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Toronto police chief losing job

Toronto's top police officer, Bill Blair, who has been a frequent target of Mayor Rob Ford's wrath, will lose his job in April after the police services board on Wednesday rejected his request to renew his contract.

The board offered no substantive reasons in a statement announcing its decision.

"After considerable discussion related to the Toronto Police Service's continuing need for organizational renewal, the board has decided not to renew the employment agreement of Chief Blair," the board said.

"The board extends to Chief Blair our sincere gratitude for his outstanding record of public service and inspiring leadership."

Blair had little to say in response to the statement.

"All that he's saying is that he wants to thank the board for its consideration," said Blair's spokesman Mark Pugash.

"He will have plenty of opportunities to address the issues as time goes on."

Blair's contract expires April 25, 2015.

The tall strapping police chief found himself the target of Ford's anger over an ongoing police investigation into the mayor that, among other things, turned up a video apparently showing him smoking crack cocaine.

At a news conference announcing retrieval of the video last October, Blair said he was disappointed at what it showed.

Ford, who later admitted to smoking crack cocaine in a "drunken stupor" and took time out for addictions treatment last month, repeatedly said the probe into his activities was politically motivated. He publicly accused Blair of wasting taxpayers' money with the investigation.

The mayor also challenged the chief to arrest and charge him, prompting Blair at one point to call in provincial police to oversee the investigation.

"If he's going to arrest me, arrest me," Ford said in February. "I have done nothing wrong."

On Wednesday, however, Ford had little to say after the board's decision. He did strike a somewhat conciliatory tone.

"I want to thank Chief Bill Blair for his service to the people of this great city for the last 10 years," Ford said at city hall.

"This is a decision that was made strictly by the police services board. That's all I can say."

Ford took no questions.

In its statement, the board said it would turn its mind now to finding a successor to Blair, who began as police chief in April 2005, replacing Julian Fantino, currently federal minister of veterans affairs.

He was in charge during the tumultuous G20 summit in June 2010 in which police arrested more than one thousand people in what critics denounced as one of the largest abuses of civil liberties in Canadian history.

More recently, he called in retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci to investigate police shootings of the mentally ill and people in crisis. Iacobucci released his report last week, and Blair promised to ensure every one of the 84 recommendations would be implemented.

Despite refusing to keep him on, the board praised Blair for his "long and distinguished" career in policing.

"He is widely viewed as a champion of community policing and a leader in law enforcement around the world," the board said.

"He has demonstrated his commitment to issues of human rights, diversity and integrity, among many others, and has served Toronto admirably and tirelessly."

The Canadian Press


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Another prison escape in Quebec

Police in Quebec are hunting for a convicted murderer who escaped from a prison in Laval, north of Montreal, early Tuesday.

Robert Gaudette was discovered missing during a head count at the Federal Training Centre, which is listed as both a minimum and medium security facility.

The Correctional Service of Canada immediately contacted the RCMP, Quebec provincial police and the local force in Laval.

Gaudette, who is 55, has been behind bars since receiving a life sentence in 2002 for the second-degree murder of his wife.

He is five-foot-11, 189 pounds with a pale complexion, green eyes and brown hair, and has a surgical scar on the abdomen.

The Correctional Service says it will conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the escape.

Earlier this year three men escaped from the Orsainville Detention Centre in Quebec City with the help of a helicopter.

That was the second time in just over a year that a helicopter was involved in a jailbreak.

The Canadian Press


Terry Fox day in Manitoba

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger plans to name the civic holiday in August after Terry Fox.

Fox was born in Winnipeg in 1958 and raised money for cancer research with a planned cross-country run called the Marathon of Hope in 1980.

He had to stop his marathon near Thunder Bay, Ont., as his cancer had spread.

Selinger told Winnipeg radio station CJOB Wednesday morning that Fox's efforts have led to $600 million raised in some 60 countries around the world.

He says the government first has to discuss the issue with the Terry Fox Foundation, then make the name change official by passing a bill in the legislature this fall.

Selinger also says the idea of renaming the August civic holiday after Terry Fox may catch on in other provinces. 

