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13 injured, 2 dead in Danforth shooting

Over a dozen people are injured and two victims have died following a Toronto shooting that took place on July 22 at approximately 10:00 p.m. in the Greektown neighbourhood.

An unnamed 29-year-old shooter was armed with a handgun and open fired on pedestrians in Toronto’s popular Danforth and Broadview area. The shooter was also pronounced dead in a nearby alleyway after an altercation with police, though reports have yet to confirm whether he died from police gunfire or if he took his own life.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Mayor John Tory spoke with reporters following the attack.

“Approximately 15 people have been hit with gunfire,” Saunders told reporters. “There are 15 in total. One is the alleged suspect, the other 14 are victims. I can tell you that one has succumb to their injuries at this point in time. A young girl is in critical state right now and the other 13 are in hospital and being treated.”

Regarding motive, Saunders told reporters that he’s keeping every option open. “I’m looking at absolutely every possible motive for this. When you have this many people that are struck by gunfire, it’s a grave concern. I certainly want to find out exactly what it is, so I’m not closing any doors or any chapters on this,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to speculate as well. Once we have a better concrete picture of exactly what happened and what the motivation was behind it, we definitely will be having a further conversation on that.”

He added that he didn’t believe the shooting was random. “I’m not calling it random. This person was here and he definitely shot. I don’t know why he did what he did,” he said.

Saunders also asked any witnesses to come forward, including those who may have dash cam footage.

Mayor Tory then spoke with reporters, saying that he wanted to reiterate a few points from Saunders. “First of all, people should not reach any conclusions because the police themselves have not drawn any conclusions as to exactly what happened here and why,” he said. He added that he also wanted to reiterate Saunders’ call for help from any witnesses who may have seen something.

“Please don’t draw any conclusions, please wait for the police to do their job,” he continued. “They have plenty of police resources here.”

He added that the families of the victims have the city’s thoughts and prayers.

The Danforth shooting comes just three months after Toronto’s deadly van attack. When reporters questioned what Tory had to say to those who were still recovering from the previous attack, he said, “It’s almost inconceivable these kinds of things can happen. We were too used to living in a city where these things didn’t happen and we saw them going on in the world around us we thought they didn’t happen here, or couldn’t, or shouldn’t.”

“I can just say to people that they should try to stay calm while the police do their job because we have to figure out what happened here. We don’t know.” he continued. “[…] Please just comfort your fellow Torontonian. These things, you can never brush them away and I’m angry about them. I’m angry when these kinds of things happen in the city and lots of people would be angry about it.”

Tory added that Toronto has a gun problem and that firearms are too readily available to people who aren’t the police. “We clearly have to do more about to because there are too many people who are carrying around guns and using them in whatever manner they use them in whatever connection,” he said. “That’s part of what we shouldn’t conclude, just that there was a gun used. We have a gun problem and I just hope every step is going to be taken by all those who have responsibility.”

Video footage of the shooter opening fire on civilians was posted to Twitter in a four-second clip.

Premier Doug Ford tweeted out as well saying that his heart went out to the victims and thanking the Toronto police for responding so quickly.

Confronting an eight-legged fear

“An arachnophobe walks into a spider exhibit” sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but stick with me.

I’ve battled arachnophobia ever since I was a kid. I hate spiders. I hate them. I don’t like all their legs or their quick little movements or how they invade my kitchen, forcing me to take my dinner elsewhere.

And it’s not just the hatred of them; my burning distaste is accompanied by an all-consuming fear that I’ve dealt with ever since I was a wee lass. Even at 25-years-old, the tips of my ears turn red, I want to cry, and I can feel them crawling all over me the second I even see a spider. I also can’t move and refuse to do so until someone removes it from my line of vision. True story: I came home one night at 11:30 p.m. and there was a spider dangling in front of my house’s door. So, I needed to literally stand there and watch it string down on its web and then back up again for five whole minutes before it eventually crawled far enough away. I actually contemplated sleeping outside just to avoid this one spider.

