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TORONTO STAR

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Police investigate deadly shooting in Leslieville late Monday night

Tue, 23 May 2017 02:01:22 EDT


Three loud bangs Mary Jane Brown thought were Victoria Day fireworks late Monday night were likely fatal gunshots instead.

“We heard this loud ‘bang, bang, bang.’ We thought it was fireworks,” said Brown.

At around midnight Monday, Toronto Police patrolling along Gerrard Street near Logan Ave. were flagged down by people in a car.

According to Const. David Hopkinson, police found one man in his 20s with multiple gunshot wounds to his torso.

He was rushed to a nearby trauma centre, where he later died.

But before he did, the man told investigators that there was a woman with injuries in a home on Cavell Ave., according to Det. Sgt. Mike Patterson, one of two investigators on the case.

When police arrived at the home, one woman was found without vital signs. She was pronounced dead when paramedics arrived.

Police believe the shooting took place at the Cavell Ave. home. They believe the deaths are linked, but it’s unclear exactly how, Hopkinson said.

The man’s death has been ruled a homicide, Patterson said, while police are awaiting the results of an autopsy expected Wednesday to determine how the female victim died.

“The first one is confirmed. There are multiple suspected bullet wounds in the deceased,” Patterson said.

“The other one isn’t as easy. We have a deceased female and at this time we can’t determine the cause of death,” Patterson said.

Her death is being treated as suspicious, and police are still looking for a suspect or suspects, Patterson said.

Bailie Kennedy, who lives two doors down from where the female victim was found, said there had been trouble at that unit before.

“Toronto Community Housing knows about it but they won’t do anything,” Kennedy said.

Toronto Community Housing spokesman Brayden Akers said that the agency works with police to remove tenants who pose a danger to the community or commit serious offences, but that eviction is considered a last resort.

“We try to balance the needs of the community,” Akers said. “We’re landlords but we try to go above and beyond in these circumstances.”

Bailie and her neighbours say that crime has been steadily increasing in the area in recent years and they say neither police nor Toronto Community Housing are doing enough to address the growing concerns.

“When I first moved in, there were cop cars on the street six out of seven nights in the first week,” Bailie said. “They asked us if we heard any cars speeding away late last night, but that’s pretty much every night for us.”

“You wouldn’t believe how bad it’s become,” said Kennedy’s mother Christine, who has lived on Cavell Ave. for almost 20 years.

Bailie said a different neighbour had threatened her and her son. Drug use has been increasing but complaints to the police yield little action, she said.

With files from Fakiha Baig


Obsession with home ownership driving Toronto affordability crisis, report finds

Tue, 23 May 2017 06:00:00 EDT


The Toronto region’s shockingly high house prices haven’t stopped the city from achieving one of the highest home ownership rates in the developed world, up 23 per cent over the past 35 years.

Toronto’s ownership rate, at 68 per cent, is behind only Oslo, Norway (69 per cent), and Calgary (74 per cent) among 38 western cities.

But ownership doesn’t equal affordability, says a sweeping study on the Toronto region’s housing crunch to be published Tuesday.

It suggests the Toronto area will need up to $150 billion in new home construction in the coming decade and most of that should be rental units to make housing more affordable.

The report by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, a research firm, paints a picture of two cities in one. It shows that half of Toronto-area residents are overhoused, with 2.2 million empty bedrooms. (There are 400,000 homes in Ontario that have three or more empty bedrooms, according to the report.)

But it would take only about 350,000 bedrooms to appropriately house the 20 per cent of Toronto residents, most of them families, who are shelter-poor.

“If this was happening to our food chain or our water supply, we would have a visceral reaction. But because it’s happening in a very slow-burn housing market, it’s like heating up the frog very slowly in the pan — it doesn’t notice until it’s too late,” said Paul Smetanin, the centre’s CEO, who has assessed the effect of more than 40 housing affordability factors.

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House prices are half the problem. But our obsession with home ownership is a big contributor, too, he said.

Toronto has restricted vast swaths of the city to single-family detached homes. That has led to a shortage of appropriate housing.

Smaller households are the most overhoused, as they are in neighbourhoods where the population is shrinking and aging. Meanwhile, larger families — with five or more people — are most likely to be underhoused in high-density apartments without enough bedrooms.

There’s also a shortage of ground-level homes known as the “missing middle” — townhomes, row houses, duplexes and small apartments — that would appeal to families.

Those, along with secondary suites, should have a greater presence in single-family neighbourhoods, but zoning doesn’t allow for it, Smetanin said.

The economic analysis centre has developed a Shelter Consumption Affordability Ratio index that measures housing affordability far beyond a household’s mortgage payments or rent. It factors in shelter-related expenses such as the cost of transportation to work and school, utilities, maintenance and property taxes.

Then it uses computer modelling to assess the effect other factors have on affordability. These range from property speculation to household debt levels and income levels, which have remained essentially flat for 30 years as housing prices continued to climb.

The index results show that one in three Toronto-area residents, and one in four in Ontario, suffers extreme affordability pressure.

“It is serious and has serious consequences for the development of our communities and the economy,” Smetanin said.

The report, “Understanding the Forces Driving the Shelter Affordability Issue,” was funded by the Residential Construction Council of Ontario, the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, the Ontario Association of Architects and the Ontario Construction Secretariat.

It will be presented at a conference Tuesday on the issue of “missing middle” housing in the region, which will include a panel of mayors from Mississauga, Brampton, Barrie and Ajax.

Data shows that rental housing acts as oil in the engine of housing markets, Smetanin said. It also illustrates the stigma attached to renting.

“If you reduce oil in an engine, you get heat and the heat starts to transpire as high housing prices, difficulty in moving and uncertainty. While your engine’s getting hotter, you’re not getting any faster or going somewhere quicker,” he said.