The Canadian Press


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Canada hacked by Chinese

The recent infiltration of National Research Council of Canada computers by Chinese hackers comes as the agency is working on an advanced computer encryption system that is supposed to prevent such attacks.

The cyber assault has been met with sharp criticism of the Chinese government by Ottawa — even as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is in China laying a path for a visit there this fall by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The federal government revealed Tuesday that the NRC's networks were the target of a cyber attack, resulting in the shutdown of its IT network for an extended period. The Chinese embassy in Ottawa denied any such attack.

Curiously, the NRC has been working with private sector and university research teams on a physics-based, state-of-the-art computer encryption system.

"The emerging field of quantum communication promises unhackable, secure communication that can be applied to protect our digital infrastructure," says the NRC's website.

"NRC is developing photonics-based, quantum-enhanced cyber security solutions ... collaborating to develop technologies that address increased demands for high-performance security for communications, data storage and data processing."

The research agency had hoped that such technology would position Canada as a global leader in field of quantum cyber security.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has not said when the NRC's computer systems were infiltrated or what the hackers might have been able to access, but said there is no evidence that other government computer systems or data have been compromised.

For now the NRC's computers have been isolated from the rest of the government's systems as a precaution, a move that the agency said "will affect ongoing business operations."

The council said it could be some time before a new, more secure system is up and running.

"NRC is continuing to work closely with its IT experts and security partners to create a new secure IT infrastructure," the council said in a statement. "This could take approximately one year however; every step is being taken to minimize disruption."

In a separate statement, the government said one of Canada's spy agencies, the Communications Security Establishment, detected and confirmed the cyber attack.

The intrusion came from "a highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor," said the Treasury Board. "We have no evidence that data compromises have occurred on the broader Government of Canada network."

 

The Canadian Press


Flight issues for ex-premier

Former Alberta premier Alison Redford is denying any personal wrongdoing associated with findings by the auditor general that passenger lists on government aircraft were altered so she could fly alone.

Redford issued the denial via Twitter on Tuesday, noting she has not been able to read the auditor general's draft report because it has not been provided to her.

"But I have cooperated fully with the auditor general in the preparation of his report and will continue to do so," she said.

"I understand from the media that the draft report supposedly refers to certain flight booking practices in the Office of the Premier. I would be surprised if these allegations are true but in any event, I also understand that the draft report makes clear that these were not practices that I had any knowledge of.

"It would not be true to suggest that I flew on the government plane alone. Despite the allegations raised today, as far as I am concerned there was never any directive preventing others from flying on government aircraft when I was a passenger. In fact, on most occasions that I can recall, when I was on government flights, I travelled with other elected officials, public servants and staff."

Alberta's Wildrose Opposition says there should be an RCMP investigation into Redford's use of government aircraft.

Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson says the public has an expectation that politicians who may have broken the law should be investigated.

A CBC News report on Tuesday said a review by auditor general Merwan Saher found that Redford's staff blocked others from flying on government planes by booking seats in advance and then removing passenger names before printing the flight manifest.

"The implications of this practice were that other government employees or elected officials would not have been able to travel on those aircraft," Saher said in an internal government report obtained by the CBC.

Anderson said it appears the governing Progressive Conservatives were using the planes as "personal air limousines."

"The PCs will undoubtedly try and pin this all on Ms. Redford and her departed staff as though they had absolutely nothing to do with it," Anderson said.

"The fact is, there is simply no way that these actions could have been taken without other senior government staff and cabinet ministers knowing full well about it."

Redford resigned as premier on March 23 amid caucus complaints about her lavish spending. It was Redford who, before she resigned, asked the auditor general to review the government's flight program.

CBC News quoted the auditor's report as saying that "false passengers" were booked on some government flights so Redford could fly alone.

The network said the auditor's report also said Redford and her former chief of staff denied any knowledge of the altered passenger lists.

The Canadian Press


Gang members arrested

Police say a member of the B.C.-based Red Scorpions gang and three associate members have been arrested in central and southern Alberta.

