Cohen’s Journal

Toronto awash in sights, sounds and scents of Vaisakhi

 Matthew Cohen/Toronto Observer
Nathan Phillips Square was awash in colour Sunday as Sikhs from all over the Toronto area celebrated the festival of Vaisakhi.

Tens of thousands of people converged on downtown Toronto Sunday to honour the Sikh celebration of Vaisakhi.

Nathan Phillips Square was packed with people paying tribute to their religion through song, hymn, food and prayer. Held on April 24, the Vaisakhi commemorates the beginnings of Sikhism which began with philosophies of Guru Gobind Singh born April 14, 1699, in India, the 10th and final Guru (teacher) of the Sikh faith.

Sikhism is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. Sikhism originates from the word Sikh, which derives from the Sanskrit root ’sisya’ meaning ‘disciple’ or ‘learner.’

The day marks a special occasion for many Sikhs living in Toronto like Deljeet Singh.

“The significance of today is honouring Guru Gobind Singh for giving us our identity, it was with him the foundation of our faith was laid,” said Singh. “So it’s important that we can come out here and show our kids and the rest of Toronto what our faith is all about.”

Rama Sibhu is a mother of five and for her it’s imperative that her family come out every year to support the Vaisakhi festivities. She talked of showing her kids the importance of their religion and explained the historical meaning behind the vast display of food offered at the festival.

“I love seeing all of my people here enjoying themselves. Its part of the Sikh culture to be with family and friends first to eat, then to pray as our Guru taught,” said Sibhu.

“I’ve been honouring the festival for the past 30 years and to see how much it has grown in Toronto is really important to me because it shows our strength in unity.”

Federal NDP leader Jack Layton was in attendance and said he was there

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NDP federal leader Jack Layton posing with members of the Canadian Armed Forces at the Vaisakhi Festival.

 to show his support and to recognize the positive contributions the Sikh community has made to Canada.

“They’ve been here for 100 years, building the railway, starting up the

 forestry industry and contributing to our society in so many ways,” said Layton.

“So I’m here to say thank you and to encourage us to recognize human rights for all of us with diverse backgrounds in our country.”

November 11, 2009 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Local, News | , , | Leave a comment

US War resister pins hope on Bill C-440

 Matthew Cohen/Toronto Observer
US Iraq War resister Kimberly Elaine Rivera and her daughters Katie, ten months, and Rebecca, five, are hoping to gain permanent resident status in Canada thanks to Bill C-440. Rivera is Canada’s first female war resister openly speaking about her opposition to the Iraq War.

During two weeks of a leave-of-absence from her work, Kimberly Rivera, 27, a married mother of three, made a life-changing decision. She left her home for good.

“Everybody has the right to feel safe, secure and have things that they need… I made the decision morally to follow my heart to Canada,” Rivera said.

She is Canada’s first female war resister and is currently living in Toronto.

Rivera, born in Mesquite, Texas, enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 14, 2001 at the age of 18 after taking an aptitude test out of “curiosity” and later signed up to be a mechanic.

She was given enlistment date following her high school graduation for the Army Reserves. In March 2006, she was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood and after passing her truck driving course she was assigned to 2-17 Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team and 2nd Infantry Division.

In October, her reserve unit was deployed to Iraq. Some of her duties included vehicle and civilian personnel searches as well as inspecting military convoys.

On Dec. 21, 2006, when 24 mortar rounds landed just metres from where she was standing, she started to question whether “the Iraq war was worth ultimately giving her life for.”

During that two-week leave, Rivera and her husband, Mario, decided it was in their best interests not to return to active duty in Iraq. They decided to move to Canada.

Rivera’s initial pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) the process in which Citizenship and Immigration Canada evaluates the risk claimants’ face if they’re deported back to their home country was denied.

In March 2008, she was granted an 11th-hour stay of removal, after her order of deportation was made public.

In August, she was granted a new PRRA after Justice James Russell found the PRRA Officer didn’t properly assess the risk that Rivera would face harsher prosecution based on her opposition to the Iraq War. The final decision on the new ruling can take up to four months to determine.

On Sept. 17, 2009, MP Gerard Kennedy tabled Bill C-440 in the House of Commons. It would grant permanent resident status to U.S. war resisters living in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The bill states that foreign nationals in Canada who, based on a moral, political or religious objection, left the armed forces of another country to avoid participating in an armed conflict not sanctioned by the United Nations, the right to remain in the country.

Kennedy said he initiated the legislation because he believes the current minority government’s view of war resisters doesn’t represent the beliefs of average Canadians.

“It was a matter of a basic sense of fairness, the conservative government is basically imposing its own personal opinion in the place of a real Canadian consensus on this issue,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy also noted that two recent Parliamentary committees called on the government to halt deportations of conscientious objectors and put in place a program to allow them and their families the right to apply for permanent resident status.

“If Parliament initiates a debate on the subject and resolves it… the government of the day has to take note of that. They’ve refused to do that on two occasions now,” Kennedy said. “They’re railroading the people who are affected in ways that are very unfortunate.”

During the 2008 Conservative convention in November, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney referred to Iraq War resisters as “cowards” and “bogus refugee claimants.”

Kennedy pointed out that in the 1960s and ’70s, during the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Canada became a safe haven for U.S. military personnel who conscientiously objected to war.

“He (Kenney) said we didn’t accept anyone from the Vietnam War, when in fact, we accepted over 10, 000 people who came out of service during that war,” Kennedy said.

“He (Kenney) has a responsibility to stay objective, because his officials are the ones the war resisters have to appear in front of hoping to get fair treatment.”

Kennedy said the bill is meant to remedy this issue and that he would amend the legislation to compel any minister to take this category of eligibility into account as grounds for staying in the country.

While Rivera awaits a decision on her case, she believes she made the right decision and is grateful for the sanctuary she’s found in Canada.

“I wanted to live in a society that makes its own choices and does what they think is best for their people…that was more heartening for me,” she said.

“Being able to live here day by day, thankful for everyday I have with my kids, being healthy and happy is the blessing that Canada’s given me.”

Filed  by Matthew Cohen

November 11, 2009 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Local, News, U.S. Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Toronto invests in green technology with biogas digesters

Imagine a streetcar running on orange peels, the traffic lights running on leftover dinner scraps and your home powered by cow manure? One day the city of Toronto hopes to be sustained by renewable energy from the organic waste we throw in our green bins, with the use of biogas digesters.

A biogas digester (also known as anaerobic digester) is technology that converts organic waste into methane gas. It has two primary components for it to work at its highest efficiency. Most typically biogas digesters are equipped with cogeneration systems, the reciprocating motor fuelled by biogas which turns the generator to produce electricity.

Biogas digesters aren’t new in fact, the first commercial biogas system originated in1850 in Bombay, India. Most commonly you’ll find home versions of digesters in developing countries such as China where there is presently six to seven million single home biogas systems in use.

wastemanagementpyramidBrian Van Opstal, of Toronto’s Solid Waste Management Services, says the city collects 120,000 tonnes of green bin waste each year. That’s enough waste to produce 15 million cubic metres of biogas, enough energy to power up to 2, 000 homes for a year.

In 2002, Toronto commissioned its first anaerobic digester at the Dufferin Waste Management Facility. Its large septic tank 17 meters in diameter and 20 meters tall presently processes 30 to 35 tonnes of green bin waste each year. That’s enough to generate seven million kilowatt hours of electricity a year. According to Toronto Hydro, the annual electrical consumption of an average home is 10, 000 kilowatt hours a year.

The city has a $69 million plan to build two more anaerobic digestion plants by spring of 2011. One will be replacing the existing plant at the Dufferin site; the other will be built at the Disco Transfer Station at 120 Disco Road in Etobicoke. According to Van Opstal, the new biogas digesters will have conversion devices able to refine the gas into reusable energy, no different from the natural gas that flows through the present distribution system.

At the Dufferin site, pulped organics with a solids content of six percent are fed into the digester, a glass-lined steel septic tank with a working volume of 3,000 m3. Optimum temperature of the infeed material is 37°C (98.6 F), during colder months, a device known as a heat exchanger is used to maintain the optimum temperature.

Waste material is continuously withdrawn from the pulp and a screw press is used to separate the liquids and solids. Liquids are recycled back into a device in the digester known as a hydropulper. The capital costs for biogas utilization equipment can range from hundred of thousands of dollars to millions depending which gas utilization option is chosen. The operating costs can range from $48,000 per year to $82,000 per year, also depending on which gas utilization option chosen.

