open mind and see how the integrate into current Toronto life.

The big test starts Sunday.

It is going to be interesting to watch how these new trains work out. It’s going to be especially interesting when it comes to trying to get past one on the road or when they come through intersections.

We will have to get used to them since Brad tells me the $1.2 billion order for the new street trains “will replace the existing fleet (of 247 of the current cars) in totality.”

If that works itself out OK, they may be embraced by everybody — particularly those who are tired of being jammed into the old ones.

But if they clog up the roads and run into problems with people being in danger from passing traffic with those extra doors this could turn out to be a hot election issue for sure.

Stay tuned. Times are changing at the TTC and on the streets of Toronto, too.
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jesus in the City parade back on

TORONTO - Praise Jesus, it looks like the parade is back on.

Sources tell the Toronto Sun that an arrangement has been worked out between organizers of the cancelled Jesus in the City parade and City of Toronto staff.

“We are optimistic the parade is going to happen Sept. 6 as originally scheduled,” Dr. Charles McVety, of Canada Christian College, said Thursday.

Citing road construction around Queen’s Park as the problem, city staff had decided to pull the permit for the parade, which was expecting 10,000 revellers.

“In view of the circumstances, the Street Events section of Transportation Services cannot approve your request to assemble the parade floats and have parade participants form up along Queen’s Park,” the city’s Rita Hoy wrote Friday to parade organizers.

The group tried to persuade the city to offer another route but, up until Thursday, they were told this was not possible.

Enter Mayor Rob Ford, who told the Sun he wanted the parade back on and called a meeting of all involved.

“He was animated” and vocal, McVety said of the mayor. “He made it clear to city staff he wanted to find a solution.”

Before noon Thursday, that solution was worked out.

“There are still some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed but the parade is back on with an alternative route,” McVety said.

The route will now begin on Rosedale Valley Rd., make its way to Church St. and over to Bay St., then wind up at Queen’s Park.

“We are fine with that,” McVety said. “We have so many people coming in from out of town and others who have built floats that we are grateful this has been resolved.”
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Louder, faster air show lands at the 2014 Toronto CNE

TORONTO - It’s for the love of aviation.

The 65th annual Canadian International Air Show returns to the CNE this weekend with some of the world’s most powerful and aerobatic planes.

Models from the past and present will heat up the skies over Toronto and the shores of Lake Ontario.

“There is really something here for everyone … and they are going to be louder and faster in the skies,” Jennifer Brown, executive director at the air show, said Thursday.

The C-123 Provider, or the ‘Thunder Pig’ — known for its background as a military heavy-lift aircraft — was one of several air crafts that flew into Pearson airport Sky Service Aviation Thursday to offer a preview of what the crowds will see.

Canada’s “icons of the air,” the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, will also be in flight to excite fans with their high-speed aerial performance and wild aerobatic artistry.

But the most exciting to watch might be the CF 18 Hornet — Canada’s frontline fighter and the only current war aircraft to fly in the show.

“I will fly it just shy of the speed of sound for spectators this weekend,” Capt. Adam Runge said.

This year’s event, running Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 1-4 p.m., is also honouring the centennial anniversary of the First World War.

There is a unique nostalgia for veterans, including WWII vet Cyril Weston, 93, to hear the sounds of the planes.

“I was down on the south coast of England and remember the Germans coming in across the south of France and you’d hear the drones as they come in,” Weston said amid the old and new fighter planes Thursday. nto Sun, continues from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday to Monday, the CNE’s last day.
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Toronto Councillor Lindsay Luby calling it quits after 11 elections

TORONTO - Veteran Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby is calling it quits after 11 elections.

Lindsay Luby announced at the start of Thursday’s council meeting — the last meeting of the 2010-14 term — that she was retiring.

“I have come to the difficult conclusion of not running again,” Lindsay Luby told council. “I’ve enjoyed being fulfilled by my many years of public service. It has given me a lot and I hope in turn I’ve given a lot to my community.”

Lindsay Luby was first elected as a school board trustee in 1978. She went on to run for Etobicoke council and win in 1985. She was elected as a Toronto city councillor in 1997 and went on to win the next four elections.

In her farewell speech to council, Lindsay Luby talked about the importance of municipal government and how she’s enjoyed the independence of being a councillor rather than an MPP or MP in a party system.

“As some people have learned you can’t push me around because I push back — many people have learned that,” Lindsay Luby said.

The Etobicoke Centre (Ward 4) councillor also encouraged councillors to “remember the letter ‘i’” as they continue to serve at City Hall.

“The letter ‘i’ stands for integrity and if you do not have integrity then you shouldn’t be here,” she said.

With her retirement announcement, Lindsay Luby also endorsed Niels Christensen to replace her.

Councillor Peter Leon — who was appointed by council last year to replace former councillor Doug Holyday — ended months of speculation Thursday and confirmed he won’t be running for council this fall. Leon had promised council he wouldn’t run to keep the seat if he was appointed.

“Today standing before you I confirm that I will and continue to remain a man of my word,” Leon said. “Councillors you have allowed me to truly live my dream ... it has been a true honour.”

Councillors Mike Del Grande, Karen Stintz, Doug Ford and recently appointed Councillors Ceta Ramkhalawansingh and James Maloney are also not running again.