CTV Vancouver is reporting that search warrants executed in Airdrie, Red Deer and Calgary last week focused on the gang's drug-trafficking operation and its infiltration of the Alberta market.

Police say firearms and drugs were seized.

They include a loaded semi-automatic handgun, a stolen shotgun with ammunition, an illegal cocaine lab and various illegal narcotics.

The Red Deer RCMP, the Airdrie RCMP, Calgary Police Services and the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) were all involved in the investigation.

The Red Scorpions gang is alleged to have been involved in the mass shooting of six people in a highrise condo in Surrey, B.C., in October 2007.

A verdict in that case is expected in October.

Cory James Lesperance, 29 and originally from British Columbia, is alleged to be at the centre of the drug-trafficking network in Alberta. He was arrested at a home just outside Red Deer and faces a total of 14 drug- and weapons-related charges.

Three people police describe as Red Scorpions associates were arrested in Airdrie and Calgary. Robin Joseph Stewart, 52, faces eight charges; Nicholas David James White, 21, faces six charges; and Amber McLeod, 23, faces four charges.

Police say there may be additional charges and arrests.



Plan needed for 'dumpcano'

Government officials are to meet this week to consider a plan for putting out a dump fire that has been fouling the air in Nunavut's capital for more than two months.

The city of Iqaluit just doesn't have the $2.2 million it would take to quench the blaze and its nostril-searing smoke, said fire chief Luc Grandmaison.

"We're asking them (the territory) to help us with resources."

The fire began May 20 and has been dubbed the "dumpcano" — a term Grandmaison regrets having coined, because he feels it belittles the seriousness of the situation.

The combustion is centred somewhere deep within the massive pile of trash that is the Iqaluit city dump. The burning section — about the size of a football field and up to four storeys deep — is a smoky cauldron of untold numbers of household garbage bags.

There are no flames. But Grandmaison said the subsurface heat reaches up to 2,000 C.

The heart of the blaze is too deep for firehoses to reach. The pile of garbage is too unstable to attack with backhoes or other equipment. The best crews have been able to do is cut trenches through the garbage and isolate the burning section from the rest of the dump.

The fumes have at times closed schools and prompted health warnings. City council decided the fire couldn't be allowed to burn itself out and turned to a landfill expert from British Columbia to help.

Anthony Sperling has proposed building a large pond walled by dirt and garbage and filled with seawater. High-extension excavators would take load after load of burning waste and dunk it in the pool to extinguish it. The waste would then be drained, flattened and stored in a new area.

Water from the quenching pond would be pumped onto the burning section of the dump to quell the flames expected to leap up as shovels bit in.

The work would continue for weeks until the garbage pile was no more than five metres high. Specialized industrial firefighting crews would have to wear respirators and splash suits to protect themselves from contaminated water.

Sperling said the problem is that the Iqaluit dump, commissioned in 1995, was supposed to be open for five years. It's still in use, nearly 20 years later.

"It's been stacked higher into very steep slopes to make it last," said Sperling. "That's created conditions that make it very difficult now to extinguish it."

It's the dump's fourth fire since mid-December. In 2010, a blaze took six weeks to put out.

Iqaluit's situation isn't unique in Nunavut.

In 2001, Nunavut mayors pleaded with Ottawa for extra money to deal with dangerous dumps and lagoons. A 2004 report by the Conference Board of Canada made similar points, as did a 2010 consultant's study for Environment Canada.

A 2011 estimate put the cost of modernizing all 25 municipal dumps in Nunavut at between $320 million and $500 million.

Sperling's plan has been approved by Iqaluit city council.

The government of Nunavut and representatives from Environment Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development are to meet with city officials to discuss it.

The Canadian Press


Beer for Rob Ford food fight

A Toronto man has been charged after police say an online post urged people to throw food at Mayor Rob Ford during a party in a city park.

Police say they became aware Thursday of an Internet post on a Toronto-based website that referred to the annual "Ford Fest" event to be held the following day at an east-end park.

It's alleged the author of the post offered free beer to anyone who threw eggs or tomatoes at Ford.