Although the anaerobic digester at the Dufferin site does produce large volumes of quality gas but there’s currently no cogeneration system installed to convert that gas into useable energy. Instead the gas is set ablaze. Van Opstal said this was due to the great deal of skepticism at the time regarding if anaerobic digestion would work to overcome the high costs involved with what was an “experimental” project.

“It’s a fact it was included in the original design but never installed…decisions were made between the design and construction phases of the project to remove it, said Van Opstal. “And that would have only been done to reduce project cost.”

Graemae Millen of CH Four Biogas, a leading developer of anaerobic digesters and biogas technology, believes biogas technology can supply whole communities with a viable source of sustainable energy from the volume of organic material the city generates.

“With the growing movement for green bin programs all across Canada, the applicability of community-based (biogas) systems is just exploding because a majority of that waste would be a viable feedstock, said Millen.”

Since 2005, all single family households – about 500,000 – in Toronto received curbside collection of organic materials. This represents tonnes of food scraps, soiled paper, disposable diapers, pet waste and other biodegradable residuals. Another 15,000 tonnes are being diverted from small commercial establishments.

Dairy farmer George Heinzle, owner of Terryland Farms in St. Eugene, has

terryland-digester

George Heinzle's biogas digester at Terryland Farms, St. Eugene, Ontario.

 already seen the benefits. The manure from the 140 cows on his farm and his two anaerobic digesters each produce 180 kilowatts per hour generating 4,000 kilowatt hours per day. That’s enough electricity to power more than a 100 homes for a year and he says he’ll double that by Christmas.

Heinzle was the first of a handful of farmers generating renewable energy using biogas digesters and then selling it back to the province at a fixed rate. Heinzle has already invested $600,000 in his digester and said that figure could go as high as $1 million as soon as his second digester is “fully operational” by December of 2009.

One of the benefits of anaerobic digestion is once the manure is processed through the digester it becomes odorless, and can be reused as fertilizer. He also said the digestion process kills pathogens, reduces methane emissions, generates heat and electricity and is will always be a sustainable source of energy. He was the first in Ontario to sell energy back to the province under the Renewable Standard Offer Program (RESOP), but many seen that system as flawed with long queuing times and high fees for energy producers waiting to connect to the grid.   

Millen said the new Green Energy Act makes Canada “a continental leader when it comes to renewable energy development policy” and part of the new legislation would facilitate the development of renewable energy on a scale unseen anywhere else in North America.

Van Opstal said Toronto’s Waste Management Services initial focus was set on “waste diversion” which is processing the waste before it’s shipped to landfills. But says he recognizes the profitability of investing in projects such as biogas digesters that produce renewable forms of energy.

“One incentive for the production of electricity from renewable sources is the Feed-in Tariff program in the Green Energy Act by the Ontario Power Authority…it will pay an increased rate for producers of electricity from renewable sources,” said Van Opstal.

LAS-puxin-biogas_model_bigThe electricity produced by biomass projects is purchased at 12 cents per kilo hour which is about double the base rate. The problem for biogas producers such as Heinzle is that they’re currently locked into a 20 year contract with the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) and are unable to reap the benefits that the new Green Energy Act has to offer. Although Heinzle believes the Green Energy Act is “a push in the right direction” he feels it’s time for the federal government to intervene.

“The problem is all the early adopters of biogas digesters, the ones who took the risks by signing with the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) we’re getting paid 12 cents per kilowatt an hour, now with the Feed-in Tariff program (FIT) everyone else is getting between 16 and a half to 21 cents,” said Heinzle.

Heinzle said if the government doesn’t quickly intervene to amend legislation of the Green Energy Act that the rising costs and inflation will put Ontario farmers out of business.

“I’m convinced that before the end of our 20 year term (with the OPA) we’ll have to shut down…unless the government admits they made a mistake,” said Heinzle. “It’s only fair that they allow us to be able to switch to the Feed in Tariff program…because with biogas digesters, we can produce electricity at a lower cost than other sources of renewable energy.”

November 5, 2009 Posted by | Environment, Local, News | , , , , | 2 Comments

Toronto East General Hospital Celebrates 80 Years of Service

By Matthew Cohen

Toronto East General Hospital’s new Oncology/Haematology Clinic has officially opened its doors as part of a redevelopment plan in honour of 80 years of service to the community of East York.

 

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(Matthew Cohen/Cohen's Gallery) Toronto East General Hospital's new Oncology Clinic at 825 Coxwell Ave.

In April of 2007, the Ministry of Health approved the first step in the hospital’s $200 million multi-phased campaign designed to revamp the infrastructure. A $6.7 million investment was issued in 2007, $3.4 million of which was allotted to redeveloping the Oncology (Cancer) Clinic. The remaining $3.3 million went towards renovation plans of the ambulatory and emergency clinics, surgical units, 280 additional beds and a respiratory centre and cardiology diagnostic laboratory.

 

Toronto East General Hospital opened in 1929 as a community teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto. The unveiling of the new clinic on Jan.12, marked the first phase of completion in a three-stage plan spanning over the next 25 years.

 

The purpose of turning the hospital into a state-of-the-art facility is to ensure that East York residents are provided with improved healthcare for future generations.

 

Health Minister Dave Caplan says he’s pleased with positive feedback about the project and acknowledges the importance of producing results for sustainable healthcare.

 

“I am happy to hear that East York residents will benefit from the redevelopment,” Caplan said. “Getting shovels in the ground to improve a hospital is always a cause for celebration.”

 

The hospital with its 2,500 employees and 400 physicians on staff, received national recognition in the fields of cancer treatment and community healthcare.

 

In addition to the new clinic, the redevelopment includes major renovations to accommodate the increase of patients in the past several years. Today, the hospital receives annually 240,000 patients, 60,000 being emergency visits.

 

Mikki Layton, manager of medicines of oncology at TEGH, felt there was a “desperate” need for redevelopment and as a result says patients now have access to more space and comfortability.

 

“With better facilities we’re able to receive an increased volume of patients in a more timely manner,” Layton said. “Reducing the wait times.”

 

Caplan said lowering wait times in Ontario is one of his priorities. His ministry has committed an extra $235 million to reducing wait times.

 

greyscay1

The new clinic was built to accomadate the rise in patients and to provide more efficient service. (Matthew/Cohen's Gallery)

“Our government is going to continue to look for strategies that will help us reduce wait times – whether it’s by redeveloping and expanding hospitals, hiring more doctors and nurses, or funding more strategies,” Caplan said.

 

This makes patients receiving care at the hospital feel they’re getting the best treatment possible.

 

In 2004 Rachael Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer. After nearly two years of expeditious treatment, in December of 2005, there was no more evidence of the disease. She believes it’s important for the government and citizens to show their support.

 

“I think it’s important for everyone to do what they can to ensure wait times, research and information on prevention is disseminated to people,” Smith said. “Anyone who’s faced with a life threatening disease can feel drained from their mental and physical resources. The less time you have to wait for treatment the better it is.”

 

To show support and appreciation for Toronto East General and Princess Margaret hospitals, Smith, along with her husband Andrew Howard, created the Yard Sale for the Cure charity in 2005 in their local area of the Beaches. The charity now spans across Ontario, raising money for cancer research with plans to expand nation wide. 

 

“When you’re there (TEGH) you’re treated with the love and respect that you would get from a family member,” Smith said. “I felt it was really important to try and support them.”

 

 

February 6, 2009 Posted by | Health, Local, News | 2 Comments

A living testament of gun violence in Toronto

By Matthew Cohen

Out of respect for the privacy of the victim and his family, names have been changed.

As Dave Anderson drove through his old neighborhood of Malvern he slowed down at the red light, pointed toward a mall, nodded his head and grinned, ”It’s good to be alive isn’t it?”

 

 For that mall holds a memory that he won’t soon forget. It’s the place where Anderson and his friend were shot a year ago as they were ordering a pizza, after leaving a basketball practice held at their high school only five blocks away.

 

 Anderson says, “It all happened so fast, just as I was placing my order I heard the first loud bang”. 

 

The first shot came as sudden shock, by the time he turned around threesilvergun1[1] more shots rang out. He jumped over the counter, ran to the back of the kitchen, he then hid inside a large industrial freezer; it was then he noticed that something was wrong.

 

 “As I’m in the freezer, I’m thinking to myself, ‘How can I get out of here?’ and ‘Where’s Doug?’,” Anderson said. “At the moment I felt fine, just a little shook up, all of a sudden I felt a burning feeling, getting hotter and hotter, I looked down and saw blood all over my shirt.”