All five delivered farewell speeches to council as well on Thursday.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Council honours Nelson Mandela with ceremonial street name

TORONTO - Nelson Mandela Blvd. is coming to Toronto.

Council voted unanimously Wednesday to ceremonially dedicate University Ave. as Nelson Mandela Blvd. There was no debate on the issue.

The name of the street will officially remain University Ave. but signs will be installed from Front St. W. to College St. with the ceremonial name to honour the South African leader.

Wednesday’s council vote also directs staff to have the signs in place before the first anniversary of Mandela’s death on Dec. 5.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Terror as bullets fly in deadly double shooting in front of Toronto's C Lounge nightclub

TORONTO - A night of partying ended with a terrifying last call.

“We heard gunshots and then saw everyone running towards us shouting ‘people are getting shot,’” 23-year-old Stephanie Lusk recalled Tuesday, hours after a double shooting around 3 a.m. in front of C Lounge nightclub on Wellington St. W. near Portland St.

“They were screaming at us to run,” she said.

Jelena Loncar, 31, was found across the street from the club with a single bullet wound. She was rushed to hospital where was pronounced dead, Toronto Police said.

A 25-year-old male victim was shot up to six times and taken to hospital in critical condition.

The man stumbled to the Shell gas station at Spadina Ave., where 911 was called.

Toronto Police Det. Robert Choe said police have yet to determine if the victims were patrons of the club, but said police were reviewing “an abundance” of surveillance footage from the area.

The male victim was known to police, Choe said, adding detectives have not yet determined if the victims were known to each other or if either of them was targeted.

“Anything is possible and that is one of the avenues we are going to explore but ... the investigation is still in its infancy so that is tough to determine at this point,” he said.

The Chronicle Herald in Halifax identified the man as Tremaine Nigel Fraser, a former Cape Breton University basketball star. Toronto Police would not confirm or deny the report Tuesday night.

A police dog was brought in to try to find the gun used in the shooting and police spent Tuesday canvassing the neighbourhood for witnesses.

Several vehicles of interest, including a black Range Rover and a black Mercedes Kompressor, remained at the scene Tuesday afternoon.

C Lounge had been hosting its weekly industry night where restaurant and bar staff are invited to party, usually at discounted rates.

“I heard about 5–7 rapid shots and then we saw the crowd running towards us,” said 43-year-old Jason Krawchuck — who had been roughly 60 metres from the shooting.

“I saw one man speeding away in a cab with his head out the windows yelling, ‘That was my friend, that was my friend.’”

Police are asking anyone with information to contact homicide detectives at 416-808-7400 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).
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Hwy. 427 to be expanded at Steeles

TORONTO - The Ontario government is planning a major overhaul of a seven-kilometre section of Hwy. 427.

The project, to be conducted over the next three years, will involve infrastructure work on the highway between Campus Rd.-Fasken Dr. to Steeles Ave. in north Etobicoke and will include a lane expansion from five to eight. It was also involved the addition of one High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane running in each direction.

According to the Ministry of Transportation, the project will cost $83 million and be completed by the fall of 2017. it will also include eight bridge repairs and the installation of new lighting and median barriers.

The project will create or sustain 830 construction jobs, the government said.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca insisted the project will not only relieve congestion in that area of the GTA, but will also be a positive step when it comes to the big picture of GTA infrastructure improvement.

“I think it’s part of a larger piece,” Del Duca said Tuesday. “It will definitely help here in the west end ... of the GTA. I use the 427 on a regular basis, and many people in my own community do as well.”

He said both the lane expansion and the addition of the HOV lanes will help ease congestion.

Ministry observations show that “the use continues to increase, and that HOV lanes provide substantial time savings during” rush hour, Del Duca said.

The HOV lanes, which are lanes separate from the others and designated for cars with at least two people, commercial vehicles, motorcycles and taxis, could one day end up being High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, he added.

“The work that’s going to take place here ... (could) essentially permit the future changing or transforming of these HOV lanes to HOT in terms of what’s needed from an electrical and technical standpoint,” Del Duca said. “The province does plan to move forward with introducing HOT lanes.

“We certainly need to do some more work on exactly where they need to be placed, but certainly there are studies that demonstrate that HOT lanes have the dual benefit of both providing revenue (and) also helping with driver behaviour and reducing congestion.”
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Seeing red over pink at Toronto City Hall

TORONTO - Pink, my ruby red ass.

Pinko is more like it.

What’s with these clowns? They waste our time with schoolyard bravado — and don’t even have the decency to blush.

Yet they wonder why voters roll their eyes and elect rebellious ruffians like Rob Ford. Could it be the hard-working citizenry has had it up to the teeth with Silly Hall?

If you chance upon this week’s council conflab, the last before the Oct. 27 vote, you likely will see red, especially if you are a citizen of Ford Nation.

The posturing and pontification explains how a crack-smoking party fiend with shady pals and a potty mouth, who recently crawled out of rehab, can have a decent shot at reelection.

First thing Monday, there was the Pink Lady, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, spiffy in pink blouse and scarf to “commemorate the end of Rob Ford as Toronto’s worst mayor ever.”