Anyway, that’s how bad my arachnophobia is. It’s senseless and consuming and exhausting. But, apparently, that’s not enough to stop me from seeing an entire exhibit of spiders at the Royal Ontario Museum.

I saw posters for it and advertisements in the theatres (I couldn’t even look at the big screen when a spider crawled across it). As soon as I saw the advertisements I knew I wouldn’t be going. Of course not!

But, my boyfriend suggested that I need to go. It would behoove me to confront my fears and I’d also have a killer article at the end of it. After much deliberation, I told him that I would only go if he accompanied me… mainly so I could squeeze his hand until I crushed it. He agreed.

As soon as I entered there were huge faux spiders to greet patrons. I immediately wanted to go home and hoped to hell they didn’t have live spiders (which they did). He and I kept moving in and there was a wide array of little displays to get lost in. You could learn about their webbing, what they eat, how their blood is blue, and how they hadn’t killed anyone in Canada in 2012. I mean, that wasn’t exactly comforting but kudos to the ROM for trying.

My boyfriend and I went to see the live spiders. There was a centipede, which didn’t freak me out as much, and a few tarantulas hanging around in their cages. Despite my initial fear that they would be sharpening knives and waiting for me, the spiders were really calm and weren’t moving around too much. Their lack of movement allowed a bunch of people to take photos of them, which I wanted to do.

He and I moved a bit closer and I handed the camera to my boyfriend to get some photos. But as I gave him my phone he went, “Wait. Why am I doing your job? You can do it. Go ahead.” I’m pretty sure I had a headache with how much side-eye I gave him. But, I approached the cage and gulped down the belief that this tarantula would gain Herculean strength, smash through the glass, and murder me. I snapped a few photos and quickly walked away.

My boyfriend and I walked around for about an hour exploring all the different live displays and learning facts about spiders. For example, I had no idea that they had blue blood. I also didn’t know how intricate their web designs could be. I also learned facts that re-affirmed my fears, like how some spiders can kill fish because they’re huge and gross and strong.

Towards the end, I started getting tingles on my legs that I kept mindlessly brushing away. Suffice to say, I had had enough. My urge to cry and run away was getting stronger the longer he and I stayed in there. But, eventually, he and I made it to the end, which included a wonderful Spider-Man display. I felt overwhelming relief seeing my favourite web-slinger. My boyfriend and I took photos inside a life-size comic book and I marvelled over first edition comics that were on display.

To be honest, as I walked out I didn’t feel any better. The exhibit stated how over 90% of people feel better once they confront their fears, but I think I fall into the minority. I can’t begin to express how happy I am to be out of there. Though I will admit that even if I still fear spiders as much as I used to, it was a heck of an experience.

Ontario minister wears bulletproof vest to Jane & Finch, causing backlash

Michael Tibollo, the Ontario PC Party’s minister of community safety and correctional services, said that he wore a bulletproof vest while visiting Jane and Finch, prompting leaders to call his remarks racist and ask for a comment withdrawal.

Ontario’s PC minister of community safety and correctional services visited the Jane and Finch area on July 7. He tweeted about the experience, saying, “I had the opportunity to travel around 31 Division and learn about the great work of our police force. We are committed to work with our Police to ensure safe neighborhoods free of guns and gang violence. Glad to have Premier Ford join me and hear his concerns as well.”

Premier Doug Ford also tweeted about the experience. “Enjoyed meeting with the great community members in the Driftwood neighbourhood yesterday along with Minister @MichaelTibollo and officers from 31 Division. We are focused on building strong connections between communities and our police services,” he wrote.

During a question period in Queen’s Park on July 18, Tibollo said that he wore a bulletproof vest before entering the Jane and Finch area in response to a question about carding (incidents where people – often minorities – are stopped by police for no reason). The question came from Brampton North NDP MPP Kevin Yarde.

Yarde asked, “Mr. Speaker. I personally have been carded. […] New Democrats have long been advocating for the end of carding as a first step in addressing systemic racism. […] Will you be making changes to allow even more carding to take place on Ontario streets or will you work to stamp out carding?”