 

 Although witnesses were able to get a vague description of the suspect who eluded police, the 9-mm handgun used in the incident was later recovered and traced back to a gun show held in Richmond, Va.

 

The question remains: How did a firearm sold in the state of Virginia make its way across the border into Canada, to be used in a violent crime? Furthermore, what attempts are being made by both Canadian and American governments to strengthen the border taking into account concerns over border security post 9/11?

 

The Canadian Firearms Centre (CFC) is a government run operation created in 2003 to oversee the administration of the Firearms Act and the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP). The Firearms Act governs the possession, transport, use and storage of firearms in Canada. The main objective is to help reduce firearm-related deaths, injury and crime as well as to promote public safety. The program relies on its federal partners such as the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and international trade Canada (ITCan) to help combat the issue of the illegal trade and transport of illegal firearms.

 

In Canada, the CBSA is responsible for firearms seizures at ports of entry. This partnership is part of a federal government initiative called Investments to Combat the Criminal Use of Firearms (ICCUF), a multi-agency effort aimed at fighting gun crime in Canada by enhancing the national collection, analysis and sharing of firearm-related intelligence and information. The joint effort will operate until the spring of 2009 where then it’ll come under federal review to evaluate its progress.

 

Patricia Giolti, official spokesperson of the CBSA say her office recognizes the importance of ensuring the safety our borders and says the Canadian government has already spent millions of dollars on updating the current border security system.

 

“The CBSA works diligently to make sure our borders are safe. Especially since 9/11, government funding has aided this agency in implementing new technologies like an advanced version of the current Harrier Security Radar System made by DeTect Inc, Giolti said.

 

The new version of the Harriet Security Radar Systems applications includes advanced:

 

  • Ground perimeter security
  • Airspace monitoring and surveillance
  • Marine surveillance
  • Intrusion detection
  • Collision and obstruction avoidance at border crossings

 

The actual number of firearms smuggled into Canada is unknown. What’s known is that most firearm smuggling attempts involve single firearms, and that seizures of multiple firearms (more than two) primarily involve confiscation of handguns. During a six-year period from January 2001 to December 2006, CBSA seized a total of 5,137 guns at the border averaging nearly 850 guns seized at the border yearly.

 

“I pray to God that the police find the guy who shot me but on the otherhand I’m aware it’s easier for society to point the finger at young, black males in “at risk” neighborhoods,” Anderson said. “It would be comforting to know the police will take it a step further than just catching the shooter, I’d like for them to find out where the kids are getting theses guns in the first place.”

 

Constable William McKay of The Toronto Police said the police work dilligently to ensure that all of Toronto is safe and there’s no discrimination when it comes to policing.

 

“Officers work around the clock to combat gun violence not only in at-risk neighborhoods, but all across the GTA because violence happens everywhere to all types of people in all walks of life,” McKay said.

 

Ex-Toronto Police Constable Richard Noble has a different view on the issue; he believes there’s a bigger problem, more serious lying beneath the issue of violence in at-risk neighborhoods. Although he says there’s a meticulous method of registering firearms he believes criminals as well as a few “bad apples” in the police department should bare the brunt of the blame when dealing with the matter of “availability” of firearms on the streets.

 

“Anytime guns are confiscated their supposed to be processed threw the Canadian Firearms Registry Unit. From there the firearm is analyzed and tracked threw a serial number to see if there’s a registered owner or if there’s any connection  to any previous crime, then stored in lock up,” Noble said. “But even from the guns being locked up, there have been times simply where the guns just go missing.”

 

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Local | 1 Comment

Panel says ‘Send NATO reinforcements, or we’re pulling out’

The Independent Panel of Canada’s Role in Afghanistan has told a news conference that unless NATO dispatches reinforcements to the area, Canada should pull out its 2,500 soldiers from southern Afghanistan by February 2009.

paula_wallin(Matthew Cohen/Cohen’s Gallery)Pamela Wallin answering questions at a Q and A session held at U of T regarding Canada’s role in Afghanistan.

The panel spent 10 days visiting Afghanistan this past November, members include former broadcast journalist Pamela Wallin, Derek Burney, former ambassador to Washington and one-time chief of staff to former prime minister Mulroney, Paul Terrier, former clerk of the privy council, and Jake Epp, a former Mulroney cabinet minister.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised that Parliament will have the final say with regards to the withdrawal of troops. He told the panel that he wants to keep Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan until at least 2011, despite disapproval from the three opposition parties who are opposed to the combat mission lasting beyond February of next year according to Reuters.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told cbc.ca that he maintains his parties’ position, that Canada will withdraw its troops by Feb. 2011.

“We have a strong reason for that. We think it’s by far the most dangerous mission in Afghanistan. We have carried this mission for three years and it’s time for Canada to do something else in Afghanistan.”

NATO is having a hard time convincing other members to assist in the Afghanistan, leaving Canada, alongside the US to carry out the mission ensuring its success.

Manley has suggested that Prime Minister Stephen Harper to “hold off” on a parliamentary vote regarding Canadian troops in Afghanistan but Bloc Quebecois’ Gilles Duceppe told a news conference that Prime Minister Harper should call for a vote immediately, accusing him of delaying a decision until the next election.

Panel chairman, John Manley, a former Liberal deputy prime minister, told the Globe and Mail “Canada should insist that NATO send at least a 1,000 soldiers”. The panel proclaims extra NATO soldiers would allow Canada to gradually shift direction from combat, to training Afghanistan’s national security forces.

However, former broadcast journalist, panel member and now Canadian senator, Pamela Wallin, spoke at the University of Toronto last night giving a behind the scenes look at the work of the IPCRA. Wallin shed light on Canada’s dilemma with pulling out of Afghanistan, at the same time, averting focus from combat, to the training of the Afghan police and military to manage insurgency in the southern regions.

“I’ve heard people say we should just stop fighting and just engage in training, well… training is fighting, there are no practice rounds. There are no training grounds where we (Canadian troops) could do a mock military exercise,” Wallin said. “When were training them, were doing that in real time, in live combat.”

She said the panel’s report sent a clear message, from February 2008 to February 2010, “If we don’t get NATO assistance then were giving notice.”

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Canadian Politics | Leave a comment

TTC drivers suffer from post-traumatic syndrome

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TTC drivers are pushing officials to put an end to the increasing violence occurring on the city’s public transit system.

Among the kinds of abuse TTC drivers have faced over the years, such as vicious beatings, death threats, and in one incident being shot at with an air rifle.

The Toronto Star reports nearly 200 TTC bus, streetcar and subway operators are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a rate four times that of Toronto police officers, which is the second leading cause of lost time for TTC employees.

According to the Canadian Mental Health.ca, PTSD is often related to witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event involving threat of injury or death. Symptoms include a general numbing of emotional responsiveness, recurrent re-experiencing of the event through flashbacks, nightmares caused by reminders of the traumatic experience as well as hyper arousal, trouble sleeping, irritability, anger and difficulty of remembering things.

Dr.Alain Brunet, psychiatry professor at McGill University explained to The Star, “You live in an increasingly narrow life and, on top of that, (you) are in a kind of hyper-arousal state, ready to fight or flight.”

He added, “Sufferers don’t sleep well, they have problems concentrating, easily distracted, easily startled and they may have a short fuse.”

An 11 year TTC veteran, John, who wishes not to have his name revealed for fear of reprisal, is all too familiar with the on-going violence occurring on the transit system.

“When I hear stories from other operators, it’s sad, but I’m not surprised,” John said.

He continued, “For me there have been plenty of incidences. One time this guy tried to get on my bus using a fake metropass, I asked him if I could see it and he started cursing at me, before I could blink he punched me right in the face then took off. In the end all that matters is that I make it home safe to see my kids.”

TTC chair Adam Giambrone in an interview told the Toronto Star, “I think we have an obligation to do something, this is unacceptable. We have to take this seriously. This is about respect and safety for our operators. They didn’t sign up for this.”

As a deterrent, the TTC plans to install plastic shields which will cost $1,500 for each bus as part of a $34 million project to install cameras on buses, streetcars and subway stations. A TTC official says the commission will consider doubling the constables by 2011.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Local, News | Leave a comment

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 3 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 23 posts. There was 1 picture uploaded, taking a total of 93kb.

