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From their perch in a special van, police are watching for texting drivers

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Toronto police are watching, from special elevated vans, streetcars, and their bikes, waiting for you to pick up your phone while driving.

That’s the message they want motorists to get during a week-long distracted-driving blitz aimed at getting people to put down their devices and focus on the road.

The Star went on a ride along Monday to get a first-hand look at the hunt for distracted drivers, hopping into a white 10-seater van that lets cops see into passing cars. Traffic Services is borrowing two from other areas of the police service, as well as an unmarked pick-up truck.

Drivers have gotten more savvy about flouting the law, says Sgt Brett Moore, as a fellow officer steers the van along Lakeshore Boulevard.

“Folks inherently know that distracted driving is wrong, and in order not to be so blatant to have (their phone) up to their ear they’re dropping it down to their lap,” he says.

“These lap-lookers, they’re not kidding anybody.”

The new zero-tolerance campaign follows the province’s stricter penalties for distracted driving, which came into effect Jan 1. It’s now a minimum $615 fine, three-day license suspension and three demerit points, upon conviction, for a first offence. The fines increase to a maximum of $2,000 and $3,000 for second and third convictions respectively.

Upon a third offence, novice drivers lose their licenses entirely and have to start at the bottom of the graduated licensing system.

On Wednesday, officers will be watching from streetcars, calling on radios to officers trailing them in police vehicles who can intercept people spotted using their phones. Cops in regular cars, on foot and on bikes will also be looking out.

The transit technique is borrowed from officers in Waterloo.

“I call it R And D: Rip off and duplicate. We’re not too proud to rip off good ideas and give full credit,” says Moore with a laugh.

Though distracted driving laws have been on the books for almost a decade, motorists keep doing it.

“We’re creatures of habit,” Moore says. “It’s not getting better.”

Provincial data on 2013 collisions show one person is injured in a distracted driving collision every half hour, and a driver using their phone is four times more likely to crash than a driver who’s not.

Sgt Alex Crews, also with Traffic Services, says he usually stops an offender “within 15 minutes,” after he starts looking for them. He caught a driver Monday in a Range Rover who was talking on a Bluetooth but also scrolling through texts on his phone at the same time.

It’s okay to talk on a hands-free device like a Bluetooth, and have a phone or GPS that’s securely mounted, as long as you’re not touching it, aside from to start or end a hands-free call.

The new harsher penalties apply just to devices, but there are other ways to be distracted, from applying makeup to eating, adds Crews.

“Let’s say you’re driving along and you have a sandwich and you take a bite, no issues. It’s when you’ve got the triple cheeseburger and you’re dripping mayo and ketchup and mustard into your lap and you’re wiping it down and oh my goodness, you rear-end somebody,” he says.

That would be considered careless driving.

At one point the van passes a man glancing down near St Lawrence Market. But officers need to see someone using their phone to make the charge, Moore says.

Toronto police investigated 10,000 instances of possible distracted driving in 2018 — a rate of about 27 a day.

Several tickets were issued Monday morning.

Almost all of those fined cried — something Moore has little patience for.

“It’s that instant remorse, too little too late,” he says.

“There should be no crying in distracted driving.”

Instead of tears after the fact, Moore wants to see people “make a change” now, by investing in a device to properly secure their phones.

“It’s just a matter of time,” he says. “The more times that you drive distracted, use your device, text, phone whatever … one day your number will come up and you’re going to cause a collision.”

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11



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Anglais

A stunning Water Lantern Festival is coming to Montreal

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What might just be the most magical night ever is coming up for Montreal this year.

The Water Lantern Festival has announced that it will be gracing Mississauga with thousands of floating lanterns later this year, as part of a celebration that spans the entire world.

According to the festival’s official website, the event is a celebration of life with proceeds going towards charities and non-profit organizations within the area.

“Water Lantern Festival brings together individuals from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life to join in one emotional and memorable night. At the Water Lantern Festival, we cherish these moments and will do our best to help you have a memorable experience that you’ll never forget as you witness the beauty of thousands of lanterns reflecting upon the water,” the website states.

The festival takes place throughout multiple cities around the world, with the Canadian cities of Quebec, Regina, Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa, Mississauga, and, of course, Montreal taking part.

For the Calgary event, a date has been confirmed and tickets are already rolling out. Montreal shan’t be far behind, and you can click the Notify Me tab on the event’s site to be kept in the loop.

Expect an evening filled with food trucks, music, lantern designing and finally, a magical launch of the lanterns into the water as the sun goes down.

For our pals over in Calgary, their event includes a floating lantern, a commemorative drawstring bag, a marker, and a wristband. Expect something similar, if not the same, when more details float through about Montreal’s event.

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Euthanasia order on hold for Montreal dog that attacked children

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A pit bull dog that attacked four children and two adults in August 2018 in Montreal North will not be euthanized in the immediate future.

The euthanasia order has been temporarily suspended pending the appeal of a Quebec Superior Court decision.

On Tuesday, Judge Lukasz Granosik rejected a request to halt the euthanasia order issued by the Montreal North borough, which declared the animal a “dangerous dog.”

The City of Montreal has not changed its mind. This is only a delay before it proceeds with euthanizing the dog, a source told the Canadian Press.

Shotta, the one-year-old dog, was in the care of its owner’s acquaintance in August 2018. The dog attacked four children and two adults, causing serious injuries in separate incidents on the same day.

After the attacks, the dog was taken from the home and entrusted to the SPCA.

WATCH: Dog found dead in Angrignon Park

The Road to Home Rescue Support, an American shelter, asked the court if it could take in the dog. Christa Frineau, the dog’s owner, had also asked that Shotta not be euthanized.

Granosik refused to grant the request.

—With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise

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9 Things To Do In Montreal This Friday, Saturday & Sunday

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Today’s sunny skies have me itching to make weekend plans. I absolutely cannot wait to make the most of this warmer weather. This might be the time to inflate my bike tires and dust off my running shoes…

Whether you want to brush up on your cooking skills, let loose, or fill your stomach with amazing food, there’s an event out there for you. Read on for 9 fun things you can do with friends or a fling this weekend.

TL;DR Read on for 9 fun things you can do in Montreal this weekend.

Let Yourself Go At Dress Up

Where: 185 Avenue Van Horne, Montréal.

When: Friday, March 29, 9:00 p.m.

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