Well, as I understand it, you lowly voters will decide in two months if it’s the end of Rob Ford, though Ms Wong-Tam is free to hope and dream.

Councillors Janet Davis (pink blazer), Mike Layton (tie), Gord Perks (shirt), Maria Augimeri (dress), Paula Fletcher (spectacles), Sarah Doucette (ensemble), Ana Bailao (shawl), and Pam McConnell (bathrobe?!) joined the impromptu pink parade in council chambers.

They stood out like sore pinkies.

Mayor Ford — who has seen more than his share of pink elephants — seemed to bask in reflected mockery. His face glowed pink, presumably for good health and a lack of vodka and other substances.

A few folks accidentally wore pink, including one policy adviser to the mayor.

I asked Councillor Wong-Tam: Why pink?

She reminds me it’s the official hue of anti-bullying campaigns, for which Ford is the poster boy among many councillors.

To paraphrase Don Cherry, it is also the official colour of Commie pinkos.

In keeping with the theme, our beloved leaders named a street after Marxist martyr Salvador Allende, president of Chile in the early 1970s.

The unanimous vote included that of Councillor Paula Fletcher, no surprise since she is a former leader of Manitoba’s Communist party.

But Rob Ford?

The motion was vaguely titled “naming of proposed public street at 1145 Ossington Ave.” — no mention of Salvador Allende — which helps explain why even our mayor, that anti-pinko, voted for it, as is usually automatic with items from community councils.

So Salvador Allende Court will appear in a west-end townhouse development. Take Fidel Castro Crescent to Lenin Lane, past Mao Ave., then make a hard left.

Other weighty matters on the table this week, before the politicos fan out in a bid to convince us they’re not all numbskulls, include battling raccoons, e-cigarettes and misogynistic songs like O Canada.

Councillors are really sucking up, with a whopping 400 motions and endless speeches about how we are better off since they got elected.

But back to the local pinkos.

You know, nothing screams “look at me! me! me!” like pink.

Elvis knew this, and drove a pink Cadillac. The flamboyant Cherry knows this, too, as does his tailor. Cherry famously wore flowery pink at Ford’s swearing-in, a lifetime of videos ago.

For Elvis and Don the Swan, pink works. It’s extravagant. It’s hot.

But would you want Mssrs. Presley and Cherry running City Hall? (Hey, Strobe, not a bad idea ...)

The likes of Wong-Tam, Davis and Fletcher constantly harp on the Ford Brothers Circus, yet stage their own sideshows, such as the pink protest.

You get to decide if that warrants pink slips all ‘round.
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City of Toronto won't bend for Jesus parade

TORONTO - Who would have thought even Jesus can’t beat Toronto’s traffic gridlock and red tape?

And, even though his name has been taken in vain before thanks to road construction, who would have ever thought the son of God’s supporters would be told they can’t revel thanks to street repairs?

Only in Toronto.

It seems, thanks to work around Queen’s Park, the permit for the 15th annual Jesus in the City Parade Sept. 6 has been yanked by the city.

“In view of the circumstances, the Street Events section of Transportation Services cannot approve your request to assemble the parade floats and have parade participants form up along Queen’s Park,” Transportation Services’ Rita Hoy wrote on Friday. “Shawn Dartsch from our traffic section indicates that he cannot approve this request as everything hinges on the construction.”

But organizers have a printed poster circulated, people are coming from out of town and it was supposed to be a celebratory 15th year of the event, which draws about 10,000 people and starts at Queen’s Park, goes along Bloor St. to Yonge, and then back.

Needless to say, the last-minute notice has left the worshippers stunned and others with plane tickets to Toronto with no event to attend.

“We were really upset by this,” said Dr. Charles McVety, of Canada Christian College. “We have been planning for the whole year and just weeks before the event, notice comes to cancel it. It’s shocking.”

To add insult to injury, McVety and Jesus in the City organizer Ayanna Solomon question why the city hasn’t helped with an alternative route.

“It is a sad day in this city when a parade for peace and love, Jesus in the City, is cancelled by city officials,” said McVety. “They would never do this to (the Caribbean Carnival) or the Pride Parade.”

He’s right about that.

Or the Santa Claus Parade, any of the dozens of bike events, marathons or open streets, yoga classes or festivals.

What gives? The city never heard of a detour?

Director of Transportation Services Jacqueline White said, “Unfortunately it was not possible, logistically, to accommodate the sheer number of people that were expected to participate, on the date requested, on Queen’s Park Crescent,” which is being “resurfaced, and there would be ongoing lane closures and construction equipment present.

“The weekend requested also conflicts with orientation activities at the University of Toronto and it is the opening weekend of the Toronto Film Festival, which often has activities on Bloor St.”

She also said an “event of this size requires significant advance planning, and co-ordination with other events, road work, etc. Given all of the other activities already planned for this year, we were unable to find an alternative location or date that would meet their needs” and that “Toronto Police Services and others have been working with the organizers of this parade to try and accommodate them since they submitted their application at the beginning of June of this year.”

McVety said assertions they were late in the planning are outrageous.

“The formal request was submitted Feb. 22, not in June,” said McVety, who backed it up with a document dated Feb. 22. “It’s not like it’s a surprise to the city. It’s our 15th year.”