The busiest day of the year was May 13th with 54 views. The most popular post that day was Toronto invests in green technology with biogas digesters.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, mariaozawa2u.blogspot.com, how2immigrate.com, student-loan-consilidation.com, and statistics.bestproceed.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for biogas, biogas digester, biogas china, biogas digesters, and silver gun.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Toronto invests in green technology with biogas digesters November 2009
1 comment

2

A living testament of gun violence in Toronto October 2008

3

Is the Signature Learning Experience working? October 2008
1 comment

4

Toronto East General Hospital Celebrates 80 Years of Service February 2009
1 comment

5

Flemingdon radio station vies for its spot on the FM dial May 2009

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Blogroll, Canadian Politics, Cohen's Photo Gallery, Education, Environment, Health, Local, News, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

Not In My Backyard

Studies have been conducted looking into the possible links between wind turbines and health hazards they may cause

By Matthew Cohen

There’s a growing opposition to the proposed installation of wind turbines inToronto, now the mounting voices of critics have more ammunition on their side over reports of health concerns created from active wind farms.

The Ripley Wind Farm is located within the Township of Huron-Kinloss,Ontario – where some residents in the surrounding area have been vacated from their homes after becoming ill, according to the Mayor of Huron-Kinloss Mitch Twolan.

“We’ve had serious health concerns with some of our residents,” Twolan said. “So far, five families have been displaced from their homes and are now living in motels in regards to being affected by the turbines.

Dr. Hazel Lynn, the Grey Bruce regional medical officer of health, said surveys conducted by her staff on residents of Huron-Kinloss concluded, eight per cent of the 72 homes within a kilometre of the Ripley Wind Farm have complained of related illnesses. She said there is now enough data collected to justify further investigation into the potential health hazards caused by wind turbines.

“The biggest health concerns I’ve heard was the inability to sleep which has lead to memory problems, dizziness, some constant ringing in the ears, an inability to concentrate and a lot of aches and pains … particularly very severe headaches,” Lynn said.

Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch made an announcement on Oct. 5 asking Queen’s Park to halt all wind turbine projects in the wake of increasing concerns of wind turbines and the lasting affects on people living near to them. Murdoch is tabling a resolution on Oct. 29, calling for a moratorium on wind turbine development until Dr. Arlene King, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health determines if wind turbines do in fact cause health hazards.

Murdoch said he chose to table a resolution instead of a private member’s bill because a resolution requires an immediate vote as soon as it has been debated in the House of Commons; whereas a private member’s bill requires a first, second and third reading which can take up to a year to get resolved.

“When it regards people’s health I want to quickly cut-through the bureaucracy, I don’t believe we need another study,” Murdoch said. “Let the chief medical officer look at the studies already done, if they’re OK … fine, if they’re not then we should do something about it.”

Twolan, who supports the use of renewable energy, agrees with Murdoch that the province should grant a moratorium until further inquiries are made. He said this would ensure the province doesn’t invest large sums of money in technology that can be potentially harmful to people.

“I’m supporting Mr. Murdoch because I’d like to get all these questions answered and put these issues to rest, appeasing all sides,” Twolan said. “I’m in favor of green energy, the wind project here cost $176 million with 38 turbines, generating two megawatts each … but if were going to do it, let’s just do it right.

John Laforet, an activist with the Save the Toronto Bluffs Organization, said a proper environmental assessment is needed before the province approves Toronto Hydro’s proposal to initiate wind tests. He said not enough research has been done as of yet to start paving the way for construction of a wind farm 550 kilometres offshore from the Scarborough Bluffs. He said construction of offshore wind turbines raises some serious health concerns from residents of Guildwood and has left questions he believes Toronto Hydro has yet to answer.

“It’s a fact our drinking water is contaminated with PCB’s and mercury, it’s safe now but will it be once they stir this stuff up,” Laforet said. “The construction site is 2-4 km offshore from Ajax to the Leslie Street Spit but we draw our drinking water from Victoria Park 0.6 kilometres offshore … so it (drinking water) is 75 per cent into the project right in the middle of all the digging.”

Laforet also said that Toronto Hydro’s subsidiary, Toronto Hydro Energy Services Incorporated (THESI), the company presently proposing offshore wind-testing, has done a poor job of public consultation pertaining to the construction of the proposed wind turbines.

Dr. Lynn said she sees similarities in problems on how the province handles introducing renewable energy to people, especially to those who have felt they’ve had little to no input in regards to wind turbines in their community.

“I certainly support looking at alternative forms of energy but…I’m not in favor of the way Ontario has introduced this new technology,” Lynn said. “If you look at Europe, they’ve allowed the time for communities to look at the risks and the benefits and to have some say on how the technology was implemented.”

Joyce McLean, Director of Strategic Issues for Toronto Hydro said at this time THESI is only proposing to install an anemometer, a device used to collected data to determine if there are viable winds for offshore turbines.

“There are people suggesting we’re trying to build a wind farm, but at this point we’re not proposing any wind turbines in Lake Ontario,” McLean said. “First we need the data on exactly how strong the winds are … we also need to figure out how to connect to the electricity grid …and if we’re to propose a wind farm we would be going into a very separate and comprehensible environmental assessment.

Laforet said that THESI is “wasting millions of dollars” on research that has already been conducted which is why he formed the Wind Concerns Ontario Organization, a coalition of 38 groups consisting of medical professionals and local and corporate businesses opposing wind turbine construction in Ontario. He said as president of Wind Concerns Ontario he’s organizing a unified campaign nation-wide to ensure politicians will no longer “flip-flop” on the issue and ultimately the province of Ontario “respects the will and voice of the people.”

“From our perspective, we have two elections both municipal and provincial, before the wind tests can be completed and we’ll hold politicians accountable and judge candidates based on their position,” Laforet said.

“Were galvanized and working diligently to elect folks who’ll represent us … we have legal rights, were not going anywhere … Toronto Hydro alongside the province has stirred up a hornets nest and they can possibly hope to come out on top.”

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Environment | Leave a comment

Time Ticks for Coal in Ontario

Experts weigh-in on the government’s decision to eliminate coal plants in Ontario

By Matthew Cohen

An eminent professor in the field of chemical engineering says there have been vast improvements in clean coal technology within the last decade that prove it can be processed with minimal damage to the environment.

“There have been power plants converted to the clean scheme used for coal, now they either clean up the coal before combustion or they burn it then clean up the gases afterwards,” said Olev Trass, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Toronto.

Coal provides more than 10 per cent of Ontario’s primary energy but the Liberal government insists the province’s reliance will end in the next decade. Part of the reasoning to close coal plants in Ontario stems from the concerns of the ecological footprint coal mining leaves behind, such as CO2 emissions, air pollution and acidic drainage — the oxidation of the sulphur contained in coal forming sulphuric acid, capable of mixing with rain water which can be flushed into streams.

Trass, who has over 50 years of expertise in the field of fossil energy, specifically coal-related issues believes lawmakers are basing their decisions on politics, rather than acknowledging all sides of the debate.

“They are mistaken and are just not familiar with the latest developments of clean coal technology,” said Trass.

The president of the Coal Association of Canada (CAC), Allen Wright, agrees, saying the province is making a ‘big mistake’ if it insists on following through on its promise to eliminate coal use in Ontario.

“There are newer boilers that create higher heat and pressure, which ends up producing more electricity with less coal,” said Wright. “The key to reducing emissions is making plants more efficient.”

On June 14, 2006, former energy minister Dwight Duncan announced the government’s 20-year electricity plan, which included spending $46 billion on Ontario’s ageing nuclear reactors. Since then, Premier Dalton McGuinty has vowed to eliminate coal plants used for electricity with several deadlines that have been push back since his initial campaign promise in 2003.

Trass believes the government is basing their decisions on politics, rather than acknowledging all sides of the issue regarding the announced 2014 deadline.

“I am totally against it; I think it’s completely foolish and pure politics. He (McGuinty) made unrealistic promises and now doesn’t want to step back,” said Trass. “I’m sure he’s been told that it’s just not a sensible scheme because coal is still the cheapest way to generate energy.”

Wright said he supports finding forms of sustainable energy, but says other sources of green energy such as wind aren’t always going to be viable.

“Right now there’s a need for balance in the energy mix … and until we find that energy silver bullet to where we can stop using fossil fuels, coal will be used where it makes sense to use it.”

When asked about delay, Ministry of Energy spokesman Eric Pelletier said he “didn’t want to weigh in on political decisions that have already been made” but confirmed that the province still intends to make good on its promise to make it “less coal dependent.”