Tibollo responded, “I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest and spent 7:00 to 1:00 in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night.”

During a question period later in the day, Tibollo added, “They’re surrounded by drug deals, one of which I saw take place while I was there. It was absolutely horrifying.”

“The police need tools to work with, they are doing an incredible job ensuring that our streets are safe. And it’s our job — I’m not a police officer — but what I can tell you is they need skills, they need tools to work with,” he added. “Our work will be to ensure working with the communities to make sure we build trust and that we have those tools provided to them to be able to do their jobs properly.”

Opposing party leader, Andrea Horwath, tweeted about Tibollo’s comments, calling them racist. “Conservative minister Michael Tibollo’s comment this morning about wearing a bulletproof vest at Jane and Finch is inexcusably racist. Anyone who would say something so divisive has no credibility to continue to oversee Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate.”

Tibollo responded about an hour later writing, “Any attempt to spin my comments this morning, is petty partisan politics. I am proud to support our police, and I will continue to work with communities and front line officers to make sure our neighbourhoods are safe.”

However, Horwath isn’t the only opposing Ontario leader who criticized Tibollo’s actions. Yarde also called for a retraction of the comment. In response to reporters, he drew on personal experience, saying that he was pulled over seven years ago in Mississauga for no reason. “Depending on who you’re asking and as an African-Canadian, I thought it was a racist comment,” Yarde said. “It was a surprise to hear comments such as that coming from the minister of community safety and correctional services.”

Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board also tweeted out that wearing a bulletproof vest during a ride-along is not standard. “Since when is this a standard procedure? I did not wear a vest in my ridealongs all over the city,” he tweeted.

Deputy Premier Christine Elliot defended Tibollo, saying that she didn’t think Tibollo intended on an offensive comment. “I think what he is speaking about is needing to go to communities to understand what’s happening, to understand how people have been hit by violence, gun violence in their neighbourhood,” she told reporters.

Ford’s sex-ed decision will hurt students

So, Ford officially nixed Ontario’s sexual education curriculum so he could appease pro-life, Christian groups and conservative parents who don’t want children to know about basic things. Big surprise.

When Ford was discussing his idiotic plans for the city on the campaign trail I already knew that I wasn’t going to vote for him. He was too quick to yank decisions out of thin air that only placated a small amount of misinformed, bigoted people. It’s obvious that this is what the next four years will look like now that he’s literally setting the province back 20 years.

In case you missed it, Ford announced on July 11 that he would be reverting the Liberal party’s curriculum and replacing it with the 1998 version. The reason for this was essentially so he could consult with parents on what they wanted their kids to learn at home versus the classroom.

There are many problems with this decision. The 1998 curriculum didn’t include things that matter today like transgender people, same-sex marriage, consent, masturbation, homophobia, online bullying, and sexting. Back then these things were pretty much unheard of, so it wasn’t a big deal to sweep them under the rug.

But when students started entering a technology-driven society, things drastically changed. Kids were getting more open about their sex lives, sending photos to their partners, and had a new platform to bully other kids into suicide or changing schools. The internet is great for a lot of things, but it’s also a dangerous aid to children who weren’t educated in how to behave or protect themselves.

For those parents or conservatives out there who think this is a good move, let me tell you something. I went to high school in a Catholic school. Learning about Jesus for four years when you’re an atheist was already hell enough (please control your applause at these puns), but my class learned nothing about sex. Nothing. The teacher spent half a class once talking about how girls have a vagina and boys have a penis, everyone needs to refrain from having sex until couples were in love, and that everyone has to be safe. The end. But, what does safe mean? Ah, yes, my Catholic high school wanted to cover their butts by saying they technically told students to be safe, but they worked around it by not showing students what that meant. Kids in my school were never taught how to put on condoms or what diseases could be contracted through unprotected sex. This kind of “education” led to the school shutting down hallways because students were having sex too often in them and grade-10 girls walking around the cafeteria pregnant. So, maybe education is a good thing?