Most underhousing occurs in rentals.

“When you look at the data and the demographics of rental, it almost looks like that’s where we’ve parked all our luggage as a society — if you don’t own your own home, you’re a loser,” he said.

Property speculators fuel the expectation that prices will go up and they crowd out families looking for appropriately sized and priced homes.

“Investors are fine, but free market forces are not necessarily pleasant … You get winners and losers,” Smetanin said. “Sometimes the losers are completely unintended. They’re not people who took too much risk and should have been slapped on the wrist. They’re people who are trying to satisfy their needs. At times, letting free market forces do what they want to do hurts people.”

Rather than band-aids such as Ontario’s recently announced foreign buyer tax and expanded rent controls, he said, governments need to look at new concepts for Canadian housing.

In Europe governments, not-for-profit agencies and private industry collaborate on rental housing that is “architecturally relevant and desirable.”

“If we want to change things, we need to change collectively some of our attitudes,” Smetanin said. “If you do things the old way with the same people, but expect something different, then I believe Einstein mentioned that was the definition of insanity.”

Toronto housing in numbers

45%

Percentage of Toronto housing that is single detached homes, compared to 35% for apartments or condos and 20% in townhomes or “missing middle” housing

1/3

Proportion of Toronto-area condos that are rented out

30%

Of Toronto-area commuters spend 45 minutes or more each way getting to work or school

70%

Of Toronto-area commuters travel by car, compared to 85% outside the region

80%

Proportion of people in two-person households who are overhoused

67%

Proportion of people in households of seven or more people who are underhoused

75%

Proportion of Ontario residents aged 65 and older who are overhoused

Source: Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis


Sir Roger Moore, known for playing James Bond, dies at age 89

Tue, 23 May 2017 10:01:43 EDT


LONDON—Sir Roger Moore saw more to life than a well-mixed martini.

“I felt small, insignificant and rather ashamed that I had travelled so much making films and ignored what was going on around me,” he would say years after starring in seven James Bond movies and upon accepting a role that his friend Audrey Hepburn inspired him to take on, goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.

Moore, who died Tuesday at age 89, didn’t seem to take Bond that seriously even while playing him. Burdened with following Sean Connery as Agent 007, Moore kept it light, using a wry, amused tone and perpetually arched eyebrow as if he had landed on the set by accident. Connery embodied for millions the role of Bond as the suave drinker, womanizer and disposer of evil. Moore didn’t so much inhabit the character as look upon him with disbelief.

“To me, the Bond situations are so ridiculous, so outrageous,” he once said. “I mean, this man is supposed to be a spy and yet, everybody knows he’s a spy. Every bartender in the world offers him martinis that are shaken, not stirred. What kind of serious spy is recognized everywhere he goes? It’s outrageous. So you have to treat the humour outrageously as well.”

The handsome, dark-haired actor had long, full lives before and after his debut as Bond, in 1973.

He was remembered warmly by fans of the popular U.S. 1950s-60s TV series Maverick as Beauregarde Maverick, the English cousin of the Wild West’s Maverick brothers, Bret and Bart. He also starred in the 1959 U.S. series The Alaskans.

In England, he had a long-running TV hit with The Saint, playing Simon Templar, the enigmatic action hero who helps put wealthy crooks in jail while absconding with their fortunes. By the time the series, which also aired in the United States, ended in 1969, his partnership with its producers had made him a wealthy man.

He succeeded even as critics scorned. His performance opposite Lana Turner in the 1956 movie Diane was likened by Time magazine to “a lump of English roast beef.” In the 1970s, film critic Vincent Canby would dismiss Moore’s acting abilities as having “reduced all human emotions to a series of variations on one gesture, the raising of the right eyebrow.”

He was more inspired when helping others. He became the UNICEF ambassador in 1991 and five years later attended the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, and disclosed that he too had been a victim.

“I was molested when I was a child — not seriously — but I didn’t tell my mother until I was 16 because I felt that it was something to be ashamed of,” he told The Associated Press.

He gave no details, but said it was important to encourage young victims not to feel guilty.

“They’re being exploited. We have to tell them that,” Moore said.

In 2003, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, not for his acting, but for his humanitarian work. Moore received the Dag Hammarskjold Inspiration Award for his contributions to UNICEF and was named a commander in France’s National Order of Arts and Letters in 2008, an award he said was worth “more than an Oscar.”

That same year he published an autobiography, My Word Is My Bond, which included details about his work on the Bond films, his friendship with Hepburn, his encounters with Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and other stars, and his health struggles — including a bout with prostate cancer, which he beat.

In a statement Tuesday, UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake praised Moore as one of the “great champions for children.”

“In his most famous roles as an actor, Sir Roger was the epitome of cool sophistication; but in his work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, he was a passionate — and highly persuasive — advocate for children,” Lake wrote. “He once said that it was up to all of us to give children a more peaceful future. Together with Lady Kristina, he worked very hard to do so.”

Born in London, the only child of a policeman, Moore had studied painting before enrolling in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He played a few small roles in theatre and films before his mandatory army duty, then moved to Hollywood in the 1950s. He appeared opposite Elizabeth Taylor in 1954’s The Last Time I Saw Paris and with Eleanor Parker in Interrupted Melody the following year.

In 1970, he became managing director for European production for Faberge’s Brut Productions. With the company, he co-starred with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders! for British television and was involved in producing A Touch of Class, which won a Best Actress Oscar for Glenda Jackson.

Three years later, he made his first Bond film, Live and Let Die.

He would make six more, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only and A View to a Kill over the next 12 years. And while the Bond of the Ian Fleming novels that the films were based on was generally described as being in his 30s, Moore would stay with the role until he was 57.

