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Coffee snares prank caller

Police in Ontario say grabbing a coffee led to the arrest of a woman accused of making a hoax gun call to 911.

Police in Kingston, Ont., say they received a 911 call at 7:45 p.m. Thursday reporting a man in front of a home with a gun, and they say the caller gave the names of the suspects.

Due to the nature of the call, two emergency response unit officers and five patrol officers were sent to the scene, but after talking with the suspects the call was deemed to be a hoax.

However, a patrol officer already in the area spotted a woman carrying a coffee from a shop near the source of the 911 call and stopped to talk with her.

The officer returned to police headquarters and after listening to the voice on the 911 tape, he confirmed it was the woman he'd spoken with on the street.

A 36-year-old woman is charged with public mischief.



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Mumps cases linked to bars

Public health officials in Toronto say there are now 17 confirmed cases of mumps linked to bars in the city's downtown.

Earlier this week, Toronto Public Health said they had been investigating 14 cases of the viral infection.

Spokeswoman Lenore Bromley says the lab-confirmed cases involve people between 18 and 35 years of age who frequented west Toronto bars.

She says the bars may be a contributing factor in the circulation of the viral infection.

The mumps virus is found in saliva and respiratory droplets, and is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and coming into contact with a person's saliva by sharing drinks or utensils, or by kissing.

The Toronto cases come as Alberta Health Services investigates up to four potential cases of mumps in the Edmonton area and a hockey team based in Medicine Hat, Alta., reports half a dozen players and a coach have mumps.

Public health officials say it's important that people check their immunization records to ensure their vaccinations for mumps are up to date.

Health officials say a major factor contributing to outbreaks is being in a crowded environment, such as attending the same class, playing on the same sports team or living in a dormitory with a person who has the mumps.

Complications from mumps can include encephalitis, meningitis, painful swelling of the testicles or the ovaries, pancreatitis and hearing loss.

Pregnant women who become infected with mumps during the first three months of pregnancy are at risk of miscarriage.



Manning on populism

The man who once successfully harnessed populist sentiment in Canada into political success is warning that much is at stake if today's political leadership fails to do that.

Preston Manning, founder of the Reform party, says the greatest challenge facing political leaders is that people are becoming increasingly disenchanted with government, mainstream media and politics.

"The answer is to manifestations of Trumpomania is not Trumpophobia, but political leadership that addresses the root causes of voter alienation and redirects negative political energy into positive ends," Manning said Friday at the annual conservative conference that bears his name.

At $500 for the conference fee, less for students, the gathering is less rank-and-file grassroots of the conservative movement in Canada and more the party's intelligentsia and operators gathered to debate the way forward.

But Manning said the point is to give the disparate elements of the movement the opportunity to meet, network and develop tools and strategies necessary to take the lead in federal and provincial politics in the future years.

The more carefully watched portion of the conference is likely to be the debate among the candidates for leadership of the federal Conservative party.

Friday is the deadline to register for the leadership contest and, barring last-minute entrants, there are 14 contenders.

Several have information tables in the hallways at the conference, where 900 people have reportedly registered for the two-day event, and others are holding parties off-site as they seek to woo card-carrying Tories and sell memberships to others.

The party will select its new leader in May.



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Deficit hits $14 billion

The federal government ran a budgetary shortfall of $14 billion over the first nine months of the fiscal year, compared with a $3.2-billion surplus over the same period a year earlier.

The Finance Department's monthly fiscal monitor says federal program expenses between April and December rose $16.7 billion, or 8.8 per cent, compared with the same stretch a year ago.

A closer look at the numbers shows that major government transfers to individuals, including seniors benefits, were up $5.7 billion, or 9.3 per cent, while direct-program spending rose $8.9 billion, or 11.3 per cent.

Government revenues, such as those pulled in from income taxes, were down $1.9 billion or 0.9 per cent compared with 2015-16.

The Trudeau government is projecting a $25.1-billion deficit for 2016-17 as part of its plan to run several double-digit shortfalls over the coming years in an effort to lift the economy through infrastructure investments and larger child benefits.

The Finance Department also says Ottawa posted a $1.3-billion deficit in December alone — compared to a $2.2-billion surplus in December 2015.



Verdict on murder expected

A judge is expected to rule today whether the parents of a diabetic boy who died of starvation and lack of treatment are guilty of first-degree murder.

Emil and Rodica Radita have pleaded not guilty in 15-year-old Alexandru’s death.

Alexandru, who was one of eight children, weighed less than 37 pounds when he died in 2013 of complications due to untreated diabetes and starvation.

Alberta's chief medical examiner testified an autopsy showed the teen was severely underweight, covered in ulcers and nearly toothless, and there were several signs the boy had been subjected to neglect and starvation.

Dr. Jeffery Gofton said Alexandru appeared skeletal with thin hair and sunken eyes. He said the boy was wearing a diaper and had very little body fat.

He told court the teen's teeth were in an extreme state of disrepair and it appeared most had rotted down to the root. There was no sign of any dental work.