Though, it’s not just the Catholic groups out there who wanted Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum repealed. Enter Campaign Life Coalition. Let me stop sighing long enough to express my distaste in their backward views. They published an article talking about graphic lessons on body parts. Words like “penis” (oh no!), “vagina” (the horror!), “testicles” (the travesty!), and “vulva” (sound the alarm!) were all present.

I think I can understand where they were coming from. They don’t want little kids in grade one learning about their genitals because they’re much too young and need to be making macaroni art. However, kids get curious. It’s not unheard of for children that young to start exploring with other kids or even their own siblings. Look at the whole Lena Dunham debacle that happened a few years ago. Tons of people were quick to call her disgusting and a rapist, whereas several therapists actually stated that they didn’t think Dunham abused her sister at all. What happened was a case of curious children who weren’t properly educated by their parents or in schools.

It’s not just the genitals thing that irks me. It’s how the Coalition’s article also demonized same-sex households. A line from their article on grade 3 lessons reads: “Will normalize homosexual family structures and homosexual ‘marriage’ in the minds of 8-year-olds, without regard for the religious/moral beliefs of families.” What about the regard for the children coming from same-sex homes? That means they can be left out entirely so a homophobic agenda can continue being taught?

The article continues by saying, “It would be one thing to teach the fact that such alternative family structures exist, if the plan were to teach it at older ages, and if it were done in a way that respected the deeply held religious and moral beliefs of traditionally-principled families. However, the Kathleen Wynne government will certainly take an activist approach to these lessons and show no respect nor tolerance for traditionally-principled families.” Correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like you’re upset that “traditional” homophobic, belittling views won’t see the light of day. Forgive me for not shedding tears.

I already knew that Ford promising to rid the new curriculum was going to be trouble. I believed him, and if you want to applaud him for keeping true to his promises then I guess I can give him that as well. I can’t deny that he did what he said he would. It just turns out that what he did was stupid, damaging, ill-informed, and not half as big a win as he thinks.

Regardless of whether or not Ford or the conservative parents out there believe it, kids masturbate. They’re going to have sex. Girls will get their periods. Boys will ask girls to send photos of their breasts. Girls will ask for photos of a boy’s genitals. Your kids are going to experiment. They’re most likely going to have sex in high school and be curious as children, so the least you could do for them is keep them educated.

Ford sets Ontario education back 20 years

After just a few short days in office, Doug Ford has already made good on his promise to remove the liberal’s sexual education program and replace it with one that was literally published decades ago.

When Ford was elected into office he told the public that he would be removing the current sex-ed program, which focussed on important issues such as masturbation, same-sex marriage, cyber safety, and transgender people. It also taught kids about issues more prominent with today’s youth: contraceptives, STIs, and the notion of consent.

On July 11, Ford announced that schools would be reverting back to a 1998 curriculum that has no mention of the important issues highlighted in the current program. Education minister Lisa Thompson told reporters at Queen’s Park that “The sex-ed component is going to be reverted back to the manner in which it was prior to the changes that were introduced by the Liberal government.” She added that the party will be “moving very swiftly with our consultations and I will be sharing with you our process in the weeks to come.”

This decision came from Ford’s decision to consult parents on what they wanted to have taught to their children in schools and what they wanted to teach their young ones at home.

His opposition was quick to criticize the decision. NDP leader Andrea Horwath told reporters on July 11 that, “Going backwards in terms of keeping our kids safe and giving them the information they need to stay safe is not the right direction.” She added, “We worked hard to make sure that everyone in Ontario feels that they are respected, that they are able to be who they are, able to have opportunity, able to be free of violence and hate. And anything that starts to erode people’s ability to be themselves and be respected in this province is problematic.”

A petition is already in place to sway Ford into reverting his decision. The petition, called “Doug Ford: Keep Ontario’s Sex-Ed Curriculum, has already reached 54,283 signatures of their 75,000 goal to date. It reads: “The curriculum was designed and written by experts in child development, internet safety, police, and social workers, in consultation with roughly 4,000 parents. It emphasizes much-needed lessons of consent, acceptance for others and sexual health.”