While he never eclipsed Sean Connery in the public’s eye as the definitive James Bond, Moore did play the role of secret agent 007 in just as many films as Connery did and he managed to do so while “finding a joke in every situation,” according to film critic Rex Reed.

He continued to work regularly in films after handing over Bond to Timothy Dalton, but never with the same success. His post-Bond films included such forgettable efforts as The Quest with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Spice World with the Spice Girls.

Moore was divorced three times, from skater Doorn Van Steyn in 1953, English singer Dorothy Squires in 1969 and Italian actress Luisa Mattioli, the mother of his children Deborah, Geoffrey and Christian, in 2000.

He married a fourth time, in 2002, to Swedish socialite Kristina Tholstrup.


12-year-old Japanese girl wins MMA debut ‚?? against someone twice her age

Tue, 23 May 2017 12:50:26 EDT


Saturday’s amateur MMA bout in Tokyo between Momoko Yamasaki and a fighter identified in promotional materials only as “Momo” was hardly in doubt, with Momo taking Yamasaki’s back in the first seconds of the fight and winning soon after with a rear naked choke.

But what if I told you that Momo was a 12-year-old middle-schooler and her opponent was 24. That changes things, no?

According to an Uproxx story from earlier this month, Momo began training in karate at the age of 3 and now trains at least 3 ½ hours a day, six times a week, with Sadanori Yamaguchi, who has trained fighters such as Mizuki Inoue, a 22-year-old who won her first tournament at 16 and has gone on to fight for the Invicta promotion.

Momo, who fights in the 95-pound division, shrugged off a suggestion that fighting a woman twice her age was akin to child abuse.

“I have fought boys in my age and they were bigger than my next opponent so for me, it’s no difference of any other fight,” she told Uproxx in an interview.

MMA fighters can’t turn pro in Japan until the age of 15, so Saturday’s two-round bout in the Deep Jewels promotion was fought under amateur rules, with both fighters wearing protective headgear. Plus, strikes to the head of a grounded opponent were prohibited. But that didn’t stop the outcry when the fight was announced in April.

MMA in Japan is barely regulated, unlike in the United States where sanctioned bouts are overseen by state athletic authorities. That leaves everything up to the promoters, and thus we have a preteen girl fighting someone twice her age. The fact that the 12-year-old won her bout easily doesn’t change the fact that she shouldn’t have been in the ring in the first place.


Most Canadians would have trouble with 10% hike in mortgage payments: poll

Tue, 23 May 2017 08:16:26 EDT


Nearly three quarters of Canadian homeowners say they would have difficulty paying their mortgage if their payments were to increase by more than 10 per cent, says a new survey by Manulife Bank.

Thirty-eight per cent of those polled say their mortgage bills could rise between 1 to 5 per cent before they would have financial difficulty; 20 per cent say they could sustain an increase in payments between 6 to 10 per cent before having trouble; and 14 per cent say any hike would be a problem.

Twenty-two per cent said they could handle a payment increase of between 11 to 30 per cent, while the remaining 7 per cent didn’t know or were unsure.

“What these people don’t realize is that we’re at record low interest rates today,” said Rick Lunny, president and CEO of Manulife Bank, adding that a 10-per-cent increase in mortgage payments could be the result of as little as a 1-per-cent interest hike.

Read more:

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Almost half of Canadian homeowners unprepared for financial emergency: Survey

“When you put it into that context, they’re not really prepared for what is inevitable. Sooner or later, interest rates are going to rise.”

The survey found that 45 per cent of millennial homeowners — those aged between 20 to 35 — would have the most difficulty making their mortgage payment within three months or less if the primary income-earner in their families were to suddenly become unemployed.

Millennials were also the group that on average had the highest amount of outstanding mortgage debt, at $223,000, while gen X-ers (those aged 36 to 52) had an average of $202,000 owing. Baby boomers (ages 53 to 70) had $180,000.

Lunny said many millennials are unprepared to deal with a financial emergency due to a lack of financial literacy and soaring amounts of debt. That group has seen their mortgage debt rise more than any other generation, according to the survey.

The survey was conducted online in English and French from Feb. 1 to 14. It polled 2,098 homeowners between the ages of 20 to 69 with household incomes of $50,000 or higher.

The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.


Carbine rifles were a ‚??high priority‚?? for RCMP, Moncton massacre trial told

Tue, 23 May 2017 14:58:13 EDT


MONCTON, N.B.—Arming front line officers with carbine rifles was a “high priority” for senior Mounties three years before a shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B., an RCMP deputy commissioner testified Tuesday at the national police force’s Labour Code trial.

Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brosseau said he worked on the project for about a year beginning in January 2011 and that it was his highest concern at the time.

Brosseau said he made several presentations about the progress of the carbine program to the RCMP’s senior executive committee that year, and said it was clear to him that acquiring carbines for front line officers was a high priority for the top brass.

“It had a very high priority for me and for the rest of the directorate... and needed to move forward with haste,” the defence witness told Judge Leslie Jackson in Moncton provincial court.

The RCMP is accused of failing to provide members and supervisors with the appropriate information, instruction, equipment and training in an active-shooter event.

Read more:

Mountie deaths in Moncton rampage could have been prevented, crown says

Frontline RCMP officers felt ‘outgunned,’ Moncton massacre trial told

Mounties relive the night of the Moncton murder spree at RCMP trial

RCMP labour code trial hears from expert who analyzed Moncton shooting

Carbine rifles were not available to front line officers during Justin Bourque’s shooting rampage on June 4, 2014, and Crown witnesses have testified the high-powered weapons could have made a difference in the tragedy that killed three Mounties and wounded two others.

Carbines have a greater range and accuracy than the officers’ pistols, the trial has heard.