He also said there is no reason why they can’t work around the construction and have their event, just like TIFF will be able to do or an event for the 100th anniversary of the Princess Patricia’s.

That people take over the streets routinely for protest or otherwise but the city with all its smart and well-paid people can’t find a compromise for Christ is ludicrous and unacceptable.

But to outright cancel the event may be the easier thing for the 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday city workers to do, but it’s just plain bureaucratic laziness when it comes to working with the public, who they are here to serve.

“Christians are being slaughtered around the world and now persecuted at home,” said McVety. “Toronto used to be known as Toronto the Good, now it is Toronto the intolerant of good.”

Will Jesus overcome this challenge? He turned water into wine and organizers are confident he will make sure this parade happens too.

Stay tuned because the Lord works in mysterious ways and Jesus has risen before.
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Man charged after cars torched in North York

Car owners in a quiet North York neighbourhood may sleep a little better now that Toronto Police have arrested a man for a rash of vehicle fires.

A 30-year-old Toronto man was charged with five counts of arson on Sunday.

Two of the charges stem from cars which were allegedly set ablze in the Jane St.-Wilson Ave. area early Sunday. The other three charges relate to vehicle fires in the same neighbourhood on Aug. 10.

Fire trucks responded to two vehicle fires and one bush fire just streets apart from each other in the area between 1:45 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Sunday.

“It could’ve been anybody’s car,” said resident Mario Caporiccio, who’s friend’s Hyundai was torched Sunday.

The Hyundai was charred in the driveway behind him with the smell of burnt rubber lingering in the air.

“The seats are all burned out,” he said. “There’s nothing left of the car.”

No one inside the home heard anything until the fire was put out, he said.

Another resident — who did not want to be identified — said he and others in a backyard noticed a man in his 30s acting strangely in the neighbourhood and holding a lighter before fleeing around 2 a.m. Sunday.

“There were a lot of eye witnesses in the area and as a result of that, the individual was located at his residence,” Sgt. Tim Daley said.

“There’s nothing to indicate or suggest that anyone’s been targeted,” he added. “It appears to be more of a random act of arson.”

On Aug. 10,, four vehicles were damaged after three were set on fire in the same neighbourhood. Police confirmed the man faces charges related to those incidents and is considered a person of interest in other incidents.

Police did not identify the accused man.
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Canada's National Anthem antics at Toronto City Hall

Glad to see our city fathers are finally tackling pressing local issues, such as O Canada.

Potholes? Pshaw! Transit? Yawn! Taxes? Meh!

Lucky for us, Councillors Pam McConnell, sufficiently recovered from her rumble with Rob Ford, and Ceta Ramkhalawansingh — who? — have risen above such trifles.

They know it’s not gridlock, housing or the waterfront that folks in their wards are worried about — it’s the words to our national anthem.

So they want their fellows, and fellowettes, on council to demand Ottawa change “in all thy sons command” to something more neutered. I mean neutral.

“Half the population of the country is female and we ought to be included in our national symbols,” Ramkhalawansingh told the Toronto Sun.

She’s absolutely right, of course.

Like you, I am sick and tired of seeing only male moose on souvenir t-shirts.

(Please, NO jokes about beavers.)

And why must the Mounties always get their man?

Chop down the CN Tower while you’re at it. Too phallic. Too damn male.

Thy sons, indeed. It’s embarrassing.

If and when Prince Charles takes over from his mom, Canada’s gender balance will go completely out of whack. Your little missus will get all hurt and whiny and hysterical.

So better that Toronto city council fixes O Canada while there’s still time.

Ramkhalawansingh, McConnell and other sisters of the Sing All of Us movement have suggested switching “in all thy sons command” to a much earlier rendition’s “thou dust in us command.”

What, really?! Sounds suspiciously like a command to dust. Housewives and cleaning ladies won’t like that.

(Editor’s note: DOST, you sexist idiot, not dust. Dost is old English for “do.”)

Great. Just what city council needs. Another dost-up!

Thank goodness Ramkhalawansingh and McConnell have jumped into the fray. It’s why you elected them. (Actually Ramkhalawansingh was appointed to replace Adam Vaughan in ward 20, but it’s the thought that counts.)

The likes of author Margaret Atwood and former PM Kim Campbell also are Sing All of Us crusaders, but they are just ordinary, anonymous, hard-working private citizens like you.

You need politicians on your side to get anything done in this country.

Clearly it’s the duty of municipal leaders to spend time and energy on neighbourhood dilemmas like the national anthem. Always has been.

In 1990, for instance, the old Metro council asked Ottawa to edit “thy sons command” but also “home and native land,” as offensive to immigrants.

“Home and cherished land,” then-councillor Howard Moscoe suggested.

I forget how the male chauvinist pigs on Parliament Hill responded. “Piss off,” or something equally primitive.

I wish Ms. Ramkhalawansingh and Ms. McConnell better luck.

Frankly, Canada and its symbols are riddled with gender bias. This urgently needs to be rooted out before our City Hall can turn to such mundane matters as construction mayhem, the Pan Am Games, the Gardiner, the Sony Centre or (snore!) city councillors’ expenses.