“The province does plan to follow suit with our latest announcement and we will eliminate the reliance of coal for the generation of electricity by 2014,” he said.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Environment | Leave a comment

Wheels of the Future

E-Bikes power way through city street

By Matthew Cohen

When Tammy Chuvalier, 41, bought her first e-bike she knew that she made the right choice joining the growing number of people investing in alternative transportation.

“E-bikes are really great, they can be so much fun … plus it’s easy way to get in and out of the city,” Chuvalier said. “I just bought a new one in March (2009) and it’s faster, comfortable and got more options to it … you definitely get what you pay for.”

In an effort to save money and reduce pollution electrical bicycles are a growing trend on the streets of Toronto. In Canada, e-bikes are treated like conventional bicycles and not as motor vehicles; in most areas they can be legally used on public roads. Currently no license, license plates or insurance is required to ride an e-bike. Anyone age 16 years or older, can drive an e-bike on public roads on the sole condition they wear a bicycle helmet.

Prices for e-bikes range from $700 to $2,500 depending on the style or battery strength. They come in a variety of colours and styles that compliment individual needs of the rider. Some resemble scooters with a sleek, areodynamic design while others look like conventional bicycles with pedals which are more lightweight. Modern versions of e-bikes come with key ignitions and built in alarms.  When the battery-powered electric motors are started they’re relatively quiet with minimal vibration. E-bikes are capable of reaching speeds of up to 50 km/h. Most models take six to eight hours to charge with a battery life from up to 55 to 65 kilometres.

Kevin Rad, owner of Motochoice Alternative Transportation on Pape Avenue has been in the business of selling a variety of e-bikes since July 2008. He decided to get into the business of selling e-bikes because he felt the “time was right” to invest in a business he sees the potential of becoming lucrative.

“I got into selling e-bikes because I seen the potential of the market, the demand as well as the high cost of gas,” Rad said. “For a new business, it takes time, the market here is not like over in Europe or China, but I believe eventually more people will start to use electric transportation.”

Neal Saiki, owner of Zero Motorcyles in Santa Cruz, California, specializes in inventing, designing, manufacuring and distributing on and off road electric motorcyles. The electric motors in e-motorcyles are much more powerful than those in e-bikes reaching speeds of up to 85 km/h. His company sells over 2000 e-motorcycles a year. He currently has distribution centres in Europe, California, Vancouver and Toronto.

“We manufacture and distribute parts to many of our customers in Canada…I think Canadians are a lot more interested in green technology and environmentalism than most Americans, which is why (in Canada) we’ve seen a increase in sales,” Saiki said.

While working towards his master’s degree 25 years ago in aeronautical engineering at California Polytechnic Institute, Saiki came across the idea of starting a business in eco-friendly transportation. After graduation, he worked for NASA taking part in a political policy study for renewable energy and clean technology. He said the market for e-bikes is steadily rising and it’s just a matter of time until the e-bike trend becomes more mainstream in the United States, as it is Canada.

“It’s really only the beginning when it comes to electric vehicles. I believe people are just waiting for the right electric vehicle to come to the market,” Saiki said. “Sales are getting better every quarter, people are seeing more and more e-bikes on the road and that will spur more people to become interested.”

Rad agrees, saying more people will turn to using e-bikes because they see the advantages of alleviating the high costs that come with maintaining a car.

“For some of my customers they’re thinking ‘Why not spend a $1, 000 on the bike?’ During the spring and summer seasons they can put the car away for six months and won’t have to pay for gas or insurance,” Rad said. “It’s definitely a good way to save money … in the end, the money talks.”

The ecological benefits of e-biking are substantial, including the low carbon dioxide emissions when compared to driving a car or taking a bus. Saiki said customers investing in his e-motorcycles appreciate the fact they get the same amount of horsepower while using green technology.

“My customers love these bikes and find them beneficial in the sense that it comes lower priced than cars and you can experience the clean power of acceleration, without having to pay huge amounts of money,” Saiki said.

What lured Chuvalier to purchase an e-bike was when she lost half of her foot in in a car accident in 2007. Ever since she found it difficult getting around on public transportation and purchasing and e-bike made easier for her to manouver through the city.

“It was the perfect alternative for me … my e-bike really has made life easier, I’d feel lost without it.”

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Environment | Leave a comment

Bill 202 takes aim at pornography on public computers

East Yorkers have mixed feelings regarding a proposed bill dealing with the censorship of sexually explicit material in public schools and libraries.

Progressive Conservative MPP Gerry Martiniuk, tabled Bill 202 in the House of Commons requiring all Ontario public schools and libraries to install filtering systems on their computers to block sexually explicit material. The bill went through the second reading on October 8th and has since been referred to the Legislation and Regulation Committee for further analysis.

“I think we should have a uniform system across this province but there are still steps to be taken before this bill becomes law,” Martiniuk said. “I urge parents to ensure that their particular library and school does use filtering equipment to protect their children.”

Martiniuk says approximately 30 per cent of libraries and schools across Ontario are filtering pornography on their computers but that still leaves 70 per cent unprotected by a filtering system.

David Moore, principal of Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute in East York says he supports any bill that will protect children from exposure to pornographic material. But, he also mentioned the governments need to be careful that it doesn’t put in place protections that are subject to unreasonable restrictions on free speech.

“It really depends on what the details are…children need to be protected, the question is how that happens,” Moore said. “There is potential for complications when it comes to determining what constitutes as adult content and what’s not.”

The term “sexually explicit material” varies from country to country; in Canada it means any material of which the principle feature or characteristic is the nudity or partial nudity of any person.

Aaron Kapoulas has lived in East York for 15 years and is a frequent user of the Toronto Public Library at 701 Pape Avenue. He agrees with Moore that children need to be safeguarded from pornographic images and says it’s definitely “inappropriate” to use public computers to view porn. But he also says he’s concerned about the government’s role of “watchdog” when determining what should be censored.

“I can understand why the government would want to screen sexual content (on public computers), but where I’m from in Greece, there’s a lot of classical art that depicts some form of nudity…so in a sense, some nudity is OK,” Kapoulas said. “The question is…where would the government draw the line?”

Martiniuk said that there are some groups that consider it (Bill 202) a form of censorship, but expressed that he’s not suggesting that the Internet be filtered as it is in some countries such as China and Cuba, where there’s a harsher brand of censorship on Internet users, he reiterated that Bill 202 only pertains to public schools and libraries.

Lauren McNeil, an East York resident and mother of two daughters who attend Danforth Collegiate fully supports the bill and believes it will become a necessary tool to protect children from images she says can be “damaging” to a young mind.  

“I’m all for the government wanting to restrict the use of computers at school. We do the same in our home; we pay very close attention to what our children surf on the net because there’s so much stuff out there that can send the wrong messages.”

November 5, 2009 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Education, Local, News | 1 Comment

Liberals maintain control as Hoskins wins St. Paul’s

The McGuinty Liberals were able to hold on to their St. Paul’s riding in a by-election on Thursday that was widely presumed to be a close race but ended up in a rout for the opposition Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats for after defeating the Tories with a majority of the vote.

Dr. Eric Hoskins

Liberal Dr. Eric Hoskins wins the recently vacant riding of St. Pauls's.

Liberal candidate Dr. Eric Hoskins was declared the winner after gaining 48 per cent of the vote (13, 192), beating the Conservative’s Sue-Ann Levy who tallyed only 28 per cent (7, 851).

Spirits were high as the large turnout of cheering supporters’ raised their glasses in honour of Hoskins much anticipated arrival at his campaign party held at the Sports Centre Cafe at 49 St. Clair Ave. West last Thursday night. Hoskins, 48, who party insiders told The Observer is being groomed for a future McGuinty cabinet post is filling the seat left by former MP Michael Bryant.

When asked what were some the major concerns he heard from constituents while campaigning Hoskins responded with a range of issues that he wanted “to get to work on immediately.”

“The people here love their community and want to protect the great things they love about it such as the community schools. They want to make sure their children are in safe schools getting a solid educational foundation that will serve them well in the future,” Hoskins said. “It’s also a fact that 65 per cent of the people who live in St. Paul’s are tenants … so rent control and tenants rights is also an issue I’m looking closely at.”

Hoskins said he’s had the opportunity to speak with thousands of people the past few weeks which has given him insight on the issues that are important to the people of St. Paul’s.

Referring to the controversial single harmonized sales tax of which both Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats had concentrated much of their attention on, he believes that the by-election was a clear signal that voters have confidence in the direction that the McGuinty government is going.