Brosseau said his team conducted research on which rifle should be chosen, how they would be deployed across the country and how to justify to the public arming front line officers with semi-automatic rifles.

“Underlying it all, frankly, was the need to ensure and maximize officer and public safety,” said Brosseau.

The C8 carbine was approved in September 2011.

Under cross examination, Crown prosecutor Paul Adams noted the carbine program was about addressing an identified gap in the firearms capabilities of front line Mounties — and Brosseau agreed.

He then asked Brosseau: “Would you admit that responding members and supervisors were not appropriately equipped and trained to respond to the active shooter event incident on June 4, 2014?”

“I can’t admit that,” Brosseau said.

Adams grilled Brosseau on that point, saying the witness had told the senior executive committee that carbines were needed for front line officers to deal with those types of situations.

“Are you suggesting, nonetheless, they were properly equipped and trained?” said Adams of the Mounties who faced Bourque, noting they did not have carbines.

Brosseau paused and replied: “I can’t admit that they weren’t. It was a horrible tragedy, no doubt. I don’t know that additional training or having a patrol carbine that day would have made a difference.”

Adams then said: “No, you’re not going to admit to anything, because admitting to that would be an admission of guilt.”

Brosseau, who has a master’s degree in law from Harvard University, conceded under cross examination that he has had conversations with the RCMP’s lawyers about the force’s Labour Code trial and was briefed on the evidence presented thus far before taking the stand Tuesday.

Supt. Troy Lightfoot, who Brosseau said he worked with on the carbine project in 2011, testified earlier in the trial that he first warned superiors about the lack of firepower for front line officers in a briefing note in 2006.

The note recommended looking at carbines for Mounties, and Lightfoot was told his team should continue researching the issue, he testified last month.

But Lightfoot said the RCMP then became focused on the public backlash stemming from the 2007 Tasering death of Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver, and he expressed concerns about the lack of resources being put towards progressing the carbine file.

Constables Fabrice Gevaudan, Dave Ross and Doug Larche were killed, while constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were wounded when Bourque targeted police officers in hopes of sparking an anti-government rebellion.

Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 75 years after pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.


Gay couple in Indonesia caned 83 times in front of crowd

Tue, 23 May 2017 09:09:31 EDT


BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA—Two men in Indonesia’s Aceh province were publicly caned dozens of times Tuesday for consensual gay sex, a punishment that intensifies an anti-gay backlash in the world’s most populous Muslim country and which rights advocates denounced as “medieval torture.”

More than a thousand people packed the courtyard of a mosque to witness the caning, which was the first time that Aceh, the only province in Indonesia to practise sharia law, has caned people for homosexuality.

The crowd shouted insults and cheered as the men, aged 20 and 23, were whipped across the back and winced with pain. Many in the crush of spectators filmed the caning with cellphones as a team of five robed and hooded enforcers took turns to inflict the punishment, relieving one another after every 20 strokes for one of the men and 40 for the other.

Sarojini Mutia Irfan, a female university student who witnessed the caning, said it was a necessary deterrent.

“What they have done is like a virus that can harm people’s morale,” she said. “This kind of public punishment is an attempt to stop the spread of the virus to other communities in Aceh.”

The couple were arrested in March after neighbourhood vigilantes in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, suspected them of being gay and broke into their rented room to catch them having sex.

A sharia court last week sentenced each man to 85 strokes, but they were caned 83 times after a remission for time spent in prison. Four heterosexual couples also were caned Tuesday, receiving a far lesser number of strokes for affection outside marriage.

Banda Aceh resident Ibrahim Muhayat said far more people attended the publicly meted-out punishment than usual because like him, many wanted to witness Indonesia’s first-ever caning of gay men.

The Islamic Defenders Front, a hard-line group known for acts of vigilante violence throughout Indonesia, erected a banner at the mosque that declared the group was ready to defend sharia law whatever the cost.

With the exception of Aceh, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, but the country’s low-profile LGBT community has been under siege in the past year.

Prejudice has been fanned by stridently anti-gay comments from politicians and Islamic hard-liners, and a case before the country’s top court is seeking to criminalize gay sex and sex outside marriage. On Monday, 141 men were detained in a police raid on a gay sauna in Jakarta, the capital.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the caning was torture under international law and had called on Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to intervene.

Read more:

Indonesia police raid gay sauna, detain 141 men

Indonesian court sentences gay couple to 85 lashes in public caning

Christian governor in Indonesia found guilty of blasphemy against Islam

The maximum possible sentence was 100 strokes of the cane and prosecutors had asked for 80.

“The court’s less-than-maximum sentence of 85 lashes is no act of compassion. It does not change the reality that flogging is a grotesque display of medieval torture,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Caning is also a punishment in Aceh for gambling, drinking alcohol, women who wear tight clothes and men who skip Friday prayers. More than 300 people were caned for such offences in 2016.

Indonesia’s reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam has been battered in the past year due to attacks on religious minorities, a surge in persecution of gays and a polarizing election campaign for governor of Jakarta that highlighted the growing strength of hard-line Islamic groups.

Earlier this month, the outgoing Jakarta governor, a minority Christian, was sentenced to two years in prison for campaign comments deemed as blaspheming the Qur’an.


Labour report calls for expanding protection for workers in Ontario

Tue, 23 May 2017 10:20:56 EDT


All Ontario workers should receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of their full-time, part-time or temporary status, according to a landmark report that’s the blueprint for upcoming labour reforms.

The 419-page Changing Workplaces Review released Tuesday makes 173 recommendations to improve the lot of Ontario employees.

Significantly, it says nannies, farm workers and dental, medical, legal and architectural professionals should be allowed to unionize; job protections and vacation and family leave entitlements should be expanded, and employers who cheat workers should face stiff fines.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said the government would be acting “very soon” on the recommendations.