How can council, in good conscience, waste time and energy on DVP flooding when we are forced to warble “thy sons’ command” at Blue Jays games?

(Of course, you don’t have to sing those words. You can croon “thou dost in us command.” No one’s going to throw you out. Hell, you can sing Yankee Doodle Dandy, if it suits you, as long as it doesn’t throw the rest of us off-key.)

I hope Ramkhalawansingh and McConnell don’t stop at O Canada. The Lord’s Prayer is a bit sticky, too. “Our parent, who art in heaven...?”

Don’t be shocked if city council next week supports the dynamic duo’s motion.

A finer collection of social engineers and guardians of “inclusiveness” you never did see. Be proud of them.

Once they shake the gender bias out of the national anthem, they can turn to other dire local issues.

Such as Canada’s involvement in the next mission to Mars.
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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Toronto councilor Augimeri broke code of conduct, integrity commish rules

TORONTO - The city’s integrity commissioner has ruled Councillor Maria Augimeri broke the code of conduct when she called one of her election rivals a “criminal” despite the fact he doesn’t have a criminal record.

But Janet Leiper wants council to vote next week to pay up to $5,000 to reimburse costs to Gus Cusimano — who is running against Augimeri in Ward 9 again this year — from council’s general expense budget.

According to Leiper’s report, Cusimano filed a complaint back in March after Augimeri called him a “criminale” in an article in an Italian-language daily newspaper.

Leiper concludes that the comment — which is untrue — breaches council’s code of conduct but recommends no further sanction against Augimeri because she provided a retraction and apology for the comment to be published in the newspaper and provided an apology to Cusimano.

Augimeri pointed out the integrity commissioner found that she resolved the issue.

“It seems the only reason this is on the council agenda is for Mr. Cusimano to collect a taxpayer payout,” Augimeri said in an e-mail. “Last time I checked, an integrity commissioner complaint costs nothing to file, nor requires a lawyer.”

In an interview, Cusimano — who lost to Augimeri in 2010 — denied he wants a “taxpayer payout” and argued Augimeri should have to pay, not taxpayers.

“I think she should pay it,” he said. “I don’t think taxpayers should pay it at all, I think she should pay for it out of her own pocket, after all, the words came out of her mouth.

“She’s the one that made this false statement … so she should step up to the plate and pay for it out of her own pocket.”

Asked why she made the comment, Augimeri said it was “made in reference to the fact that Mr. Cusimano was charged with election related offences.”

She pointed out Cusimano pleaded guilty to breaching the Municipal Elections Act by voting for himself in a ward that he didn’t live in.

“Law breakers should not be law makers,” Augimeri stated. “My constituents were upset at his hypocrisy and I was expressing their concerns in an Italian newspaper. A better word could have been used, but I have since resolved it.”

In response to Augimeri’s statement, Cusimano said, “She can twist it anyway she wants to twist it.

“I’m the one who has been putting my hand in my pocket to try to make sure that elections are run fairly,” he said.

“You know what? People in the ward are telling me we need change in the ward ... that’s what I’m hearing at the doors.

“What is she talking about? If she felt that her statement was true she would not have apologized. Obviously, she did. For her to twist it, it’s laughable.”
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Toronto Councillor wants to target motorcycle noise

TORONTO - Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam wants staff to look at ways to crack down on “excessive motorcycle noise.”

Wong-Tam is asking council next week to direct licensing staff to report back in the new term on options to improve the rules, and manage and enforce the current rules around noise.

“I’m hearing from residents and we are also responding to collective information that was coming in,” Wong-Tam told the Toronto Sun. “Largely what we are now uncovering is that it is very popular for people to remove what is called a baffle … the baffle creates this back pressure that keeps the noise contained.

“We have some neighbourhoods, such as Yorkville, where the baffles seem to have been removed on the majority of the motorcycles.”

Wong-Tam’s motion points out other municipal jurisdictions, including Calgary and Saskatoon, regulate excessive motorcycle noise.

“When these bikes are ripping down the road … and it is like 4 o’clock in the morning, this is when we get the complaints,” Wong-Tam said.

While she admits part of living in the city includes having to live with a lot of noise, she said it is not reasonable to ask people to deal with noise from vehicles that have been deliberately modified.

“When the sole purpose is to ensure that your motorcycle makes more noise, this is a problem,” she said.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Man slain in double shooting in west end ID'd

TORONTO - Police have identified one of the victims in a double shooting on Monday in the city’s west end.

Olatoyebi Waheed, 24, died after being shot in the chest while in a vehicle at Eglinton St. W. and Jane St. shortly before 7 p.m.

A second victim, 23 — whose name has not yet been released — was in the passenger seat of Nissan Versa and sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

Toronto Police said they believe the attack could be gang-related and the 23-year-old was known to police, but Waheed was not.

“I believe it is a targeted act at this point in time,” Det. Hank Idsinga said Monday.

Police said a shooter fired “numerous shots” into the back and driver’s side the car, which caused the driver Waheed to go off the road and crash into a tree.

“Police have also recovered what is believed to be the suspects’ vehicle used during the shooting,” Const. Jeniffer Sidhu said Tuesday.