McGuinty weighed in on the fact the HST may have been a concern but there are other issues that were important to the people of St. Paul.

“He (Hoskins) is a hard worker who campaigned very well…and the people recognize he was an excellent candidate who ran for all the right reasons which is to bring a better quality of life to the people of St. Paul’s, McGuinty said.” 

The Tory’s Levy, a former newspaper columnist, appeared to be Hoskins strongest opposition but was unable to break the Liberal lock on the riding. She congratulated Hoskins on his victory and said she hoped that he will be a “strong voice for the people of St. Paul’s” and at the same time warned Hoskins that she’ll be “watching him as a journalist…and will be holding his feet to the fire.”

Levy, who trailed by over 6, 000 votes said despite having minimal time to prepare coupled with a low voter turnout ran a good campaign. Also, she recognized St. Paul’s has been a strong Liberal riding for nearly the past ten years.

“With only five weeks to prepare we ran a very hard campaign…within that time frame. We were still able to get our message out to the small percentage of constituents that did come out to vote who were still unsure of how the HST will be affecting them in the near future.”

Among those in attendance at the Conservative campaign party held at Granite Brewery on the corner of Eglinton Ave. East and Mount Pleasant Road was PC leader Tim Hudak who introduced Levy to the podium to give her concession speech. He thanked the members of his caucus, volunteers and the efforts made by Levy and her supporters.

New Democrat candidate Julian Heller finished third at 17 per cent (4, 677) and Chris Chopik representing the Green party placed fourth with five per cent (1, 515).

http://www.elections.on.ca/en-CA/ElectionNightResults2009.htm

November 5, 2009 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Local, News | Leave a comment

Flemingdon radio station vies for its spot on the FM dial

Four years after its launch, Flemo City Media continues providing youth with skills that create opportunities for future success, its still lobbying, however, for a space on the FM dial.

The radio station started as an idea of Hooley McLaughlin and Alex McDonald of the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) to build a low-power transmitter capable of broadcasting throughout their community. As the idea gained support from the OSC, Youth Challenge Fund (YCF) and private sponsors such as Foresters Insurance, the project was brought to the Dennis R. Timbrell Resource Centre, formerly known as the Flemingdon Resource Centre.

The Government of Ontario put the YCF in motion chaired by Michael “Pinball” Clemons, CEO of the Toronto Argonauts. The YCF invests in programs that provide opportunities for youth in Toronto’s 13 “priority neighbourhoods.” In 2006, the province invested $15 million to launch YCF matching private sector and individual contributions dollar for dollar, bringing the total to $45 million.

These contributions made Flemo City Media a reality, and its creation made it possible for youth to be trained in music production, studio engineering and web design. Flemo City Media can also be credited with building the self-esteem of youth in Flemingdon Park. 

radio station

FlemoCity Radio at the Dennis R. Timbrell Resource Centre. (Matthew Cohen/Cohen's Gallery)

Making music has been 20-year-old Michael Lee’s goal since an early age, an aspiration shared by many talented youth in Flemingdon Park.  He’s been an active volunteer at Flemo City Media for the past four years, since the production studio’s inception in November 2005. His dedication and leadership qualities have made him the unofficial spokesperson for Flemo City Media encouraging neighbourhood kids to make use of the opportunities available. “If the youth come here and want to work on positive songs, then we’re going to make them our priority,” Lee said.

Lee utilizes skills he’s gained at Flemo City Media by producing music tracks and planning production sessions for himself and other local artists but recognizes Flemo City Media still faces obstacles.

“It’s important to me because it (Flemo City Media) started off as a dream, and now it has made my dreams come true, but we need a bigger antennae and more funding,” Lee said. “We have people with shows in mind, the only problem is we can’t get it (the signal) out.”

Besides music, Flemo City Media has also focused its attention on broadcasting live shows every other Wednesday from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM on CPRK 92.1FM. Board member Ayesha Rowe explains the challenge of broadcasting its own frequency lies with finding a suitable spot on the dial, allowing them to broadcast past 100 square feet, the farthest they’re legally allowed to broadcast without a Community Development License.

Despite multiple attempts to secure a spot on the dial, the organization has received several rejections letters regarding furthering their broadcast capabilities.

“The other two spaces on either side of that dial have the right to deny or approve your application. This is before you get to go to the CRTC,” Rowe said. “Unfortunately you also have to hire a go-between (administrator) to fill out the application…which can cost anywhere from $5000-$7000 each time. And for a non-profit organization we can’t keep sending that money.”

In spite of these difficulties, members of Flemo City Media have still been able to acquire the skills needed to pursue their goals.

Wardah Sardar, 15, and Abdullah Ayaz, 17, hosts of radio talk show “Flemo City Entertainment” bring their unique brand of back and forth banter to Flemo City Media. The witty duo says the organization allows them to positively express themselves about issues happening in their community and the rest of the world.

“Through Flemo City Media I found out about the Royal Conservatory of Music and was given an internship there in the summer,” Sardar siad. “Right now, I’m working on my writing (lyrics), melodies and expanding my style through different types of music. Since I’ve started here I’ve gained confidence and been motivated to improve my skills.”

May 13, 2009 Posted by | Local | Leave a comment

Groups push government for E.I. reform

The Good Jobs For All Coalition, in affiliation with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, held its second of four town hall meetings to discuss fixing the Employment Insurance program, equal pay for equal work initiative and the protection of temporary workers under Bill 139.

The Workers Rights in Troubled Times meeting was held Mar. 23 at the Thorncliffe Neighborhood Office in East York. MPP Cheri DiNovo was in attendance and says her office along with the Workers Action Centre is bringing forth an amendment asking for equal pay for equal work and a limit to temporary (work) assignment. “If you’re working part-time you should be getting the same hourly rate as someone working full-time…and if you’re working for a year, you should be (employed) permanent automatically,” says DiNovo.”

Karen Dick, community organizer for the Workers Action Centre concurs with DiNovo that Bill 139 – a package of prospective amendments to the Ontario Employment Standards Act regarding temporary employment agencies – is a significant step in the right direction, but agrees that in order for the bill to be fully effective it still needs of further revision. She explains how Bill 139 fails to properly address the issue of termination and severance pay for workers employed through agencies. Currently, there’s a 17-week waiting period for severance pay for full-time workers who lose their jobs. For temp workers, the waiting period is more than double.

“Under Bill 139, a temp agency worker would have to wait 36 weeks before they’re eligible for termination and severance pay, she said.” “That would mean they would be out of work for nine months without finance before they receive any payment that every other worker (in Ontario) is entitled to.”

Guest speaker Julius Deutsch, executive assistant of the Toronto/York Region Labour Council says under Ontario law, an applicant in Toronto needs 665 hours to be considered eligible for unemployment insurance. He suggests lowering the qualifying period to 360 hours in every part of the country which in turn, would cover 78 per cent of the jobless in Ontario currently ineligible for E.I.

“The unemployment rate in Toronto now is 8.3 per cent and in the GTA it’s now at 9 per cent,” Deutsch said. “These numbers give you the sense of the magnitude of what’s happening in the unemployment levels.” He added, “This happened due to bad government policies back in the mid-1990’s with Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. In order to deal with the deficit and cuts to social programs some harsh measures were put into effect, one of the things they done was raising the required amount of hours…in order to secure employment insurance.”

According to Deutsch, the federal government has done very little to deal with this particular problem. “In this recent federal budget the only thing the feds did was increase the duration of benefits by only 5 weeks, there should be an additional 13 weeks at the least, he said. He recommends that the federal government needs to change legislation to coincide with these difficult economical times. “There should also be a provision… if the national unemployment rate hits 6.5 per cent, then there should be mechanisms to increase the number of benefits for up to two years.”

May 13, 2009 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Local, News | Leave a comment

Restaurants find bill to count calories hard to swallow

An agency representing restaurants in Canada thinks a bill to require the posting of calorie content in all Ontario eateries is regressive.

On April 9, MPP France Gelinas (NDP) presented a Private Members Bill atcalorie pic Queen’s Park. Bill 156 would amend the Health Protection and Promotion Act, mandating restaurants grossing $5 million or more to disclose the calorie content and limit the amount of trans fat in their food and beverages.

Stephanie Jones, vice-president of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA), said that the food industry wants to come up with a long-term solution, but Bill 156 is “reactionary.”

“Provincial regulations would be a step back,” she said. “A step forward would be federal regulations of the removal of trans fat from the whole food supply…We need the suppliers to eliminate trans fats so that we can ensure it doesn’t reach the restaurants.”