While some are praising Ford for already living up to his promises, the ones that he’s put into effect will drastically alter the education of children and not the for the better.

Police resume normal operations after Toronto concerns

Normal police operations have resumed after Toronto’s force responded to threats of a van attack occurring at the CN Tower and surrounding areas.

On July 12, Toronto police received a threat suggesting that a copycat van attack would take place near the CN Tower and surrounding areas. Toronto was already struck with tragedy in April when Alek Minassian deliberately drove a rental truck into pedestrians near Yonge and Finch. He killed 10 people and injured another 16, making it one of the deadliest attacks in Canadian history.

The police report, which was obtained by several publications, stated that “On Wednesday, July 11th, 2018, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) received credible information regarding a potential vehicle ramming attack in the area of the CN Tower on Thursday, July 12th.” It continued that the TPS would increase the number of police patrolling the surrounding areas.

A tweet was published by Toronto police at 9:30 a.m. on July 12 stating: “We are responding to an unconfirmed, uncorroborated piece of information relating to the GTA. As a result of this information, you will see an increased number of police officers throughout the city and, specifically, in the downtown core ^sm”

Premier Doug Ford also released a statement on Twitter saying, “We are aware of the reported potential threat in the City of Toronto. While the information is unsubstantiated, the Premier has been briefed by the Provincial Security Advisor and is actively monitoring the situation.”

TPS added that a statement would be provided to reporters at 11:30 a.m. in Bobby Rosenfeld Park. Acting superintendent Mike Barksy spoke with reporters at the time.

“As such, we have increased what we call our ‘footprint of police presence’ in the downtown core,” he said. It was also said that police presence has already increased in the areas surrounding the CN Tower, Rogers Centre and Ripley’s Aquarium due to the playoffs.

When asked by reporters what specific buildings were targeted, police would not comment as it related to their investigation. “Whenever we have a report of a potential risk, we take that seriously. And because of that, we know that the downtown core of Toronto is a significant area for people who travel to the city, live in the city, and come to the visit the city,” Barsky told reporters. “And as such, we’ve called upon our partners from neighbouring police divisions to come and assist us in ensuring that people can continue to come down and enjoy those luxuries.”

They added that shops and hot spots were still open in the surrounding areas at the time and that one of the biggest events of the night, the Foo Fighters concert, was not cancelled. Hondo Indy Toronto also tweeted out that their event remained open and they were following a site and security plan.

Around the time of the press conference, Metrolinx also released a statement saying, “safety of our customers and staff is central to everything we do at Metrolinx.” Their statement also included reassurance that transit safety officers were deployed in “important areas of service to ensure passenger and staff safety.”

Late Thursday evening Toronto police released a statement saying that they were resuming normal police operations in the area. “We know this heightened security can be concerning for the public. Our goal is always to be as transparent as possible while protecting the integrity of our investigations,” it read.

Talking about heavy periods and treatments

With the launch of heavyperiodtalk.ca, Dr. Yolanda Kirkham, an obstetrician and gynecologist, discusses her role in the campaign and why it’s recommended that women educate themselves on their menstruation.

Dr. Kirkham is an OBGYN at the Women’s College Hospital and St Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto. Her role in the campaign is to do what she does on the job every day: educate, counsel, and treat women’s reproductive health concerns. “Through this campaign and website, women can quickly access factual information and peer-to-peer stories that encourage them to seek medical attention for a problem they may not have known was treatable,” she said.

She was a recent panelist at the Heavy Period Talk comedy show in Toronto, which she said was a great way to talk about a taboo topic in a fun and educational way. “The campaign also supports the Canadian Foundation for Women’s Health and local charities. I hope that women will know they don’t have to live with what they think is their ‘normal,’ and that there are so many individualized options for heavy periods,” she said. “They don’t have to live with the fear of leaking, missing out on activities, or feeling miserable each month. Heavy periods don’t have to cramp your style.”

This quote really stuck with me. I thought about myself and how I enjoy running. At times, I felt afraid of leaking and I would be constantly thinking about it on the course instead of my pace.  I found Dr. Kirkham’s information helpful.

