Homeless aid group makes a difference but demands change

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It was a bittersweet anniversary Saturday, as volunteers for the Project Winter Survival homeless relief effort packed emergency kits and sleeping bags to prevent further Toronto street deaths during a weekend cold snap.

“Today is the 20th annual Engage and Change Project Winter Survival and while some people said that’s incredible, it’s pathetic,” said Jody Steinhauer, the founder of Project Winter Survival. She blamed the city of Toronto for failing to prevent two recent exposure deaths — and a suspected third — of homeless people on its streets.

“I am a survivor of homelessness,” said Barbara Berryman, who now has a home and a job and spoke at Sunday’s event.
“I am a survivor of homelessness,” said Barbara Berryman, who now has a home and a job and spoke at Sunday’s event.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

“We should not have to be building survival kits in the city of Toronto to keep people from freezing to death,” an impassioned Steinhauer told volunteers and journalists at the North York warehouse of the Bargains Group, the clothing wholesaler she heads.

She said Project Winter Survival has been besieged with requests for survival kits this year: homeless aid groups sought 21,000 kits, up 60 per cent from last year, while the number of homeless people on the street has jumped to 9,000 this year from 6,000 in 2018. It’s time for Toronto to make good on its many promises of homeless aid, Steinhauer said.

“I don’t want to be doing this. So, for all of you, we need to put the pressure on the city of Toronto: open up 1,000 shelter beds, get people into housing long-term with support solutions so that next year at this time, we can be indoors and being proud.”

(City officials have pledged to open three new 24-hour shelter sites for homeless Torontonians, but only one is currently operating: a 100-bed facility in Liberty Village, run by the St. Felix Centre. The other two are expected to open in March and April.)

Read more:

‘If it is not my daughter it will be someone else’s’

It’s tough to be homeless in Toronto and it’s getting tougher

City of Toronto staff say $3 million cost overrun for shelter conversion won’t happen again

Steinhauer was speaking after 100 volunteers, each of whom had helped raise funds and gather other donations for homeless relief, spent hours packing and boxing 3,000 black knapsacks and blue sleeping bags.

These life-saving gifts — to which several major banks, the Salvation Army, GoodLife Fitness, Nestlé Waters and other firms have contributed — will be swiftly distributed to 210 social service agencies, homeless shelters and outreach providers throughout the GTA. Toronto police officers also carry some of the kits with them in their patrol cars, to hand out to homeless people they find shivering on the streets.

Project Winter Survival traditionally packs its kits on the third Saturday in January, in an assembly-line effort marked by good humour, loud music and friendly competition to win a homemade “Stanley Cup” for the most efficient of two teams, one wearing orange tuques and the other blue ones. Each kit contains $175 worth of donated clothing, food and personal care items.

But the timing for this year’s event couldn’t be better: Environment Canada issued an extreme cold warning for southern Ontario, with temperatures expected to drop below -24 C by Sunday night.

Steinhauer told the Star she’s been contacted by representatives of homeless shelters who haven’t been able to keep up with demand from people needing relief from the cold.

“We have a woman here from Out of the Cold who just told me last night they had to turn five people away. They didn’t even have a mat for them.”

Jody Steinhauer's Project Winter Survival has packed thousands of kits for homeless people since 1999. "We should not have to be building survival kits in the city of Toronto to keep people from freezing to death," an impassioned Steinhauer told volunteers Saturday.
Jody Steinhauer’s Project Winter Survival has packed thousands of kits for homeless people since 1999. « We should not have to be building survival kits in the city of Toronto to keep people from freezing to death, » an impassioned Steinhauer told volunteers Saturday.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

The mass packing effort was assisted by members of 13th Division of the Toronto Police Service, longtime supports of Project Winter Survival. Insp. Justin Vander Heyden told the crowd he was recently transferred to 13 Division and he’s “very deeply touched” to see what his colleagues have been involved with for the past 11 years. He admitted he wasn’t fully apprised of the need for such a large-scale homeless relief effort until he witnessed it with his own eyes.