“The way it happened, you would hope it’s not random but we don’t yet have that information,” Sidhu said.
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Man dead in Jane-Eglinton double shooting

TORONTO - A 24-year-old man is dead and a 23-year-old man is in hospital after a double shooting at Jane St. and Eglinton Ave. W. at the tail end of evening rush hour Monday.

Toronto Police Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga from the homicide squad said he believes the two men were victims of a targeted shooting that "may be" gang-related.

"I believe it's a targeted act at this point in time," Idsinga told reporters at the scene late Monday evening.

The shooting occurred around 6:45 p.m. According to Idsinga, the 24-year-old was driving a Nissan south on Jane and was stopped in heavy traffic when a "lone gunman" approached the car.

The shooter "fired numerous rounds into the back and the driver's side of the Nissan," killing the driver, injuring a passenger, and causing the car to veer off the road and crash into a tree.

At the scene Monday, an orange tarp covered the front half of a small four-door Nissan that rested against a tree on the west side of Jane, north of Eglinton.

Yellow crime tape separated part of Jane with traffic that was being diverted as homicide investigators and the collision reconstruction unit investigated.

An out-of-service TTC bus was within the bounds of the crime tape.

Tony Diaz, 49, who lives in the area, said he was on the east side of Jane when he heard gunshots and saw one car speed south on Jane.

“The other cars were stopping because they get scared,” he said.

“When I came more closely, I saw (another) car crashed in the tree,” Diaz continued. “I said, ‘What the hell is this.’”

He he also saw people try to aid the occupants of the crashed car.

“Then I saw the ambulance,” Diaz said.

Idsinga said the gunman is believed to have been in another vehicle. Witnesses were being interviewed by police late Monday.

Both victims were known to police, police confirmed. The 24-year-old victim has no criminal history while the 23-year-old, who is expected to survive but is in serious condition, has a criminal history, police said.
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Friday, August 15, 2014

CNE officially opens for 2014

TORONTO - It’s back!

The CNE 2014 officially opened its gates to the public Friday morning and crowds wasted no time getting in line for the rides, food and games.

“We are very excited, very happy to be here,” Dmitry Miropolsky, father of the CNE “first family” said as he geared-up to head inside.

The Miropolsky family is from Thornhill and won a spot to be the first family in a radio contest. They called themselves a family of thrill-seekers who are excited to get on every ride.

“I’m also looking forward to the food and the small donuts,” 16-year-old Nicole Miropolsky said.

Famous Tiny Tom’s donuts already had a line-up shortly after noon with all ages ready for a bag of warm, doughy sweetness.

Mayor Rob Ford — who had been at the opening ceremony along with several other mayoral candidates — joked about his love for the unique and interesting food at the CNE.

“I can assure you I have not missed too many of those food choices,” he said.

The food building was packed the entire day and delicious scents wafted out the doors.

As always there were unique choices such as Hula Girl’s butter coffee, the Crowbar (a buttery croissant baked with a chocolate bar) and liquid nitrogen sorbet and gelato from Eative.

Screams from the Zipline and the Mega Drop could be heard as you walked through the park, along with the familiar sounds of the midway’s rides and games.

“I’m most interested in the games and the dog show,” said eight-year-old Isabella Massone who had come out for the day with her family.

“I’m interested in getting my picture taken with the rabbit,” her six-year-old sister, Cristina, shouted.

There is definitely something for everyone at the CNE 2014.

The Exhibition is open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight and gates close at 10 p.m. It will run through Labour Day, Sept. 1.
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Toronto does not have spending problem: Report

A report on Toronto’s finances shows the city isn’t drowning in debt, suffering from a “spending problem” or over-taxing its residents.

But the paper from the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance finds the city is facing a major infrastructure funding shortfall.

Entitled “Is Toronto Fiscally Healthy? A Check-up on the City’s Finances,” the report is being released by the IMFG — part of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs — on Wednesday.

Authors Enid Slack, the director of the IMFG, and Andre Cote, the manager of programs and research, concluded Toronto’s fiscal health is sound at the moment.

“Toronto’s fiscal condition can be likened to the health of an aging Maple Leafs defenceman: He may be a solid performer on the ice and well cared for by training staff, but he is increasingly expensive and in need of major knee surgery,” the paper stated.

“In other words, the City’s fiscal health is sound by most measures, but it faces cost pressures and its aging infrastructure and investment needs present a huge financial challenge.”

The authors say there will be “difficult choices ahead” if the city’s leaders and residents want to “maintain and enhance (Toronto’s) quality of life.”

While Mayor Rob Ford repeatedly claims the city has a spending problem — not a revenue problem — the authors found expenditures are “roughly the same as they were a decade ago” with inflation and population growth factored in.

The authors also concluded Toronto’s tax burden has been falling.

“Toronto residents, on average, pay low property taxes compared with residents of other Ontario cities,” they stated.

They warned that tax freezes or increases below the rate of inflation will “erode services as the city grows.”

The paper also cautioned that the city won’t be able to maintain its infrastructure or build new infrastructure “without new, reliable revenue sources.”
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Monday, August 11, 2014

Suspicious fire at North York auto shop

TORONTO - Toronto Police have not ruled out the possibility that a fire inside a North York auto shop early Monday is linked to the investigation of a nearby weekend arson.