If you suffer from heavier periods than you may be familiar with its older term: menorrhagia. Dr. Kirkham explained that heavy periods can affect a woman’s quality of life. “They are periods that are heavy, require pad or tampon changes every one to two hours or through the night, have clots, and last a week.”

“Heavy periods affect 1 in 5 women of all ages. But even one is too much,” she continued. “These can be young women who have just started their periods, are midlife, or nearing menopause. There are various causes, including bleeding disorders, hormonal changes and anovulation (not releasing a monthly egg) in puberty/perimenopause/polycystic ovarian syndrome, medications, other medical conditions, and cervical or uterine cancer.” She added that women in their forties have the highest rates for bleeding and associated conditions that lead to the heavy bleeding, such as polyps, fibroids, pre- or uterine cancer, or anovulation.

“All of these causes are treatable.  And it is important to treat to prevent anemia (low blood levels) that can affect concentration, energy levels, and ability for the body to function at its best,” she said. “Management of heavy bleeding can also reduce the need for blood transfusions, which are sometimes needed in dire cases.”

If you’re dealing with a heavier period or need more information, then Dr. Kirkham believes heavyperiodtalk.ca is a good place to start. “We hope that by sharing stories of how heavy periods affect them, more women will be encouraged to open up that conversation with each other and with their health care professional,” she said. “Stories shared on heavyperiodtalk.ca will benefit the Canadian Foundation for Women’s Health, which is a charity administered by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist of Canada.”

She added that you should be turning to your family doctor or nurse practitioner if you need treatment or other individualized options that include medications, office procedures, or minimally invasive surgical procedures. “Something as simple as anti-inflammatories at the drug store can help,” she said. “But there are more sophisticated options such as medication to decrease flow (tranexamic acid) during heavy bleeding only, and all contraceptives also decrease flow (and pain).” She recommended hormone blockers, hormonal intrauterine device, or endometrial ablation procedures as well.

Periods were rarely spoken about years ago, and Dr. Kirkham believes this is one of the reasons why there wasn’t much education on the topic. “We are now in a society where people are more comfortable opening up about everything, and finding anonymous avenues to do so, such as online.  Women with very heavy or painful periods also tend to think that it’s normal for them and don’t realize their periods do not have to be dreadful,” she said. “I would encourage women to take time to look after themselves and seek attention for their periods if they are heavy or painful.  Blood is a precious commodity. Periods happen every month and over 40 years, that’s almost 500 periods! That’s something worth talking about!”

Visit your doctor or gynecologist if your periods are affecting your quality of life and keep the conversation going.

Toronto leaders speak out amidst current gun violence

After the weekend shooting in Toronto’s Kensington Market, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, Premier Doug Ford, and Mayor John Tory have released statements on the current state of the city.

On Saturday evening around 8:00 p.m., shots rang out at Peter Street and Queen Street West and left two rappers dead and one woman in the hospital. The two rappers were identified as Smoke Dawg (Jahvante Smart), 21, and Koba Prime (Ernest Modekwe), 28.

The violence didn’t end on Saturday, however. On Sunday, police were called to the College Street and Augusta Avenue area when shots rang out around 10:30 p.m. Reports say that four people were injured during the crime. After the shooting, four suspects were seen fleeing the scene but police have yet to release a description of them.

Since the shootings took place on Canada Day, one of the busiest times in Toronto, Chief Saunders spoke with CP24 about the gun violence. “This is not the norm,” he told CP24. “Right in broad daylight on some of the busiest intersections of our city where there is gunplay. The gunplay usually occurs at night in particular neighbourhoods where there is not as much capacity of people. The brazenness is a concern.”

He added that the violence can be traced back to gang violence. “This is pointed to specific people. A random person walking down the street, it is highly unlikely that they are going to be in harm’s way,” he added.

