Under the Gardiner: ‘We check in on each other, that’s kind of the reason to be here’

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Richard Smith pokes his head out of his green and grey tent as his dog Pixie sleeps inside beside him.

The tent is draped in sleeping bags — improvised insulation in freezing temperatures that on this day feels like -12 C. Scattered around it are propane tanks he uses to cook, and empty water bottles. A frying pan, pot and dishtowel rest on a small wooden platform next to a large cooler.

Richard Smith looks out from his tent with his dog, Pixie. Smith has lived under the Gardiner Expressway near Spadina Ave. for about two years.
Richard Smith looks out from his tent with his dog, Pixie. Smith has lived under the Gardiner Expressway near Spadina Ave. for about two years.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Nearby, one of his neighbours collects wood for a stove that feeds into a tiny chimney poking out of the top of his own tent, where a single light bulb glows behind the nylon.

“A lot of people don’t even realize there’s people in them,” says Smith of their makeshift homes.

“We’re pretty tight, pretty good people. We check in on each other, that’s kind of the reason to be here.”

Smith is one of about a half dozen men, he says, who have set up camp under the Gardiner near Spadina Ave. in the shadow of some of the most expensive condos in the country. He says they’re staking out a sliver of privacy and protection from the elements in a city with a dwindling housing supply and a packed shelter system.

The city handed out eight notices to people like Smith, although he says he didn’t personally receive one, starting last Thursday. Officials told them to get out in 14 days, citing public safety issues. But as temperatures drop, amidst three homeless deaths in less than two weeks, advocates, and some of the men themselves, say there’s simply nowhere for them to go.

“It’s a Catch-22,” says Smith, who’s been camping here on and off for about two years after losing his apartment and job following an arrest.

“They say there’s places for us,” he adds. But he’d like to see them.

The city’s chief communications officer Brad Ross said notices were issued because of public safety issues with right of way, debris and reports of open flames and propane.

As of Thursday, according to a daily count posted on the city’s website, shelters hovered between 97 and 100 per cent occupied, except for family shelters in motels which were at 84 per cent.

“Yes shelters are crowded but there’s still capacity,” says Ross, adding the real goal is to help people find permanent housing, with the help of the city’s Streets to Homes staff.

“Whether it’s a room or an apartment, yeah it’s challenging but they continue to work through that and there are solutions out there,” he says.

“We can’t allow people to be sleeping in makeshift shelters and tents and shanties on sidewalks.”

A number of homeless people who have been living under the Gardiner Expressway near Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St. have been given eviction notices by the city.
A number of homeless people who have been living under the Gardiner Expressway near Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St. have been given eviction notices by the city.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Smith says he’s been assigned a Streets to Homes worker, who’s been tasked with helping him out of the tent and into something with four walls. He says he’s been trying to follow up but hasn’t been able to reach them.

In the meantime he’s heard the shelters are packed, and prefers the camp, where the underbelly of the expressway and the soaring concrete pillars that support it provide some shelter from the wind and snow.

Garbage is strewn around this stretch of land just south of CityPlace — a heart-shaped baking pan lying facedown, old suitcases, needles. A giant yellow stuffed Pikachu rests on a brown couch beside an overturned desk chair, and half of a blue bike frame pokes out from the frozen dirt.

Aside from the woosh of cars, it’s quiet and still. Most of the men are inside their tents taking refuge from the cold.

On one of the pillars someone has written in black bold letters, “Take me Home?”

Smith says he stays as he also doesn’t want to be separated from Pixie, who he credits with helping him get through some addiction issues. Some, but not all, shelters allow pets.

“She keeps me alive,” he says with a smile, of the lab-mix.

“We just feel in love.”

Terence Campos lives in a tent under the Gardiner. He's been here for six years.
Terence Campos lives in a tent under the Gardiner. He’s been here for six years.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Ross said he can’t speak to Smith’s particular situation, but said encampments are regularly visited by Streets to Homes outreach workers and anyone having trouble reaching them should call 311, the city’s non-emergency hotline.

After a harsh winter last year, and criticism from the ombudsman that the city gave incorrect information about capacity on at least two occasions, officials pledged to do better this year with a winter plan that included opening three new 24-hour respite sites in huge dome-like structures.

So far, only one of the centres — a 100-bed facility in Liberty Village run by the St. Felix Centre — is open. Ross says the city anticipates the opening of other two in March and April.

On Tuesday, asked about the evictions, Mayor John Tory said the notice is meant to be “more compassionate,” rather than clearing people out immediately.

“Even in instances where we’ve had quite large encampments in the past all of those people, I think, without exception have been found alternate places to to live,” he said.

“But make no mistake, we have to take these encampments out because it is just not a viable proposition to have people deciding they’re going to set up tents or other kinds of structures like this anywhere they so choose to do so.”

On Thursday, advocates marched downtown, calling for the city to declare an emergency and add 2,000 shelter beds. The rally comes after the deaths of a woman sleeping in an ally near St. Andrew Subway station, who was run over by a garbage truck on Tuesday, and Crystal Papineau, who got stuck in a clothing donation bin last week near Dovercourt and Bloor.