Officers were called to Quality Used Cars Wholesale at 30 Toro Rd., near Tangiers Rd. and Keele St., around 2:40 a.m.

“Fire was visible out back of the building,” Const. Jenniferit Sidhu said.

Up to eight cars were damaged in the blaze.

“Because of the condition of some of the vehicles, there is the possibility some were damaged prior to the fire,” Sidhu said.

The fire is being treated as suspicious and the investigation is continuing.

Police are looking to see if there is any connection to nearby car fires early Sunday.

“It is being looked at as a possibility, although in the most recent case, the fire was in an industrial area and the weekend fires were in a residential zone,” Sidhu said.

Four vehicles were damaged after three vehicles were set on fire in the Jane St.-Wilson Ave. area in the Sunday incident.

Some of those vehicles were in the driveways of homeowners at the time, police said.

Investigators urged anyone with information to call 416-808-3100.
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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

TTC Subway service resumes at St. Clair West after flooding

TORONTO - Two feet of water gave thousands of TTC commuters a rougher ride than normal Tuesday morning.

Flooding at St. Clair West Station left between 100 and 150 yards of track under around two feet of water in some places.

The flooding led to a subway shutdown between Lawrence West and Spadina stations until noon while crews scrambled to fix the problem.

Around 70 shuttle buses had to be brought in during the closure to make up for the break in Line 1 (what used to be called the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line).

Deputy chief operating officer Mike Palmer said a work train on its way back to the yard found flooding on the track at 5:15 a.m.

"We're getting our first trains out at that point and so we had very little time before the start of service to have a look," Palmer said.

The water appeared to come from Monday night's rainstorm.

Although the TTC has catch basins to trap water and pump it back into the city's sewer system, something went wrong overnight and a blockage kept water from draining properly, leading to the flooding at track level.

TTC and Toronto Fire took about three hours to drain the water and then crews had to conduct safety checks before restoring service. "We had to check on the signals on the track, we had to check the pumps and sumps to see what was working, what wasn't working," Palmer said. "That all took more time than we would have liked."

"There was obviously some damage to the track and signal equipment," he added.

TTC workers were planning on going back to the station overnight to clean out all the catch basins to "make sure it is working as best it can."
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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Toronto Councillors should resign after drug deaths: Mammoliti

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti called for the resignation of two fellow councillors after the deaths of two people at the Veld music festival.

Mammoliti urged Gord Perks and Mike Layton to resign their council seats and suggested the city should take a look at whether it issues permits for future electronic dance music (EDM) events.

City officials confirmed no city permits were required for the Veld festival.

Earlier this year, Mammoliti came out against the city allowing EDM events at Exhibition Place. Although he led the Exhibition Place board of governors in banning the events, city council later overturned that ban.

“With the deaths of two young individuals at this weekend’s VELD Festival, it’s time for someone to take responsibility before more tragedies come from these EDM events,” Mammoliti stated Tuesday. “Councillors Perks and Layton should resign their seats on Council. If it wasn’t for them pushing for these events and insisting they be held on government lands I don’t believe these kids would be dead today.”

“How many more have to die before we finally accept these EDM events cannot be held on government lands or anywhere else?” he asked.

Perks declined to speak on Tuesday and Layton refused to address Mammoliti’s comments.

“I’m not going to acknowledge his statements,” Layton said.

Layton said his heart goes out to the families of the two people who died.

“It is terrible what has happened,” Layton added. “Like them, we’re going to be looking for answers.” Mayor Rob Ford dismissed Mammoliti’s call for councillors to resign.

“This is not about politics,” Ford said.

“It’s a tragedy. I don’t know how I would deal with losing my son or my daughter. My condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones.”

Ford argued it was up to the permit holders of festivals or concerts to ensure proper staff is in place.
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Monday, August 4, 2014

Three wounded when bullets fly outside Cinema night club in Toronto

Sashy examines the rounded metal from the bullet hole in her Lexus sedan early Monday morning at Liberty Village.

She, her god sister and a few friends had left Cinema, a nightclub on Liberty St. when gunfire erupted in an adjacent Green P parking lot around 3:30 a.m. Sashy said she is lucky to be alive.

“(Car) parts can be replaced, body parts can’t,” she added. “Another bullet went into my god sister’s windshield and got stuck into the headrest and wouldn’t come out. We were all in my car.”

Det. Dan Pravica, of 14 Division, said when the show ended, 10 shots were fired after a fight broke out in the parking. Five people went to hospital, including two men and a woman with gunshot wounds. A man hurt in the fight and an innocent bystander, who was hit by a car while running, were the other two requiring medical attention.

“People scattered all different directions,” he said. “All the injuries, luckily, are non-life threatening. We’re still looking for the public’s help in regards (to a suspect). There is definitely more than one suspect, in what parts. Our officers are poring over interviews and going over some video.”

Sashy, 23, who didn’t wish to have her last name published, said she came from Brampton to attend the club’s Caribbean Carnival event, Self Made, where a number of DJs were scheduled to perform.