A statement released by Tory read: “The unacceptable gun violence we’ve seen in the last few weeks has left me incredibly angry but resolved to work with the police to stamp it out. As Mayor, the safety of our city is my top priority and one that I share with Chief Mark Saunders and the men and women of the Toronto Police Service. That’s why we’re hiring 200 police officers this year, why I’ve always advocated for tougher gun control and tougher bail conditions for gun crime, and why we’re modernizing the police service to ensure there are more officers patrolling the streets.”

He added that he spoke with Chief Saunders who said that police are working to get to the bottom of the crimes. He also said that he plans to reach out to Premier Doug Ford and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to discuss how they can better their efforts to combat gang violence.

“As I said at City Council last week, we need to toughen up bail guidelines for those caught committing gun crimes. Countless police officers – from constables to the Chief himself – have told me how frustrated they are by the fact someone they arrest for a gun crime can be back out on the street on bail quickly and ready to cause more mayhem. That is not right and that is something we can stop right now,” the statement also read.

Tory added that the city leaders need to work together to deploy more police and support law enforcement to keep criminals behind bars.

On Monday Ford released a statement on Twitter saying: “My heart goes out to the victims of the shootings in Toronto over the Canada Day long weekend. This has been a very difficult summer in our city, and thoughts and prayers just aren’t going to cut it anymore. We need action.” He added that Toronto is home to the greatest police officers and “we need to make sure they have the resources to round up these criminals, build relationships in communities, and prevent these shootings.” He concluded his statement by saying he looks forward to meeting with representatives from Toronto police forces to city leaders and law enforcement can work together to end “this senseless violence.”

Hopefully, Toronto’s leaders can band together to successfully get to the bottom of the gun violence currently happening in the city and make its citizens feel safe again.

 

Woman of the week: Julia Barnes

When I ask Julia Barnes to tell me who she is, she says, “I am an animal on this planet that’s hoping to survive this century.”

Half expecting to hear a standard, “I’m a filmmaker,” or, “I’m an environmental activist,” her raw response instantly hooked my interest.

Julia’s journey as an eco-warrior began when she was just 16 years old while attending high school in Burlington, Ontario. With her post-secondary years looming, she was, at the time, weighing her options of pursuing a career in either biology or fine arts. Then, she watched Revolution, a documentary made by the late filmmaker and conservationist, Rob Stewart, about the dire state of the natural world. Always harvesting a deep connection to nature, the movie spun Julia off her feet with striking statistics and images that revealed the rapid deterioration of planet earth.

Within a week, she ditched the fork in her career path altogether, and instead, jumped head first into documentary filmmaking. She bought a camera, signed up for a scuba diving course and delved into research that would eventually become the backbone of her first feature film: Sea of Life.

With no prior experience in filmmaking, Julia set out to probe the greatest threats facing the world’s oceans today, including warming temperatures and overfishing. Although the learning curve was steep, she felt a duty to spread awareness and pay forward the same inspiration that initially sparked her own will to change the world.

“The ocean is so often out of sight, out of mind, especially for people living in Canada and landlocked places,” she says. “What I found was that all of the people around me in my everyday life really had no idea what was happening. I wanted to educate people about what was going on so that hopefully, if they knew what was happening, they would want to fight for the ocean too.”

Growing up in Southern Ontario, Julia herself had never visited the ocean prior to filming. Her first time setting foot on the sandy saltwater shores of the Atlantic was during one of her first dives for Sea of Life in the Florida Keys. “It was amazing. On that first trip, I had my first introduction the beauty of the ocean,” she says. “But I also had the realization that the ocean is in massive trouble and that things are changing incredibly quickly. If you even go back 50 years, you realize that the underwater world looked radically different.”

From Florida, Julia continued to capture these changes and their repercussions around the world, exploring marine ecosystems in the Galapagos, attending the COP21 Summit in Paris, and participating in the largest climate march in recorded history in New York City.

Swimming in a sea of discouraging information was perhaps the most challenging element, she tells me. But, with support from many leaders on the front lines of the fight against climate change, such as Sylvia EarleEmily Hunter and Rob Stewart himself, Julia’s message in Sea of Life, although urgent, is a hopeful one. Now, at the age of 22, she is content to say that she’s met all of her greatest heroes.