“I’m also a local resident and I didn’t know that this was going on in my very own community. And I have to tell you, I’m a bit embarrassed by it,” Vander Heyden said.

“But I’m so overwhelmed with pride that people have all come out here to give up their day for this amazing cause. These kits will probably go out to homeless people in the city tonight, probably within blocks of where we’re standing right now. And my officers in 13th Division couuldn’t be more proud to be a part of this.”

Vander Heyden added that he brought his 11-year-old son with him to assist with the packing, because “I want him to see how we treat our vulnerable people in this city, and what it takes to actually get it done together as partners.”

Project Winter Survival has distributed more than 35,000 survival kits since Steinhauer founded her group in 1999, during a winter so brutal that then Toronto mayor Mel Lastman called in the Canadian army to help shovel snow.

The relief effort has not only saved lives, but also changed them, Steinhauer said, as she welcomed to the stage two former homeless people: Peter Armory, 56, and Barbara Berryman, 49, who today have both homes and jobs after getting through rough periods of their lives. Armory, whom Steinhauer employs at the Bargains Group, was there with his son Joshua, age 5.

“I am a survivor of homelessness,” said Berryman, who works as a photographer and is a budding novelist, as she thanked Steinhauer and Project Winter Survival.

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Dennis Oland murder trial hears about scalp condition, hearing aid and ‘touchy-feely’ ways

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The murder trial of Dennis Oland resumes in Saint John this morning when the Crown calls its next witness.

Oland, 50, is being retried for second-degree murder in the bludgeoning death of his multimillionaire father Richard Oland more than seven years ago.

His defence team started to lay the groundwork for its case Thursday, asking the victim’s secretary a series of seemingly inconsequential questions.

Maureen Adamson confirmed her 69-year-old boss had a scalp condition, wore hearing aids, and was a touchy-feely close-talker.

Toronto-based lawyer Michael Lacy didn’t dwell on any of the issues and hasn’t pieced them together for the court yet, but they’re all related to a key piece of the Crown’s evidence against Oland — a blood-stained brown sports jacket.

Adamson testified Oland was wearing a brown jacket when he visited his father at his office on the night he was killed, July 6, 2011.

She left the two alone together and the next morning, she discovered her boss’ body lying face down on the floor in a pool of blood. He had suffered more than 40 wounds to his head, neck and hands.

Richard Oland (left) was hard of hearing and had a tendency to lean in close when he spoke to someone, court heard. (Court exhibt)

The brown jacket, which was later seized from Oland’s closet, had four areas of blood on it and the DNA found in each of those areas matched his father’s profile, Crown prosecutor Jill Knee told the court during opening statements earlier this week.

The defence contends the « miniscule » bloodstains were the result of « innocent transfer. »

Lacy asked Adamson about the elder Oland’s scalp condition. She said she occasionally noticed little cuts on his head that would sometimes bleed.

Oland was hard of hearing and would sometimes lean in when he spoke to people, she agreed.

And he tended to put his hands on people when he spoke to them, she said.

During Dennis Oland’s first trial in 2015, the defence suggested the blood from his scalp could have gotten onto his hands and transferred onto someone’s clothing.

A jury found Oland guilty in December 2015, but the New Brunswick Court of Appeal overturned the conviction in October 2016 and ordered a new trial, citing an error in the trial judge’s instructions to the jury.

A mistrial was declared in his jury retrial and the case is now proceeding by judge alone.

Richard Oland’s secretary confirmed he was ‘touchy-feely’ and would often touch people or put his arm around them when he spoke to them. (Court exhibit)

His lawyer also asked Adamson Thursday about some police photographs of the crime scene, including a close-up of a black TV remote control on the floor in the blood-spattered office. In the photo, the remote is face-up. Another photo shows a remote on the floor, face-down.

Adamson said she couldn’t confirm they were the same remote control. She noted the office air conditioner also had a remote.

Lacy pointed out both photos had a yellow extension cord in them, implying they were of the same remote.

He asked whether she was careful not to touch or disturb anything in the crime scene after she made the grisly discovery that morning, rushed out to get help and re-entered with a man from the printing shop downstairs. She said they were both careful.