Defence lawyer Andrea Serink, who represents Rodica Radita, said the couple didn't intend to kill their son, but are culpable for not providing the level of care that he needed.

"The Raditas are guilty of manslaughter, not murder," she said in her final argument.

Crown prosecutor Susan Pepper said any reasonable person would have known lack of treatment would have fatal consequences for Alexandru.

“Really the question is was there an intention to withhold care … leading to certain consequences that they would expect to have occur?” Pepper said in her final remarks.

Witnesses testified that the Raditas refused to accept that their son had diabetes and failed to treat his disease until he was hospitalized near death in British Columbia in 2003.

B.C. social workers apprehended Alexandru after his October 2003 hospital admission and placed him in foster care — where he thrived — for nearly a year before he was returned to his family.

Testimony also indicated that after the family moved to Alberta, he was enrolled in an online school program for one year but never finished. There was no evidence that the boy ever saw a doctor, although he did have an Alberta health insurance number.

The trial heard that the parents’ religious beliefs included not going to doctors. The day the Alexandru died, the family went to church and said that the boy had died, but that God had resurrected him.



Strict rules for driving events

A judge says unregulated extreme driving stunts such as the one that led to the death of an Edmonton university student should be banned.

The recommendation is in a fatality report into the May 18, 2013, death of Melinda Green.

Green was watching a "Jeeps Go Topless" charity fundraiser in a strip mall parking lot in which one vehicle drove on top of the front wheel of another one.

For some reason, the top Jeep lurched forward into the crowd, injuring the 20-year-old. She died later that afternoon.

In the report released Thursday, provincial court Judge Jody Moher notes the event had no safety plan, no safety precautions and no insurance. There were also no barriers between the demonstration area and spectators.

Moher said gaps in provincial and municipal rules allowed the "inherently dangerous" driving demonstration to take place.

"Extreme driving demonstrations/driving stunts such as the one that killed Melinda Green should be prohibited whether on private property, public property or 'off highway,' " Moher wrote.

Moher recommends that extreme driving events not be allowed in public unless there are safety marshals present and barriers between vehicles and spectators.

Mira Green, Melinda's mother, said she is satisfied with the recommendations and hopes governments take action.

She and her husband John attended the fatality inquiry.

She said extreme driving demonstrations are OK if safety rules are followed.

"We believe that had there been concrete barriers when that demonstration went wrong and the stunt went badly, it might have saved Melinda's life."

While heartened by the recommendations and grateful for the work of the judge, Green said the report does not provide her and her husband with much solace.

"It doesn't change anything for us. We will still wake up every day without Melinda," she said.



Cleared of child sex charge

A man left reeling by a child-sex conviction has been cleared after his step-granddaughter recanted, saying she was forced to make up the story by another family member.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal set aside the 2011 conviction of the man, who was sentenced to four months in prison and 18 months probation for sexual interference involving his 12-year-old step-granddaughter.

The young complainant testified at the trial that he touched her vagina several times, allegations the man denied in court and which were also shown to have inconsistencies that were not properly handled by the trial judge.

The case returned to court Thursday after affidavits showed the complainant, now 17, admitted she made up the story because her paternal grandmother repeatedly told her that he sexually abused her and pressured her to tell that story in court.

The affidavits reveal that the complainant's parents were going through a bitter separation at the time and her father's family had turned her against her mother.

The man, who is not identified in the court proceedings, says the conviction has left him feeling "despised" by family members and his community because he has been deemed a sex offender.



Charity memorabilia stolen

Winnipeg police are searching for a suspect behind the theft of Winnipeg Jets memorabilia that was destined for charity.

Police and True North Sports & Entertainment say the items were stolen from the MTS Centre on Monday afternoon.

The Jets say the items taken include a jersey signed by defenceman Dustin Byfuglien and a Heritage Classic jacket autographed by former Jets star Dale Hawerchuk.

Police say the male suspect had earlier stolen some clothing from a vehicle before breaking into the MTS Centre.

In addition to the signed memorabilia, the suspect also made off with a laptop computer, a tablet computer and a number of un-activated iPhones from offices in the centre.

True North Sports & Entertainment owns the Jets and MTS Centre.



Drs on screen, not bedside

A University of Calgary study suggests that patient care is suffering from an overuse of computers in hospitals and doctor offices.

In the latest study, Dr. Myles Leslie from The School of Public Policy looked at health-care workers in the intensive care units of three U.S. hospitals. He found some doctors and nurses spent up to 90 per cent of their shift on a computer.

"You have the attitude already that this is becoming the job and the job is data management," Leslie said Thursday.

"The job really isn't fixing bodies and interacting with them. It's just managing streams of data. That's a big challenge."

Leslie said too much computer work for staff could lead to patients feeling neglected and to less communication between doctors, nurses and social workers.

There was a time when conversations would revolve around a patient's chart sitting at the foot of the bed, he said.

"Conversations about how I trust you. I think you're doing the right thing. I'm going to tell you I think there might be something wrong with the order you just wrote, with the prescription you just wrote," Leslie said.