“Stay tuned. It will be moving forward very quickly,” Wynne told reporters in Sudbury.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn is poring over the findings of special advisers C. Michael Mitchell and John C. Murray and will announce “the important changes necessary” within days.

“Action is needed in order to ensure the benefits of our strong economy are shared by every Ontario family,” Flynn said in a statement.

“The people of Ontario have worked hard to build a province where workers and their families have the opportunity to prosper alongside business, and our actions will help to ensure a fairer future for everyone in our province,” he said.

“What is clear to me, and to our government, after reading the report, is that responsible change can ensure that every hard-working person in our province has the chance to reach their full potential.”

The review recommends the Employment Standards Act, the Labour Relations Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act be streamlined into a beefed-up Workplace Rights Act.

It urges more Ministry of Labour inspections of workplaces, a confidential tip line to report scofflaws, whistleblower protection, and the gradual elimination of both the $10.70 “student minimum wage” for teens and the $9.90 liquor servers’ minimum wage. Each is lower than the $11.40 general minimum wage.

As well, part-time, casual, temporary and seasonal workers should be eligible for equal pay with comparable full-time employees, and the ministry would be able to regulate the scheduling of employees by bosses.

Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) said he “was disappointed not to see a cost-benefit analysis of these measures included in the report.”

“We can’t be changing the labour laws in this province without knowing the impact on jobs and job creators. The best protections for workers are pointless if the workers don’t have a job to wake up to in the morning,” said Yakabuski.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce echoed those concerns.

“An economic impact analysis is the only way that the Government of Ontario can protect jobs and workers against the unintended consequences that may come as a result of implementing these recommendations,” said the 60,000-member business lobby group.

Notably, the report did not call for mandatory two-week scheduling notice, a measure now implemented in some U.S. jurisdictions such as San Francisco, but said “scheduling regulation in some sectors, such as fast food and retail, should be a priority.”

It also said workers currently excluded from bargaining rights — “domestics, hunters and trappers, members of the architectural, dental, land surveying, legal or medical profession employed in a professional capacity, and agricultural and horticultural employees” — should be allowed to organize.

“In regard to agricultural and horticultural employees, it is possible that a limited exception might be warranted to exclude some or all persons employed on a ‘family farm.’ In addition, we recommend that certain restrictions could be placed on strikes and lockouts in respect of agricultural workers,” the review said.

“As with agricultural workers, we recommend that certain restrictions on strikes and lockouts involving members of these particular professions may be appropriate.”

Key demands from workers’ rights advocates included making it easier for workers to join unions, eliminating exemptions in current employment laws that mean some workers are not eligible for some basic rights, and ensuring temp agency, part-time and casual employees get equal pay for equal work.

Employees lose $45 million in potential earnings each week because legal loopholes exclude them from rights such as overtime pay, holiday pay, vacation pay and even minimum wage, a government-commissioned study for the review shows.

Right now, fewer than 40 per cent of Ontario workers are fully covered by the Employment Standards Act.

Advocates had also called for mandatory paid sick days, a measure the report stopped short of calling for. But it did suggest the repeal of an exemption that means small businesses don’t have to pay a single, job-protected unpaid sick day to employees.

They also urged the government to take steps to make schedules more predictable in the workplace, and to make more workers eligible for protection under existing employment laws by expanding the definition of “employee.”

As previously highlighted by the Star, critics say many workers are misclassified by their bosses as independent contractors, a category that has no protection under the act.

In response, the report recommended including expanding workplace protections to dependent contractors, people who operate independently, but rely exclusively on work from one company for their income.

Labour advocates have also called on the government to step up enforcement. Victims of wage theft across Ontario have lost out on $28 million over the past six years because the ministry failed to collect the money owed them by law-breaking bosses.

A Star investigation last year revealed that about one-third of workers’ stolen entitlements in Ontario are never recovered, which some critics blame on a lax enforcement regime that does little to deter violators.

The Ministry of Labour has taken steps over the past year to address the issue: since 2015, the number of law-breaking Ontario bosses facing prosecution has risen by more than 40 per cent.

The report urges dedicating more resources to active workplace inspections, expanding the ministry’s ability to act in the manner of a “law-enforcement agency,” and slapping fines of up to $100,000 on bad employers.

Prior to its release, the Chamber of Commerce warned reforms should not unduly limit businesses’ flexibility and economic growth, and called for “evidence-based” modernization.

“With respect to claims that there has been an unprecedented spike in the number of people holding multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, the evidence is non-supportive,” it said, citing Statistics Canada data.

While the report acknowledged the increased pressure placed on businesses by globalization and technological change, it did not agree that the rise of precarious work across the province has been overstated.

Worker advocates argue the decline in work quality has been well documented in recent years, including in research conducted by McMaster University, which suggests that 52 per cent of jobs in the GTA are now insecure.


Survey confirms the painful truth about our household debt: Wells

Tue, 23 May 2017 14:33:32 EDT


Has Manulife Bank uncovered the truth?

Or is the bank merely reminding us of what we already know?

“Debt truth revealed,” is the promotional line for the bank’s national survey of household debt, conducted across homeowners aged 20 to 69 with incomes of $50,000 or more. There’s a high degree of self regard in that assertion. The skeptic might archly view CEO Rick Lunny’s accompanying video and think, what’s he selling?

As it happens, an “all-in-one mortgage such as Manulife One” is what he’s selling. “The truth is, traditional banking is a really inefficient way to manage your money,” Lunny says in the video. But with Manulife One “your savings are used to offset your debt.” When the CEO speaks about homeowners “building flexibility” into debt structuring, he’s really saying he wants that business.