Gelinas is not convinced. She said she has garnered much support for Bill 156 and received positive feed back from the healthcare industry as well as the McGuinty administration’s Ministry of Health Promotion.

Overweight children eating mcdonaldsShe also quoted statistics that indicate 60 per cent of Ontarians are overweight and one in every four children is either overweight or obese. Gelinas hopes the bill will move the McGuinty government to action.

Gary Wheeler, special assistant to the minister of Health Promotion admits there is need for improvement but said his ministry is looking for a long-standing solution.

“We encourage those on all sides of the debate to find ways to prevent childhood obesity and promote healthy eating,” he said.

Gelinas said part of the CRFA’s negative reaction to the bill comes from the potential cost to hire nutritionists to provide the calorie information to eating establishments. She also said one of the reasons for the “push-back” from the food industry may be the potential for lost revenue if calorie-conscious consumers are presented with healthier choices elsewhere.

“Once they (restaurants) make that information (calories) available,” she said, “they know some menu items won’t sell anymore. At the end of the day it will mean change for them…forcing them to bring items on their menus with less calories.”

Marietta  Gomez copyMario Gregorriu, owner of several Friendly Greek restaurants in Toronto disagreed. He said Bill 156 wouldn’t have any significant effect on his businesses because his establishments already provide healthy choices for his customers. However, he doesn’t support the bill because of the expected added expense.

“In these economic times…it’s not a good idea to add any additional costs to any business,” he said.

Meanwhile, the CRFA’s Jones said while the cost may be significant, she believes the greatest concern is standardization.

“As an industry we have over 11,000 members in Ontario and one of the key things when providing nutritional information is the need for standardization,” Jones said. “If there isn’t, then accurate nutritional information is not going to be available because the menu offerings and ingredient information (for some) will change on a daily basis.”

Wheeler said the discussion will raise awareness about healthy eating, which will play an important role in Ontarians well-being.

“Preventing obesity through healthy eating and physical activity is a priority for this government… (and) we encourage the restaurant industry to share as much information as possible with their customers so that people can make healthy choices.”

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Health, Local | Leave a comment

Minorities mostly hunger in ‘food deserts’: Study

A GTA nutritionist believes that areas of Toronto are what some describe as food wastelands.

The theory of areas in Canada not having access to nutritional foods was the main focus of a lecture on April. 3 held at Ryerson University.

Dr. Samina Raja addressed a conference on Designing and Planning for Agriculture. She along with her colleagues from the University of Buffalo conducted a study of food environments in Erie County, New York. They defined some urban areas as “food deserts.”

Guy Beaumont, a nutritionist who works with obese children, believes the same may be true in communities in Toronto.

“I used to live in Regent Park and when it came to groceries, it was hard to find foods with high nutritional value,” he said. “Instead there [was] pizza parlours, burger joints and corner stores…I had to shop outside of my own neighbourhood.”

Beaumont said he’s lived in both low-income city housing and in the suburbs. He recognized the difference when it came to shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables.

“It wasn’t until I moved out of the city (to Whitby) where I could get fresh foods and that’s exactly what I tried to instill in the families I work with,” he said.

Dr. Raja explained that the access to different types of food retail outlets, in primarily minority neighbourhoods, differs from that in predominantly white neighbourhoods.

Although her study took place in Fort Erie, N.Y., she believes this is a problem that goes beyond borders and can also include diverse cities such as Toronto.

“Access to fresh foods is worse for low-income and minority neighbourhoods,” she said.

“And when the quality of food in a community is poor, the residents are vulnerable to hunger and more susceptible to diet-related diseases like heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”

Kathy Thompson, 27, is a student at Ryerson University studying Urban Agriculture and its affects on modern society.

“Having the chance to listen to her speak makes one think of the many ways our health may be at risk simply by where we choose to live,” she said.

Dr. Raja said finally that there was an absence of supermarkets that produce fresh foods in neighbourhoods of colour when compared to white neighbourhoods.

However, her study also revealed a comprehensive network of small neighbourhoods of colour.  Supporting small, high quality grocer stores, rather than soliciting large supermarkets, she said may be a more effective strategy for ensuring access to healthy foods in neighbourhoods of colour in Toronto.

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Health, Local, News | Leave a comment

The Toronto-Danforth Riding – Forever Changing

By MATTHEW COHEN

 

For the past 44 years the NDP has been the political backbone of the Toronto-Danforth riding accumulating per cent of the votes shared this past election. The riding includes the areas of East York, Riverdale, Leslieville and the Leslie Street split.

 

Toronto-Danforth is mainly a blue-collared residential area with an average family income of $67,551 per year was originally created in 1976 as the Broadview-Greenwood riding. It’s consisted of 73 per cent Broadview and 27% East York ridings. In 1996, a section of Beaches-Woodbine was added-on. Four years later it was renamed Toronto-Danforth.

 

Laura Gomez, a Ryerson student who recently moved on the Danforth enjoys all the area has to offer.

 

“I really like the fact that the Danforth has everything I could want, whether it’s clothing boutiques to nice places to eat,” said Gomez. “More importantly, it’s an area I feel safe in.”

 

Culturally diverse, Toronto-Danforth includes large Greek (Hellenic), Italian and Arab and Chinese communities. The Chinese community averages 17 per cent of the ridings population.

 

The majority feel the NDP is best-suited for the job of finding solutions of residents’ problems with the environment, education, and property taxes.

 

Property taxes have always been an issue in this riding given the thin ratio between homeowners and renters which equal to 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

 

The hottest debate in this riding is Portlands Energy Centre and rumoured construction plans of transmission lines that would run across East York.

 

Re-elected MPP Peter Tabuns (NDP), who strongly opposes the transmission lines, promised his supporters he’s ready to work with the city to ensure that the people in his riding are given fair deal.

 

“Toronto is facing an energy crisis and its imperative that officials work together on coming up with alternative methods of producing energy for the city,” Tabuns said. “If not, we’ll be facing some real difficult times.”

 

For some, promises are as easily broken as they are made. George Boccioni owner of Sidewalk Café on Danforth Ave, gave his perspective on the riding and the changes he’s observed.

 

“I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for 40 years this December, I’ve seen the NDP make changes in this area and that’s good,” said Boccioni. “But for the most part, the neighbourhood is getting worse.” He adds, “Every four years these guys come around promising the people everything they want to hear, the truth is…NDP, Liberal or Conservative it doesn’t matter, as soon as their elected in office they seem to forget the promises that got them there.”

 

 

February 7, 2009 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Local | Leave a comment

Access Granted

By MATTHEW COHEN

 

A major problem that people with disabilities have encountered is being able to integrate and fully function in society like everyone else. This is often a difficult task to do because those with disabilities are disadvantaged in regard to accessibility into the most common places “able-bodied” people take for granted such as malls, movie theatres, train/subway stations etc.

 

Cory Daniels, 31, has been confined in his wheelchair since he was in a car accident in 2001  that nearly took his life. Since then, he’s found it difficult to get around the city to continue to enjoy doing the activities he did prior to his accident.

 

“I used to go to the Harbor Front every weekend in the summertime, but now it’s simply not that easy,” Daniels said. “I remember trying to take the TTC downtown for the first time after the accident, it was one of the frustrating experiences I ever had in my life.” He continued “I had to take the bus to a certain point  to get to the subway, only to have to get off either several stops before of after my intended spot because the initial station I want to get off on isn’t wheelchair accessible.”

 

Daniel is referring to the difficult time he endured maneuvering through Toronto’s transit system, and the lack of wheelchair accessible stations equipped with elevators and ramps oppose to a majority of stations that are only equipped with long flights of stairs and escalators.

 

Steps have been taking by the city to ensure that all Toronto residents are able to move freely through the city regardless of any disability by making Toronto more accessible to those with a disability which interferes with their mobility. Mayor David Miller says that the city has will continue to support and fund an “accessible” Toronto.

 

“Toronto City Council is committed to the goal of being a barrier-free city in which all people with disabilities can exercise their civil, political, social and cultural rights on an equal basis with other persons,” Miller said. “With continued support from the federal government, we will make all of Toronto available to everyone.”

 

The mayor said he understands the importance of accessibility in Toronto and vowed to produce results but hinted that money isn’t the only factor involved.

 

“This is an issue I feel strong about and our goal is attainable and will be accomplished,” Miller said. “But there are steps that have to be taken when dealing with an issue of this magnitude. It’s going to take not only funding, but patience as well.”