Chris, who did not give his last name, looks around for anything useable among the gargabe strewn under the Gardiner.
Chris, who did not give his last name, looks around for anything useable among the gargabe strewn under the Gardiner.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Homeless advocate and street nurse Cathy Crowe told the Star there’s actually been three deaths — an Indigenous man also died in an ally last week.

Crowe says the city’s capacity numbers don’t tell the whole story. Practically all alternatives — not only the shelters, but the Out of the Cold programs, run by faith based organizations where people can sleep and get a meal during the winter — are full.

“Essentially there might be three spots at this respite or two spots left on the floor at an Out of the Cold, but even the Out of the Colds are now reporting that the majority of their sites are running over capacity and that’s never, ever happened.”

The situation, with “mats on the floor, approximately a foot and a half away from the next person,” is “ just inhumane and it’s unworkable,” she says.

Instead of evicting the people under the Gardiner and others like them across the city who are trying to “create a nook of comfort and safety in very visible places,” the city should work with them around fire safety and increase their street outreach, Crowe says.

Greg Cook, who works at downtown drop-in centre Sanctuary, says the industrial land along the Gardiner, not just at the Spadina overpass, has long been home to scattered tents, but he’s seen more spring up in recent years as the housing crisis intensifies.

“By and large historically the city hasn’t cared as much and there hasn’t been the kind of complaints there are now just because people aren’t living right next to it,” he says, noting things changed with the construction of nearby condos.

Back at the camp, Smith says he’d like to stay, at least for now.

“I’m getting pretty comfortable,” he says.

But he’s not sure how long he’ll be there, or where he’d go next if he had to leave.

“I don’t know,” he says.

“I can’t really answer that question.”

Raymond Sackaney drops in and out of the area under Gardiner between Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St.
Raymond Sackaney drops in and out of the area under Gardiner between Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

They’re just doing whatever they have to do to survive

Raymond Sackaney, who describes himself as being “semi-homeless” since Christmas, doesn’t have a tent at the camp but comes down from time to time.

“I just ended up walking down this way and I seen all these tents and I wanted to see if I’d recognize anybody, and there’s some people I’d seen on the street before,” he says.

“I just thought maybe there’d be some people down here that I could keep in contact with.”

He sometimes goes to Seaton House shelter but mostly sleeps in a 24-hour McDonald’s or Tim Hortons.

The shelters are “basically all packed and full and there’s no available space to actually sleep and rest,” he says, looking around at the camp.

“I don’t know what else they’d do with this so-called area you know? They’re just doing whatever they have to do to survive.”

Terence Campos, 40, is originally from Eglinton and Keele area but says he’s been living in a tent in the encampment for maybe six years.

He has many friends in the camp and even shares a birthday with Sackaney.

“I did the parking lot stuff, sleeping in staircases,” he says.

“You get in trouble so you come outside.”

Chris, who did not give his last name, says he doesn’t have a tent here but has been coming to the camp to stay with friends “off and on” for three years.

He often picks through the garbage where he finds useful things, such as the red sweatshirt and toque he’s wearing.

“They don’t appreciate stuff, they just throw stuff out,” he says of the residents of nearby CityPlace condos.

“It’s worth a lot of money.”

With files from David Rider

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

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Reality check: Study says the more young people vape, the less they smoke – National

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A new study has shown that as the number of young people who vape or use e-cigarettes grows, the amount of them who smoke has gone down.

The study, done by Georgetown University Medical Center and published in the Tobacco Control journal, looked at data of children in Grade 10 and 12 between 2013-2017 and found that when vaping became popular in 2014, the rate of youth who smoke dropped at least twice as much as previous years.

“This finding is important because it indicates the [U.S.] experienced a major reduction in youth and young adult cigarette smoking when vaping became more popular,” study author David Levy said in a release.

“Vaping has had a positive effect on reducing cigarette smoking. On a population level, any effect that vaping may have had act as a gateway to cigarette smoking during the time frame examined appears to be small relative to the effects of vaping leading to less smoking,” Levy says.


READ MORE:
Canadian study shows teens who use e-cigarettes linked to later tobacco smoking

But Robert Schwartz, University of Toronto professor and executive director of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, warns that while there may be an association, there’s no way to tell if the drop in smoking was directly caused by the increase in vaping.

“They’ve found an association; as vaping has gone up smoking has gone down,” he explained. “That doesn’t mean that vaping has caused a decrease in smoking.

“Does it mean that people who vape are not picking up smoking? I don’t know if we can actually tell that from this study.”

The correlation is much different from previous data: a 2017 study of more than 44,000 high school students in Ontario and Alberta showed a “strong and robust” linkage between so-called vaping and subsequent tobacco use.

WATCH: Study says e-cigarettes lead many teens to tobacco






But Levy explained to Global News that it’s hard to know whether or not a high schooler who smokes did so because they tried vaping first.

“If they would have smoked anyway, we shouldn’t be as alarmed about vaping, but unfortunately that kind of thing is hard to tease out,” he said.

“So what we’re doing is looking at what’s been happening overall with smoking and vaping.”