When I ask Julia if she’s currently enrolled in school, she flatly replies, “Nope. I’m full on changing the world,” ‒ an answer that’s unapologetically noble. Attending school would place her on a four to five-year plan, a timeline, she says, is much too long for the well-being of the planet. Her second feature film, which tackles potential solutions to the environmental crisis, is scheduled to be released by the end of this year.

Although she’s encountered plenty of trial and error on her journey, she says that her instantaneous plunge into the ocean, the world of documentary filmmaking, and the issues that plague the natural world was perhaps the best way to learn.

“Don’t wait. Go for it and know that you have so much more power than what you’re told or what you’re taught to believe,” she says as a word of advice to other young climate crusaders. “Let your passion guide you towards doing whatever you think will have the biggest impact, because no matter what we love, it’s in jeopardy right now.

The development cluster-fudge in Toronto

The public would be utterly shocked if they knew the length of time it takes for a building development to get approval from the City of Toronto planning department. The 9-month window that government has designated as the appropriate window of time for project approval never gets met. A report done by the C.D. Howe Institute shows that municipalities ignore this time window. In Toronto developers were forced to take projects to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in order to get city planning to respond to them. Even with the OMB approval, most projects still took between 3 and 4 years to work their way through the planning department.

With the disbandment of the OMB, developers are scratching their heads and wondering who will hold municipal planning accountable to a time frame. No longer can they appeal to the OMB for help. With no accountability the approval process will likely climb to 6 or 7 years.

The provincial government announced the formation of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) but their power is limited to issues around conformity to local or provincial plans. The goal was to give more power to the local municipalities, but decision makers seem to have ignored the fact that planning departments have ballooned in scope without the extra investment by local governments.

Like any government agency the planning department constantly fights the urge to expand their reach into the public sector, and haven’t had much success in Toronto. The planning department has inflated their authority far beyond the role of ensuring buildings are safe and built to code. Unbeknownst to taxpayers the planning department has taken on the role of architecture and design supervision – a role that belongs in the private sector. Few city planners have a full education in architecture or design and yet they have spread their authority to a point where they can completely change the architectural designs of a building. The amount of time spent by Toronto’s planning department doing work that should be done by the private sector is costing Toronto taxpayers millions of dollars, not just in wages, but in housing costs.

Another problem with this expansion of authority is that when a public servant starts choosing the shade of beige they want for a wall (yes, they do this in Toronto) or imposing the shape, size and design of a building (they think it should match everything else around it) they go beyond the scope of their education or ability and no one can stop them. They literally dumb down architecture in the city and truly magnificent buildings never get built.

In Toronto the process of getting a building development approved is a complete cluster-fudge of repetition, with the plans moving between so many city divisions and external agencies (building, roads, parking, water, heritage, etc.) with each having their own silo of authority.

The problem with this overreach of authority is that it adds time (years) to the building approval process, and time has a direct cost that is added to the cost of housing.

The more time a developer has to put into upfront planning the more expensive the overall cost of a building

As more time gets added the more likely it is that developers will choose not to develop. Add to this the fact that development charges in Toronto have nearly doubled over the past year and the cost of housing dramatically increases. Now add in the fact that property prices in Toronto have skyrocketed and it is easy to see why housing prices have increased so dramatically.  Time is the real culprit. Toronto planning must refine the process a development application goes through, and city planners need to curtail their desire to weigh in on design and architecture (which they are not educated in) and focus on the job of ensuring buildings are safe and built to code.

The bottleneck of development applications at city planning today is increasing and slowing down construction of new homes all across Toronto  Toronto’s new Chief planner, Gregg Lintern, has quite a challenge ahead of him. Not simply because the approval process needs a complete overhaul, but also because there is a “closed-door” culture running rampant at the planning department. It breeds an “us against them” mentality that pits city staff against the city’s development industry. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Lintern is able to change the culture, reach out to stakeholders, and make the changes that will impact housing affordability. If he simply carries on with the status quo and allows even more time to be added to the development approval process, he will push the cost of housing even further out of reach for average families.