There were a couple hundred people in the parking lot, Sashy said, but they all scattered when “at least 10 shots” rang out. Her group was all in her car and everyone ducked down for safety.

“I didn’t see anything,” she said. “I just heard the gunshots getting louder.”

It wasn’t until hours after the violent episode that Sashy realized a bullet struck the hood of her silver vehicle, spraying pellets through the wiring. Police took photographs of her car, she said, but towed another car for forensic investigation.

Parked next to her was a white BMW, which she said appeared to have a chip in the windshield and graze marks from another bullet.

That wasn’t the only shooting over the weekend.

An hour later, shots rang out near College St. and Spadina Ave., but EMS said there were no victims. The police investigation is ongoing.

On Sunday around 5:45 p.m., officers were called to a Toronto Community Housing building near Dundas and Sherbourne Sts. for a man in his 30s who was shot “multiple times in the arms and legs,” police said. No suspects are in custody and the injuries were not considered life-threatening.

In Durham region, police are probing a case where a father and son were robbed at gunpoint in Pickering Friday night.

At about 11:30 p.m., a 46-year-old man and his 15-year-old son were walking in the Glenanna Rd.-Glendale Dr. area when they were surrounded by four male suspects, Durham Regional Police said.

The man and his son were told to hand over cash at gunpoint and then the four suspects fled eastbound towards Liverpool Rd.

The victims were not hurt.

All suspects are described as male, black, from 15 to 18 years old, all wearing dark clothing. One had a white sports jersey on, with red writing on it.

Pravica said there is “no rhyme or reason” for the number of weekend shootings, adding very small incidents can trigger such violence.

“Unfortunately, these days, it could be anything from a simple bump to word exchange,” he said. “It’s sporadic and happens sometimes certain weekends when you get more people in a certain area. We don’t know if it’s a total random thing.”
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

City of Toronto faces dwindling budget surplus: Report

Toronto council’s number crunchers aren’t betting on a big budget surplus this year.

An update on the 2014 operating budget goes to the budget committee on Wednesday and it predicts a year-end net surplus of $1.2 million. By contrast, the final surplus in 2010 — the year when Mayor Rob Ford swept into office — was $367 million.

Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio said he’s not alarmed by the small surplus prediction.

“My gut feeling is that is a very conservative projection at this point in time,” Di Giorgio said Friday. “My anticipation would be that (the surplus) would be in the neighbourhood of about $150 million.”

It’s predicted that this year’s budgtet will be whittled away as the city contends with declining court services revenue and a predicted $8 million budget shortfall at the TTC.

The report notes there was a 47% drop in the volume of tickets being issued by Toronto Police and other city enforcement agencies in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2013. By the end of the year, staff predict a net revenue loss of $27 million.

Once again, the municipal land transfer tax is helping keep the budget on track.

So far this year, the city has brought in $20 million more than expected in land transfer tax revenue. By year’s end, the city is betting on the land transfer tax revenue being $15.1 million over budget.

Although more riders are using Toronto’s transit system this year than last, TTC CEO Andy Byford blamed lower than predicted ridership as the “primary reason” for the budget being $8 million off track.

“The original 2014 year end ridership forecast envisaged 540 million rides. We have now revised that to 537 million,” Byford said.

He said the extreme winter weather, subway closures required to make signal system upgrades and Union Station construction contributed to the reduced number of riders.
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Friday, August 1, 2014

Toronto Hydro applies for rate increases

TORONTO - Toronto Hydro has applied to hike residential rates — an average of $3.54 per month — over the next five years.

The utility says additional cash is needed to deal with the city’s “aging electricity grid” and to better prepare for “extreme weather events.”

Toronto Hydro has submitted a five-year rate-increase application to the Ontario Energy Board, claiming to need $4 billion to address such needs as increased maintenance, additional operational support, the replacement of “aging assets” and to put in place precautions for “extreme weather events.”

What this could mean for residential customers is an average increase of $3.54 per month for an average household over the next five years.

For 2015, customers would see an increase of $3.10 per month for an average household. The monthly increase would then change every year for the subsequent four years, going as high as $5.47 a month in 2018 and as low as $1.78 in 2019.

Toronto Hydro faced criticism last December after a severe ice storm knocked out power to as many as 300,000 people. Power was restored in stages, but some residents were without power over Christmas and many expressed frustration with what they said was a lack of communication on the part of the utility.

The ice storm cost Toronto Hydro around $13 million, but President and CEO Anthony Haines said in January customers wouldn’t be on the hook it.

Toronto Hydro spokesman Tanya Bruckmueller said Friday that Haines’ promise still stands, and that the problems the energy provider faced during the ice storm was a factor in deciding that more funding is needed.

“It’s not necessarily as a direct result of the ice storm, but it helped influence some of the projects that we’re applying for,” said Bruckmueller.

She added additional funding is needed to upgrade “obsolete equipment” and putting in place “resiliency measures.” However, she couldn’t immediately say if any of the increased funding would go towards better customer communication.

Bruckmueller said 26% of Toronto Hydro’s “assets” are past life expectancy, and that the utility is “seeing a number of failures as a result of defective equipment, and that is because of age.”

If Toronto Hydro’s application is approved, increases will take effect May 1, 2015.
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