Manulife, remember, hasn’t been in the mortgage game all that long. The insurance company entered the field in 1993 when Manulife Financial was given the green light to open a federally regulated bank. Manulife One was launched six years later.

So one reading of the “debt truth” revelations is as a come-on for the advisor bank that aims to help millennials better manage their money.

The underlying facts, however, are mere tweaks to a long-known state of affairs that continues to preoccupy the Bank of Canada, economists, home owners and bank analysts, with an extra layer of worry laid on by the troubles at alternative mortgage lender Home Capital.

The known knowns: house prices in certain markets are insane. Mortgage debt continues to rise. Too many home owners are utterly unprepared for income shocks. Just 51 per cent of mortgage holders have, the Manulife survey reports, “$5,000 or less” set aside to deal with a financial emergency, a finding not out of step with the bank’s own reporting last November.

Which demographic group would have the most difficulty meeting a mortgage payment in the event of an emergency? Millennials.

Surprised? Of course not.

Generationally, it’s always the younger cohort that faces the steepest debt mountain. And the percentage living paycheque to paycheque is an old story. For the past three years the Canadian Payroll Association has been reporting that close to 50 per cent of employees would find it difficult to meet their financial obligations if their salary or wages were delayed by a single week.

I raise none of these qualifiers in an attempt to discount the depths of our troubles. Household “vulnerabilities” have been an ongoing preoccupation for the Bank of Canada — remember its system review in December that revealed that almost half of the high-ratio mortgages originated in Toronto in the third quarter of last year had loan-to-income ratios in excess of 450 per cent, a near 10 per cent increase?

I won’t go on about the easy money foundation that helped create this state of affairs. Surely we’ve walked that terrain often enough. Tightened financial rules were designed to rein in the market, which begat another obvious outcome: ballooning growth in the alternative mortgage market including, we now know, mortgage brokers who created false income documentation for borrowers. Any talk of no-doc mortgages is bound to trigger memories of the subprime meltdown in the United States. Canadian regulators assure us that all is contained.

On Wednesday, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz will announce the bank’s interest rate decision, to be followed in early June by the bank’s latest financial system review. Housing, once again, is bound to be a primary focus.

This is where the true vulnerability lies: young indebted home owners who have yet to experience anything other than interest rates in the low, very low, single digits. In this, Manulife Bank did come up with a statistic that’s worth paying attention to: 70 per cent of mortgage holders surveyed report that they would be unable to manage a 10-per-cent increase in their mortgage payments.

Perhaps they can’t imagine that ever happening.

Perhaps they can’t face the truth.

jenwells@thestar.ca


Venezuelans are hungry, but farmers can‚??t feed them

Tue, 23 May 2017 16:11:00 EDT


YUMA, VENEZUELA—With cash running low and debts piling up, Venezuela’s socialist government has cut back sharply on food imports. And for farmers in most countries, that would present an opportunity.

But this is Venezuela, whose economy operates on its own special plane of dysfunction. At a time of empty supermarkets and spreading hunger, the country’s farms are producing less and less, not more, making the caloric deficit even worse.

Drive around the countryside outside the capital, Caracas, and there’s everything a farmer needs: fertile land, water, sunshine and gasoline at 4 cents a gallon, cheapest in the world. Yet somehow families here are just as scrawny-looking as the city-dwelling Venezuelans waiting in bread lines or picking through garbage for scraps.

Having attempted for years to defy conventional economics, the country now faces a painful reckoning with basic arithmetic.

“Last year I had 200,000 hens,” said Saulo Escobar, who runs a poultry and hog farm here in the state of Aragua, an hour outside Caracas. “Now I have 70,000.”

Several of his cavernous henhouses sit empty because, Escobar said, he can’t afford to buy more feed. Government price controls have made his business unprofitable, and armed gangs have been squeezing him for extortion payments and stealing his eggs.

Venezuela’s latest public health indicators confirm that the country is facing a dietary calamity. With medicines scarce and malnutrition cases soaring, more than 11,000 babies died last year, sending the infant mortality rate up 30 per cent, according to Venezuela’s Health Ministry. The head of the ministry was fired by President Nicolas Maduro two days after she released those statistics.

Child hunger in parts of Venezuela is a “humanitarian crisis,” according to a new report by the Catholic relief organization Caritas, which found 11.4 per cent of children under the age of five suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition, and 48 per cent “at risk” of going hungry.

The protesters who have been marching in the streets against Maduro for the past seven weeks scream, “We’re hungry!” as riot police blast them with water cannons and tear gas.

In a recent survey of 6,500 Venezuelan families by the country’s leading universities, three-quarters of adults said they lost weight in 2016—an average of 19 pounds. This collective emaciation is referred to dryly here as “the Maduro diet,” but it’s a level of hunger almost unheard-of outside war zones or areas ravaged by hurricane, drought or plague.

Venezuela’s disaster is man-made, economists point out—the result of farm nationalizations, currency distortions and a government takeover of food distribution. While millions of Venezuelans can’t get enough to eat, officials have refused to allow international aid groups to deliver food, accustomed to viewing their oil-rich country as the benefactor of poorer nations, not a charity case.

“It’s not only the nationalization of land,” said Carlos Machado, an expert on Venezuelan agriculture. “The government has made the decision to be the producer, processor and distributor, so the entire chain of food production suffers from an inefficient agricultural bureaucracy.”

With Venezuela’s industrial output crashing, farmers are forced to import feed, fertilizer and spare parts, but they can’t do so without hard currency. And the government has been hoarding the dollars it earns from oil exports to pay back high-interest loans from Wall Street and other foreign creditors.