"Maybe we have to ratchet back the computer work. That's going to help patients. It's going to make sure the possibility for dropped balls is so much less when we're actually talking to one another."

The study, which has been published in the journal Health Services Research, involved 446 hours of observational data collected from the three ICUs over one year.

The average time retrieving health information with the use of computers averaged about 49 per cent but was as high as 90 per cent.

Leslie said part of the study involved talking to patients and families who were getting less hands-on attention.

"The father of a daughter who was inside the room said they come up. They look at the numbers. They ignore the patient. They leave. This is not right," said Leslie.

"The experience ... we got from the families we were talking to was 'I feel like a piece of meat rather than somebody who is part of my care and really part of anything that is going on around here."

Leslie suggested it may take awhile, but hospitals and medical schools need to educate health-care professionals about a more balanced approach to patient care.

A study based on 2015 numbers and commissioned last year by Canada Health Infoway, a not-for-profit organization, heralded some benefits of digital health care in Canada.

It indicated electronic medical records, along with complementary technologies, resulted in $200 million saved in health-care costs.

That included less clinician time spent on chart management and a reduction in duplicate laboratory and diagnostic tests.



GPS streetcar kerfuffle

A man who allegedly drove his SUV into a streetcar tunnel on Thursday, bringing traffic in downtown Toronto to a halt for several hours, reportedly told transit officials he was following his GPS instructions when his vehicle got stuck.

Toronto Transit Commissio spokesman Brad Ross had no information on where the man was travelling when he drove into the tunnel at one of the city's main downtown transit hubs in the middle of the night.

A streetcar came across the SUV jammed in the tunnel shortly before 5:00 a.m. Thursday morning, he said.

He said stuck cars are not unheard of, but said this one stood out as unusual due to the nature of the tunnel and the distance the vehicle travelled.

"That part of the network, only streetcars use it," Ross said of the tunnel in which the track is raised rather than being imbedded in the road. ". . . . The fact that this car made it almost 800 metres to the Union Station platform is very unusual. Cars have gone down there in the past, but typically they get stuck far sooner than that."

Ross said that shortly after the man got stuck on the tracks, he temporarily fled the scene.

"When we got there, the driver of the car tried to run back down the tunnel, (the operator) stopped him from doing so, and he ran out the other way," Ross said.

Ross said he was unsure of the timeline, but said the man later returned to the scene and claimed GPS directions had inadvertently led him into the downtown tunnel. Transit enforcement officers issued him a ticket, but Ross did not know of any criminal charges.

A specialized crane was needed to remove the vehicle from the tunnel, Ross said, since a tow truck would also have been unable to enter the tunnel without damage.

He said the process led to a nearly six-hour delay on two of the city's busiest streetcar routes.

Service resumed by late Thursday morning.



Measles outbreak in Halifax

Four more cases of measles have been confirmed by health officials in the Halifax area, bringing the total number of known cases in Nova Scotia to seven.

Last week, the Nova Scotia Health Authority notified the public about three people who had become infected, saying it was the first time in nine years that the highly contagious infection had been reported.

In an update Thursday, the medical officer of health, Dr. Trevor Arnason, said all of the current cases involve young adults.

Arnason said it's not surprising that more cases have been found given how contagious the virus is.

"At the same time, it's a positive sign that the number remains low and we've had good success following up with contacts of individuals who have contracted measles," Arnason said in a news release.

He said the risk to the general public remained low and that most people are protected by being vaccinated.

The authority said of those people identified, "some were immunized fully or partially and some were not," although no numbers were provided.

It noted people born in the 1970s to early 1990s may have received only one dose of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine in childhood and are eligible for a second dose of the vaccine at no cost through a publicly funded immunization program.

In an email, the authority said vaccination has been shown to be highly effective, with the efficacy of a single dose given at 12 or 15 months of age estimated to be 85 to 95 per cent. With a second dose, the effectiveness for children approaches 100 per cent.



Rural doctors want help

The Society of Rural Physicians of Canada has launched a strategy aimed at improving rural health in Canada.

The Rural Road Map for Action includes four major directions aimed at ensuring the 18 per cent of Canadians living outside urban centres have equal access to high-quality health care.

It focuses on support for Canadian medical schools as they develop students willing to practice in rural communities.

It also works to link those young doctors with longtime rural physicians.

The strategy offers proposals to strengthen the network of specialists and other care providers, helping rural doctors offer the best care for patients and communities, despite geographical challenges.

Golden, B.C., doctor and co-chair of the task force, Dr. Trina Larsen Soles, says the plan is vital because recruiting and retaining family physicians in rural areas through financial incentives alone is not enough.

"Family medicine residents who are educated in rural training sites, immerse themselves in the communities and who see themselves supported by peers, specialists, health-care providers and evolving distance technologies are more likely to choose rural and stay rural," she says.

Co-ordination and alignment of education, practice policies, community involvement and government support is needed to ensure the best rural health care in this country, says Larsen Soles.



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