 

The Disability Issues Committee advises City Council on the elimination of barriers faced by people with disabilities and liaises with external bodies to participation in public life and to the achievement of social, cultural and economic well-being of people with disabilities.

 

A primary role of the committee is to advise City Council about the preparation, implementation and effectiveness of the annual Accessibility Plan, as required by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The committee consists of several smaller organizations such as… 

  • Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
  • Anne Johnston Health Station
  • Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf
  • Canadian Council (AEBC) on Rehabilitation and Work
  • Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (Ontario)
  • Canadian Hearing Society
  • Canadian Mental Health Association (Toronto)
  • Canadian National Institute for the Blind
  • Canadian Paraplegic Association – Ontario

The committee was designed to have 18 members; at least one from council, two-thirds of the committee should reflect the committee’s respective communities. The committee was also designed to have two co-chairs selected by members at the first meeting.

It’s this committees mandate to use their knowledge and expertise to provide advice to City Council, through the standing committees of Council, and act as a liaison with external bodies on barriers to participation in public life and to the achievement of social, cultural and economic well-being of the City’s residents.

Each Community Advisory Committee shall also address the specific issues facing particular communities, develop options for Council’s consideration and make recommendations for positive changes that geared towards improving the quality of the lives of the members of the City’s diverse communities.

Disability Issues Committee Administrator Rose Bettencourt, encourages Toronto residents to enquire about the concerns of the disabled in the city. She suggests that people get involved and come to the scheduled meetings if they have any questions or issue pertaining to disablism.

“The average person is unaware of the extreme hardships those with disabilities have, which is why this particular committee is so important to the city, she said.”

October 22, 2008 Posted by | Health, Local | Leave a comment

Guess Who’s in town?

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(Matthew Cohen/Cohen's Gallery) Santa Claus is ready to start the festivites at Toronto's 2008 Santa Claus Day parade.

 

Crowds of people young and old, waited in anticipation for Santa, who arrived at the end of the parade proceeded by elaborate floats, marching bands and costumed characters all ringing in the festive season. One of this year biggest attractions was a 30 foot bubble-breathing dragon which left on-lookers in awe of the sheer size of the float not to mention the hundreds of bubbles that were being sprayed out of the dragons’ nose.

 

Although festivities started at 12:30 p.m., many arrived as early as seven in the morning to reassure a good spot for a chance to see the eclectic group of performers as well as Santa accompanied by his 12 reindeers.

 

“My daughter and I have attended the Santa Claus Parade since 92’ and now my son gets a chance to have fun, enjoy the scene and see what it’s all about, it’s become sort of a family tradition now. It seems to be getting bigger every year” said Susan Heitz accompanied by her daughter Sarah, 22, and younger son Jacob, 5.

The first Santa Claus parade took place on December 2nd 1905 as a publicity stunt for the Eaton’s store to promote consumer shopping over the holidays. Over the years the parade became more extravagant. By 1970, more than 30 million people across North America were watching Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade on television with over 30 small and large floats and 500 marchers.

Today, the parade is the largest Christmas parade in the world with over 50 floats (25 of them animated), more than 100 celebrity clowns and 1,500 participants ranging in age from eight to 80. Along with being the largest Christmas parade, it’s also the longest running children’s parade raising $300,000 for various charities for children across the country.The parade broadcasts across North America as far away as New Zealand, Norway and Ireland.

“Canada’s Santa Claus parade is well known in England.” “I visited every year around this time to take my nieces and nephews to join the fun, it’s great, we love it” said John Rutherford holding his three year old nephew waving hi to Santa as he passes by.

 

Despite the gridlock traffic and dropping temperatures on Sunday, nothing was able to dampen the spirits of the thousands of people that gathered along the streets of downtown Toronto to be a part of this year’s parade.


 

 

 

 

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Local | Leave a comment

NDP Victory for Toronto-Danforth

On election night residents of Toronto-Danforth riding spoke loud and clear about who they want to represent them at Queen’s Park, Peter Tabuns. He has been re-elected for his second term as MPP of Toronto–Danforth.

 

Spirits were high as the growing crowd anticipated Tabuns’ arrival at his campaign party held at the Fox & the Fiddle on Danforth Ave. and Carlaw Rd. last night.

 

Among those in attendance was NDP Federal Leader Jack Layton who introduced Tabuns to the podium to deliver his victory speech, praising the hard work of Tabuns and his ridings NDP supporters.

 

“Everybody’s out here to support Peter, Why? Because he’s the hardest working member of provincial government that anyone has ever seen,” Layton said. “Because no one is stronger on the environment than Peter Tabuns, and you can count on him to stand up for you, your family, and your neighborhood.”

 

Tabuns was greeted with cheers by supporters who raised their glasses in tribute to his campaign, he said, “Friends, my feet are tired, but my soul is rested,” in reference to the pair of running shoes he wore with his navy blue pin-stripped suit.He thanked those who supported him and the NDP as well as briefly discussing his plans to secure a fair property tax, take action on the environment by demanding the McGuinty government to abandon the issue of transmission lines that would cut through his riding.

          

Conservative rival Robert Bisbicis who finished third in the race, sat amongst a small group of supporters at Parisios Restaurant on Danforth Ave. Bibiscis focused his attention to the television set above the bar watching Conservative Federal leader John Tory address his campaign followers regarding the shortcomings of this election. Despite his loss, Bisbicis remained optimistic and confident the Tories will gain more support in the next election.

 

“Although I’m not sure that I’ll be running in the next election, I feel the voters of the Toronto-Danforth riding will see that the Conservatives platform is thoroughly planned out, and it’s going to take more broken promises to come to the realization that were best fit for the job.”

           

Liberals Joyce Rowlands who was Tabuns strongest opposition in the riding was unable to break NDP’s stronghold on the area. This being her last election, Rowlands made it a point that she’ll still be active within the liberal party.

 

Tabuns vowed to continue to secure a fair a deal to end Toronto budget crisis, mentioning that there are several main issues he would like to tackle.

 

“There are different levels of priority in this riding, were fighting against the power lines, fighting for a sustainable electrical system, right now Toronto is suffering because the province hasn’t paid its bills.” He added, “On a larger scale were fighting for a province that will do something about climate change, because if we don’t do something about that everything else we have is at risk.”

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Canadian Politics, Local | Leave a comment

TTC burns a hole in student pockets

By MATTHEW COHEN

 

Everyday we wake up to start our early morning commute to work or school. Some of us walk, bike, drive, or take the bus. For those of us on campus unable to walk or bike to their campus because of distance or that they’re unable to afford a car, the most efficient and affordable solution is taking the bus. Unfortunately for us, TTC has raised there rates, again.

 

Andrew Nichollos, a member of the C.C.S.A.I. at the Progress campus explained the price increase for Centennial College students.

 

“We usually order around 2,500 Metropasses every month. Our contract with the TTC expires in December which means the rates given to students will increase by 10.52%, going from $87.75 to $96.98, Nichollos said.”

 

Based on the current volume of Metropass users, it is estimated that, on an annual basis, this will result in net additional annual fare revenue to the TTC of $10 million.

 

For the first 20 years the Metropass was sold, the price was equivalent to 52 adult ticket/token rides. Metropass riders have seen a “savings” of $15 per month in their costs of transit travel since 2003, while ticket and tokens users have been faced with increases of over 10%.

 

In light of the financial crisis which both the City and the TTC are now facing, and given that Metropass users have been “protected” from fare increases for almost five years. “John” (who asked that his name be with held in case of problems arising from talking to  the media without a union rep present) a 10 year veteran bus driver for the TTC considers it reasonable for TTC to add a “catch-up” in the price of a Metropass, on top of the across-the-board fare increase which is being recommended.

 

“Although I was unaware of the Metropass increase, I can understand why. I mean, c’mon, due the increase of counterfeit passes/tokens, the TTC loses out on a lot.” He adds, “It’s a business and the company has to find a way to make up for the loss. How else are they going to pay me?”

 

Jamiel Premji, a student from Centennial College’s Ashtonbee campus disagrees, in response he says the price increase isn’t fair to all ready cash strapped students.

 

“The TTC has been raising their rates for as long as I can remember and the city can’t do anything about it. Once talks of strikes pop-up, the city automatically caves in leaving users to bear the brunt of it by raising fees once again,” Premji said. “Now there’re even putting the squeeze on the wallets of cash-strapped students, as if we don’t have enough to pay for.”

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Education, Local | Leave a comment

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