Escobar said he needs 400 tons of high-protein imported animal feed every three months to keep his operation running, but he’s able to get only 100 tons. So, like many others, he’s turned to the black market. But he can only afford a cheaper, less nutritious feed, meaning that his hens are smaller than they used to be—and so are their eggs.

“My quality went down, so my production went down, too,” he said.

Escobar’s hogs also are skinnier. An average full-size pig weighed 242 lbs. two years ago, he said. “Now they weigh 176.” Last year, he lost 2,000 hogs in three months when the animals got sick and he couldn’t find vaccines.

The piglets born since then are undersized. Many have bloody wounds at the tips of their ears. “When an animal has a poor diet, it looks for nourishment elsewhere,” explained Maria Arias, a veterinarian at the farm. “So they end up chewing off the ears of other pigs.”

Venezuela has long relied on imports of certain foodstuffs, such as wheat, that can’t be grown on a large scale in the country’s tropical climate. But trade statistics show that the land reform policies of the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor, made Venezuela more dependent on imported food than ever.

When oil prices were high, that wasn’t a big problem. Now Venezuela’s blend of heavy crude is worth barely $54 a barrel and the country’s petroleum output is at a 23-year low, in part because refineries and pipelines are breaking down and investment in new infrastructure isn’t keeping pace.

The government hasn’t published farming data in years. But Machado, the agriculture expert, said annual food imports averaged about $100 per person until 2004, then soared after Chavez accelerated the nationalization of farms, eventually seizing more than four million hectares. The government expropriated factories, too, and Venezuela’s domestic food production plummeted.

By 2012, annual per capita food imports had increased to $500, but since then, oil prices have slumped and imports have dropped 73 per cent.

Instead of spurring growth in domestic agriculture, the government has strangled it, farmers say. Domestic production of rice, corn and coffee has declined by 60 per cent or more in the past decade, according to Venezuela’s Confederation of Farmer Associations (Fedeagro), a trade group. Nearly all of the sugar mills nationalized by the government since 2005 are paralyzed or producing below capacity.

Only a small, well-off minority of Venezuelans can afford to buy much food on the black market, where a pound of rice imported from Brazil or Colombia sells for about 6,000 bolivars. That’s roughly $1 at the black-market exchange rate, but for an ordinary Venezuelan worker it’s an entire day’s wage, because the bolivar has lost 99 per cent of its value in the past five years.

Venezuelans who don’t have access to hard currency depend on government-subsidized groceries doled out by pro-Maduro neighbourhood groups, or wait in supermarket lines for rationed, price-capped items. Those who join anti-government protests have been threatened with losing their food supplies.

The price controls have become a powerful disincentive in rural Venezuela. “There are no profits, so we produce at a loss,” said one dairy farmer in the state of Guarico, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation from authorities. To get a new tractor, he said, he would have to spend all the money he earns in a year. “It’s a miracle that the industry is still alive,” he said.

Four of his cows were stolen this month, probably by hungry families in the nearby village, he said.

According to Vicente Carrillo, the former president of Venezuela’s cattle ranchers’ association, the overall size of the country’s herd has dropped in the past five years from 13 million head to about 8 million.

Carrillo sold his ranch more than a decade ago, tired of threats from squatters and rural activists who accused him of being an exploitative rural capitalist. His family had owned the land for more than a century. “I dedicated more than 30 years of my life to this business, but I had to leave everything behind,” he said.

Escobar, the chicken and hog farmer, said the only way for farmers to remain in business today is to break the law and sell at market prices, hoping authorities look the other way.

“If I sold at regulated prices, I wouldn’t even be able to afford a single kilogram of chicken feed,” he said.

If it’s not a fear of the government that keeps Escobar awake at night, it’s criminal gangs. Since one of his delivery trucks was robbed in December, he has been forced to make “protection” payments to a mafia boss operating out of the local prison. Every Friday, three motorcycles stop by the farm to pick up an envelope of cash, he said. Calling the police would only escalate the danger.

“I know how to deal with chickens and pigs,” Escobar said, “but not criminals.”


Uber driver charged in alleged kidnapping of female passenger near Yonge and Eglinton

Tue, 23 May 2017 12:55:56 EDT


A 24-year-old Uber driver is facing three charges after allegedly kidnapping his female passenger in Davisville on Sunday afternoon.

Toronto police responded to a call of abduction at 4:02 p.m. in the area of Eglinton Ave. E and Dunfield Ave., near the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton.

An 18-year-old woman told police her Uber driver engaged her in inappropriate conversation and made unwanted advances.

The suspect allegedly refused to let the victim out of the car and attempted to take her to a private location, police say.

The driver is identified as Sukhbaj Singh of Belleville.

Toronto police charged Singh with forcible confinement, kidnapping and assault on Monday.

He is scheduled to appear in court at College Park on July 4.

Uber spokesperson Kayla Whaling said the incident was unacceptable and not tolerated by Uber.

“We immediately removed this driver’s access following this report and will provide any information to law enforcement that would be helpful for their investigation.”


Mayor John Tory urges Ontario to fulfill ‚??moral‚?? obligation to repair social housing

Tue, 23 May 2017 14:11:27 EDT


Mayor John Tory is urging residents to lobby their local MPPs and Housing Minister Chris Ballard for the provincial funds required to fix crumbling social housing units.

“The time for action is now, in fact it was before now, because repairing social housing is a moral, economic and a social imperative,” Tory told reporters on Tuesday in response to a Star story that detailed the state of disrepair across Toronto Community Housing’s portfolio.

“They have so far refused to commit to their share of the over $2.6-billion repair bill,” Tory said, despite the fact data shows the province offloaded more than a third of the developments on the city in 2001 without adequate maintenance funding, and with many already in various states of disrepair.

After repeated requests for the province to step forward and no new money announced in the 2017 provincial budget, Tory outlined Tuesday that he’s been forced to assume Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government is unwilling to contribute.