The remote for the air conditioner was grey and was usually kept either on or near Oland’s desk because he sat right in front of the AC, said Adamson.

Richard Oland’s secretary Maureen Adamson testified she went back to the crime scene two or three days after she discovered his body to tell police if she noticed anything missing. There was at least one fabric drop-cloth on the floor at that time, in the area where her boss had been face down in a pool of blood, she said. (CBC)

Lacy showed her another photograph, taken on July 11, four days after Oland’s body was discovered. It depicts what appears to be a remote near the coffee machine. In a July 7 photo of the same area, no remote is present.

During the 2015 trial, the court heard issues about the police investigation, including officers entering the crime scene without wearing protective gear to avoid contamination and using the washroom outside the office for two days before it was forensically tested.

In pre-trial documents, the defence advised the court they intend to argue « that the [Saint John Police Force’s] investigation into the homicide of Richard Oland was inadequate and will also seek to impugn the conduct and credibility of various SJPF officers involved in the investigation. »

The trial is scheduled to last four months.

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Canadian soldier comes to the aid of downtown Windsor shooting victim

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As shots fired in downtown Windsor early Friday morning, a Canadian soldier who was home for Thanksgiving sprung into action.

Windsor police say a man in his mid-20s remains in critical condition following a shooting in downtown Windsor early Friday morning. It happened outside near Ouellette Avenue and Maiden Lane.

Cpl. Brandon James Liddy, originally from Tecumseh, is an imagery technician for the Canadian Armed Forces — stationed in Gatineau.

Shortly after arriving home for the holiday weekend, Liddy headed to a downtown Windsor club for an event. Moments before the shooting, he was outside « catching some air with a friend. »

Windsor police are investigating a shooting that happened in downtown Windsor at about 1:45 a.m. Friday. (Bob Becken/CBC)

« Within a few minutes of being outside, shots rang out. I immediately took cover, » he said, adding a lot of people in the area seemed to confuse the shots for a cap gun.

« I was sure that it was an actual firearm. After which, I had seen a man who was shot stumbling and then came to his knees and fell down. »

With the victim lying down in the street, Liddy approached him and introduced himself.

Ouellette Avenue from Wyandotte Street to Park Street were closed while police investigated the scene. (Bob Becken/CBC)

« When I came to notice this guy was shot, or had a strong feeling, I had a moral obligation as a soldier to go in, » he said. « I checked for the different things we’re supposed to look for — wetness for blood and holes for gunshot wounds and whatnot. »

Upon observing a gunshot wound on the victim’s arm, he removed his belt and used it as a tourniquet — but there was another wound to the victim’s upper torso.

« I pointed at a bystander and said, ‘Hey, I need you to take your shirt off. It needs to be pushed on this guy’s body to stop the bleeding.’ I then called on another guy to hold pressure on the wound while we did other checks and whatnot. »

Liddy said he worked alongside emergency personnel before more arrived on the scene, adding the way they handled stuff was « very professional and in a kind manner. »

‘Windsor’s changed a lot’

Liddy, 35, is no stranger to the downtown Windsor scene. He said he remembers hanging out with friends and grabbing a drink in the area during his mid-20s. With the exception of the occasional fist fight, he recalls very « minimal gun and knife violence. »

« It’s definitely changed and it’s very sad to see this because a lot of people in Windsor notice this. There’s definitely a hard need for change and I wouldn’t even know where to start with that because I now live in Ottawa, » he said.

« But for the people here, there’s a lot of tension. »

When I came to notice this guy was shot, …  I had a moral obligation as a soldier to go in.– Cpl. Brandon James  Liddy

Grateful to save a life

Liddy said he feels empowered to have the training necessary to involve himself in such a dire situation, adding he started to doubt if he’s every going to need to refer to his training after many years of being in the force.

« It happened last night. It felt good knowing that I had that confidence through training to help someone and possibly save a life. »

According to Windsor police, the victim underwent surgery after being rushed to hospital.

Nobody has been arrested and a suspect description has not been released.

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