Police say Dilaz Rajwani, 37, turned himself in on Friday afternoon, and is charged with counselling an uncommitted indictable offence.

He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 3.

Hundreds of supporters and a handful of protesters showed up for Friday evening's party, where the mayor shook hands, posed for pictures and signed autographs.

Ford's role as mayor has been largely symbolic since November, when city council stripped him of most of his power following his admissions of alcohol abuse and drug use during "drunken stupors.''

He spent nearly two months in rehab earlier this year to tackle substance abuse problems.

The Canadian Press


Bird plucker defends herself

A Facebook posting says a woman caught on video in a Montreal subway train apparently plucking and eating a bird was only preparing "country food" for a meal at home.

A woman, who identifies herself on Facebook as Christina David and an Inuk, says she's not "crazy" and wasn't eating the bird raw, as has been reported.

A YouTube video posted earlier this month appears to show a woman sitting down, bent over, pulling the feathers off what looks like a bird and then eating it.

Montreal police spokesman Manuel Couture said investigators haven't been in contact with David and haven't confirmed the identity of the woman in the video.

The man filming the video says he's about to vomit, while other passengers are seen moving to the other end of the subway car, but David says she is surprised at the uproar the video has caused.

In a lengthy message thread on Facebook, she accuses other passengers and the media of over reacting about the bird.

"It's their own fault they were watching and disgusted... I couldn't wait to go home so I can put it on the big pan with onions and mushrooms.

Some of the friends on the thread posted that David, who also used the name Christina Qualli Poasie on Facebook, was being a "true Inuk."

David also posted that she "wasn't even making any mess."

"I was so happy that I didn't care where I was at the moment but all I have to say is that I ain't crazy," she said.

"I will always be an Inuk no matter where I am."

The Canadian Press attempted to contact David on Sunday to ask her about the Facebook postings in which she suggests she was the woman on the video, but the news service was unable to talk to her.

Couture said the woman in the video could still be charged with disturbing the peace.

"An investigator has to meet her and find out what happened," Couture said.

The Canadian Press


Feminist disappears from history

The Harper government has spent millions to commemorate the War of 1812 and other episodes from Canadian history, but has also erased at least one inspiring piece of the past.

Therese Casgrain, a feminist icon and Quebec heroine who died in 1981, has been quietly removed from a national honour, to be replaced by a volunteer award bearing the prime minister's banner.

The Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award, was started in 1982 by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau.

It honoured Canadian activists such as June Callwood until it was eliminated — unannounced —by the Harper government in 2010.

An image of Casgrain and her namesake volunteer-award medal also disappeared from Canada's $50 bank note in 2012, replaced by the image of an icebreaker on a new currency series.

An image of the so-called Famous Five women was removed from the same bank note.

"It was a very difficult thing for the family to see the award disappear all of a sudden," Michele Nadeau, Casgrain's granddaughter, said in an interview. "It was a great disappointment."

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which had administered the Casgrain award, was instructed in 2010 to create a Prime Minister's Volunteer Award in its place, to be handed out in a ceremony each year presided over by Stephen Harper.

Casgrain fought for the right of Quebec women to vote, which they finally won in 1940. She also became the first female leader of a political party in Canada, heading the CCF in Quebec, and was appointed to the Senate in 1970 by Trudeau.

A spokesman for Employment and Social Development Canada, the successor department to Human Resources, says the Casgrain award was reviewed in 2010 following the fall speech from the throne, which announced plans for a new volunteer award.

"Discussions took place with the Casgrain Foundation and it was decided that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada end the ... program, rather than re-orient and re-launch it," Pierre Nolet said in an email.

"There was no public announcement of its end. The spirit and objectives of the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award were retained in two national categories of the PMVA (Prime Minister's Volunteer Award)."

Nadeau, however, says her family and the Montreal-based Therese Casgrain Foundation, which she heads, were not consulted about whether the award should be eliminated.

"We were informed of a sort of internal review that was done by the Human Resources Department, and they decided to discontinue. But we were never consulted."

"Basically, we were advised that at some point the award would be discontinued. ... Members of the family, the grandchildren, etc., the great grandchildren, were rather upset."

The Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards, launched in 2011, honour 17 Canadians from across the country each year. The awards ceremony was held Feb. 27 this year in Toronto, with Harper personally presenting a medal and certificate to each winner, and having his picture taken with them.

The Casgrain Award was killed once before by the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1990, but was revived in 2001 by the Chretien Liberals.

Two members of the Therese Casgrain Foundation sat on the selection committee for the two volunteer awards handed out each year, but Human Resources handled all the administration. Much the same group of public servants now administers the new prime minister's award.

The department gave the Casgrain family two commemorative packages about the Casgrain award and its 31 recipients after the demise, including a book and a copy of the medal.

A $51,000 focus-group study commissioned by the federal government in late 2010 found strong resistance to naming a volunteer award after the prime minister.

"They (participants) were uncomfortable with the notion that through the reference to 'Prime Minister' there was the possibility that the awards might be perceived to be political in nature," said the Harris-Decima report.

"Not-for-profit organizations shared particularly strong feelings about this issue." Few participants felt 'prime minister' conveyed any sense of prestige.

Another volunteer award begun in 1995, the Caring Canadian Award, is handed out by the Governor General each year.

Other elements of Canada's past have gone uncommemorated in recent years, notably the 25th and 30th anniversaries of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, signed into law in 1982 under Pierre Trudeau.

In 2012, Harper suggested "divisions" around the patriation of the Constitution kept the government from commemorating the 30th anniversary, a reference to the fact Quebec did not sign the deal.

 

The Canadian Press


Prisons to test monitoring devices

High-risk offenders in Ontario and Quebec are among the inmates slated to take part in a federal prison service pilot project to test the effectiveness of electronic monitoring devices.

Research data will be collected for at least two years before a decision is taken on further use of the devices, to be worn by offenders completing sentences in the community.

The Canadian Press obtained internal memos about the planned pilot project — which is months behind schedule — under the Access to Information Act.

The government announced plans for the pilot early last year despite opposition from the NDP, which questioned the cost.

In a September 2012 report, a majority of the Commons public safety committee recommended that the Correctional Service look into broader use of monitoring, which usually involves an ankle bracelet that can be electronically tracked from a central facility.

However, the NDP disagreed, saying the government's own witnesses made it clear that the devices are not effective for low-risk offenders.

Only medium- or high-risk male offenders out on statutory release — the final one-third of their sentence — or subject to a long-term supervision order will be eligible to take part in the pilot, says a September 2013 Correctional Service memo to regional deputy commissioners.

The Ontario and Quebec regions were selected because they have the largest number of high-risk offenders with special conditions imposed on their release, adds the memo.

Offenders who agree to participate in the research will be randomly assigned to one of two groups: those fitted with a device, or those without one.

The prison service tested monitoring devices from 2008-11, but did not gauge their "effectiveness and efficiency," the memo says.

Legislation passed by the Conservatives gives the prison service authority to demand that an offender who leaves prison on temporary absence, work release, parole, statutory release or long-term supervision wear a monitoring device.

The bracelets can be programmed to send an alert if the offender violates a release condition prohibiting them from being in certain places. Officials see the tool as a means of overcoming the challenges of monitoring offenders who have been ordered to abide by a curfew, or to avoid schools, parks, bars or known gang areas.

Correctional Service notes on the current project, prepared last November, say it will examine the cost-effectiveness of electronic monitoring, changes in offender behaviour, staff experiences with the devices, and any additional "intended and unintended" consequences.

Prison service spokeswoman Veronique Rioux refused to make anyone available to discuss the pilot.

It was supposed to begin last spring, but no bids from potential equipment vendors met the government's requirements.

The prison remains committed to the project, Rioux said, though she did not indicate when it might begin.

A number of provincial correctional systems use electronic monitoring to keep track of suspects out on bail or offenders permitted to be in the community under court-ordered conditions.

Still, the November notes say, a key challenge is managing expectations of partners involved in electronic monitoring, or EM.