“That is not fair and that is not right. We need a provincial partner if we’re ever going to properly and completely address this challenge.”

Wynne was travelling in Sudbury on Tuesday. Her office did not immediately respond to questions.

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, who represent the Toronto-Danforth area, said in a statement responding to the data on homes in critical condition: “Social housing is at a crisis point in the City of Toronto, and in communities across the province, because Premier Wynne refuses to provide provincial support to clear the repair backlog.”

Tory, who has not met officially with the premier since their falling out over road tolls in January, said Wynne has provided no funding solutions in their conversations.

That is despite, Tory noted, as the Star reported, that except for one, every single provincial riding in Toronto will be home to developments in a critical state of disrepair by 2021 if more funding isn’t secured.

He called the thousands of units at risk of closure “unacceptable.”

“This isn’t about crumbling buildings. It’s about the people who live in those crumbling buildings. It’s about people. This is about families who deserve a decent place to live and the numbers paint a very grim picture indeed,” he said.

“It will cost us,” the mayor said, noting it would require fewer dollars to adequately house people then it would in related strains on the justice, healthcare and emergency systems, as well as damage to the economic wellbeing of the city.

Greg Suttor, a senior researcher at the Wellesley Institute who focuses on housing policy, said the loss of social housing would have broad impacts amid an ongoing housing crisis, including an “affordability squeeze” for those forced to seek out private market rental options.

“We also know people sacrifice other things to pay the rent — groceries, medicine, or recreation,” he said.

That instability can see families on the move more often, which is bad for children in school, Suttor said. And it can have a domino effect with some pushed into homelessness.


Half of Toronto Community Housing homes to hit ‚??critical‚?? status within five years

Tue, 23 May 2017 06:00:00 EDT


Half of Toronto Community Housing developments will be in “critical” condition in the next five years without additional funding for repairs, according to an internal database provided to the Star.

Already, the data shows more than 30 social-housing properties are in serious disrepair. Of 364 developments — which include houses and groupings of low-rise buildings and towers — another 222 developments are ranked in “poor” condition, with dozens edging on critical condition, based on a standard ranking used by the housing corporation.

Those critical sites are homes for more than 3,000 individuals and families.

The data shows a pervasive problem at a time when the city is grappling with how to keep thousands of units open with a $1.73 billion funding gap.

Of the 364 developments, more than 100 were offloaded onto the city by the province more than a decade-and-a-half ago without money needed to cover the repairs. Of the buildings in the critical and poor categories, more than a third were downloaded by the province.

At the same time, the city was also saddled with tens of millions of dollars in provincial debt costs for the buildings while the province has yet to contribute any funding for critical repairs.

The failing buildings span nearly every part of the city, from Cabbagetown to The Queensway and North Etobicoke to Scarborough East.

To keep on track with a 10-year, $2.6 billion plan, Toronto Community Housing needs to do $438 million worth of repairs next year.

It is $350 million short.

The needs are not superficial, such as broken fridges or paint peeling from the walls — of which there are many.

The repairs are required because the structure of some buildings is literally crumbling, leaking roofs have become so bad that residents have been evacuated from the top floors of towers, plumbing has collapsed and boilers are failing.

By the end of this year, Toronto Community Housing has said they will have to close 600 units. Another 400 are expected to be closed next year if funding isn’t secured.

Toronto Community Housing uses an industry standard to determine and rank the status of buildings, called a facility condition index. It works this way: the cost for repairs versus the cost to replace the buildings is used to calculate a percentage. The higher the percentage, the worse the building’s condition.

Anything at or above 30 per cent is considered critical, but does not mean the building cannot be saved.

Toronto Community Housing provided the data to the Star after repeated requests for the entire database.

The most severe problem is a group of Victorian-era heritage homes in Cabbagetown, which on their own require millions to fix structural, roofing, and other deficiencies. Their heritage status complicates repairs as it requires construction follow a specific, legislated standard.

A 10-year repair plan was approved by the city in 2013, to be funded by all three levels of government — a third of the cost assigned to each, or $864 million.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government recently committed to $11.2 billion in future affordable housing spending over 11 years, which is expected to benefit, in part, social housing providers like Toronto Community Housing. But it is not yet clear how much of that will be available to TCH and how soon.

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government, however, has not committed to funding the repair plan. When the province announced its 2017 budget last month, there was no new money for social housing repairs. Mayor John Tory called it a “big goose egg.”

By 2021, the data shows all but one provincial riding in Toronto’s east end will be home to critical units, including five in Wynne’s Don Valley West riding — three of them seniors buildings.

The city was made solely responsible for thousandsof social housing units in 2001, after they were transferred from the now defunct Ontario Housing Corporation under former Conservative premier Mike Harris.

But the buildings, many built in the 1960s and 1970s, came without reserve funds and in varying states of disrepair.

Though the province was providing funds to compensate, in 2013 they unexpectedly announced they were phasing out those payments — which had totaled $150 million annually. The funds stopped coming last year.

The city not only contributes to mortgage payments through an annual subsidy to Toronto Community Housing, it has also, since 2001, been responsible for handling other provincial debt related to the buildings.

That debt is carried as a debenture. Unlike a mortgage which is secured by one property, the debenture is a loan secured by the general credit of the government, city spokesperson Wynna Brown explained in an email.

“Before social housing was transferred to municipalities debentures were used by the Ontario Housing Corporation to fund the public housing stock, including many of the properties that are now TCHC,” Brown wrote.

When the city first assumed that debt in 2001, the annual payment was $34.4 million. The city has been making annual payments since then, paying out tens of millions of dollars. This year, the city will pay $21 million.

The city is expected to be repaying that debt until 2026.