"Many of them have very limited experience with EM, and their knowledge is often based on what they've seen on TV, in Hollywood movies and from seeing some American celebrities who have worn an EM device," a prison service official wrote.

"It is important for them to understand that EM is not a silver bullet and as with all technology some limitations do exist."

 

The Canadian Press


Bees sting PM's wife in Toronto

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's wife probably would have preferred a taste of honey but ended up on the business end of a bee sting.

Laureen Harper was taking a look at a bee hive on the rooftop of Toronto's Royal York hotel Sunday, but she and the hotel chef got a bit close and were stung.

The bee hive is part of the hotel's effort to provide in-house honey for its restaurant and to help the environment by providing bees to pollinate area gardens and parks.

Video footage on Toronto television station CP 24 appeared to show the chef getting the most attention from the bees.

Laureen Harper didn't appear at all fazed by the stinging rebuke handed out by the bees, and for good reason.

The Prime Minister's Office says she is very comfortable around bees as her father raised bees on the family farm.

There was no word on how many stings she received.

The Canadian Press


Car rams Costco, kills 6-year-old

A six-year-old child who was injured after being hit by a car that crashed through the front doors of a London, Ont., Costco has died.

On Friday, the collision injured six and caused panic among those shopping in the busy store (on Wellington Road South).

Police have identified the six-year-old child as Addison Hall.

They say three people remain in hospital, including a woman in fair condition and two children who are in critical condition.

Police continue to investigate.

They are asking any witnesses to come forward.

The Canadian Press


Electric cars hindered by utilities

Ontario's overabundance of utility firms may pose a major roadblock to the province's plan to boost electric car ownership, some experts say.

The experts say Ontario's 75 independently operated utilities often overlap their efforts and breed inefficiency, holding back upgrades needed so the grid can support what the province expects will be an influx of electric cars in the next few years.

"A lot of work needs to be done (…) if Ontario is going to move toward infrastructure to support electrification of vehicles," said Hossam Gaber, an energy professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

"Having co-ordination is important to avoid waste of time, waste of resources and also, making sure we are not lacking or losing something important."

Plug'n Drive, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the move to electric cars, said about 2,500 of the province's approximately seven million cars are electric — less than half a per cent.

The province said in 2009 it aims for one in 20 cars to be electric by 2020 — at least 380,000, based on current figures.

Thomas Timmins, head of the global renewable energy practice at the law firm Gowlings, said grid upgrades are needed as demand for power grows exponentially with charging speed. Fast charging — under an hour — uses up to 10 times the power a household usually consumes.

"Everyone's going to be like, 'I need to charge in an hour. I need to charge in 15 minutes. No, no, I need to charge in five minutes,'" he said.

Some small-scale utilities have as few as three employees and are unequipped to handle the necessary changes, he said.

Horizon Utilities' vice-president of business development, Neil Freeman, said one way to better integrate electric cars would be to merge some of the utilities.

"It would be easier to implement those innovations and it would be of lower cost," he said. "There would be less administrative cost for larger utilities than 70 different implementations."

Provincial boards proposed some forms of merger in 1996 and again in 2012, but officials never acted on those recommendations. Some firms, however, did merge of their own volition after 1996, dropping the number of utilities — 393 at its peak in 1932 — to close to current levels.

Ministry of Energy spokeswoman Andrea Arbuthnot said the province will not force mergers, but expects firms themselves to form "innovative partnerships."

She said the government has pumped $50 million into research on smart grids — systems that provide feedback so utilities can identify high-demand areas — which should help ensure electric car owners get the power they need without overwhelming the grid.

About $14 million of the funds have been doled out so far but Arbuthnot said the province will announce where the rest will go in the "near future."

Meanwhile, some are taking steps to ensure the existing electric cars are integrating well into the grid in certain areas.

Plug'n Drive is providing lists of those who buy home chargers to 14 major utilities in the province to monitor usage, said outreach manager Ron Groves.

"The idea there is that if they see a cluster happening — of five, six, 10 electric vehicles in a neighbourhood — they can make a decision as to whether the infrastructure there can handle the load."

The Canadian Press




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