“Any effect that vaping may have had act as a gateway to cigarette smoking during the time frame examined appears to be small relative to the effects of vaping leading to less smoking,” he explained.

Levy also explained that “the trends indicate, at worst, that vaping didn’t increase smoking, and at best, they might have drastically reduced smoking.”

He also said more data would be needed on other outside effects — such as government policies or anti-smoking campaigns — so he would like to look over more years before drawing firm conclusions.


Is Vaping better than smoking?

A 2017 study from the U.K found people who swapped out smoking for e-cigarettes for at least six months had “much lower” levels of toxic and cancer-causing substances in their body.

But there are still many unknown factors when using e-cigarettes, including the fact that e-juices are not regulated by Health Canada.

And Schwartz says long-term vaping is still going to lead to respiratory and heart disease.

WATCH: E-cigarettes increase risk of heart attacks






“We know there’s substantial evidence that vaping leads to dependence on e-cigarettes,” Schwartz explained. “this is a big concern, because vaping is not benign.”

For smokers, it’s better to switch to vaping, but for non-smokers it’s better to not vape or smoke at all.

He also said in his recent studies, he’s seen that people who vape have no intention of stopping.


READ MORE:
Do e-cigarettes harm or help? New report reveals the impacts they have on health

According to Health Canada’s website, vaping can expose people to various other substances, depending on the device they use.

“In some cases, vaping liquid containers have enough nicotine to be poisonous to young children,” the website reads. “Children must be prevented from getting vaping liquid and vaping product safety is regulated by Health Canada.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Fact Check: Scheer compares Trudeau debt to parents leaving ‘unpaid credit card bill’ to children

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In a speech at an Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Convention Saturday morning, Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer criticized the spending practices of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party.

“He has increased Canada’s debt faster than any peacetime prime minister in Canadian history,” Scheer asserted. While the debt-to-GDP ratio throughout Canadian history isn’t entirely clear, spending by the Canadian government has notably increased since Trudeau took office.

WATCH: Carbon tax ‘not a price’ on pollution: Scheer






Global News previously assembled a database to track government spending, which revealed that the Liberals have made nearly 9,000 spending announcements since Trudeau took office two years ago, far surpassing the 7,300 spending announcements made during the four years of the Harper majority government.

The combined value of the Liberals’ spending announcements has reached CAD$34.27 billion so far, versus the $45.15 billion combined value for four years of Harper spending announcements.

“No one would leave an unpaid credit card bill to their children, but that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing,” Scheer continued during his speech.


READ MORE:
When it comes to cheque hand-outs, the Trudeau government easily tops Harper’s record

Scheer’s comments seem to stem from a report published by the Fraser Institute in 2017, stating that Trudeau is on track to be the be the largest accumulator of debt among prime ministers who took office in times of economic stability and minimal global conflict.

On the flip side, however, some experts have noted that many estimates regarding Canada’s federal debt do not take into account the government’s current assets. Global News reported in March that while our federal market debt hit $1 trillion this year, this number is offset by almost $380 billion in assets, bringing the total of the country’s net debt to a more manageable $651 billion.

WATCH: Federal government’s market debt tops $1 trillion






According to documents prepared by RBC based on government projections, Canada’s net debt is expected to rise to $730 billion by 2023. Between 2016, the first full year Trudeau held office, and 2023, the year RBC’s projections end, the federal net debt will have increased by a potential $1 billion over that seven-year period.

The seven-year-period prior to 2016 saw a comparable net debt accumulation of approximately $1 billion as well. It’s important to note that Conservative leader Stephen Harper took office in 2011, and held office for three terms.


READ MORE:
Trudeau government reveals the 2018 federal budget

In addition to discussing the spending practices of the Trudeau government, Scheer pledged to do away with Trudeau’s carbon tax, pledged to continue challenging the prime minister during Question Period in the House of Commons, and encouraged Ontario Conservatives to make Trudeau a “one-term prime minister.”

The next federal election will take place in November 2019.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Reality check: Do Canadians need to worry about growth hormones in dairy post-USMCA? – National

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The new and improved NAFTA — called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — has opened the door to allow U.S. milk into the Canadian market.

Canada has agreed to provide U.S. dairy farmers access to about 3.5 per cent of its approximately $16-billion annual domestic dairy market.


READ MORE:
Canadians shouldn’t bet on lower dairy prices under new trade deal: experts

Along with outrage in support of the livelihoods of Canadian dairy farmers, Canadians are also concerned about the U.S.’s use of hormones on cows and the effect it will have on the milk they drink.

The recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a manmade bovine hormone that increases milk production in cows.

The hormone is banned in Canada and Europe because it’s been found that “it’s too stressful for that cows and it was rejected in this country or made illegal based on animal welfare grounds,” explained researcher Marie-Claude Fortin.

WATCH: Dairy Farmers on USMCA






The Animal Welfare Institute says the increased lactation period for cows doubles the “metabolic stress” of the cow, and increases the rates of illnesses in the cows.

It isn’t banned in the U.S.

Only about 20 per cent of U.S. farmers use the hormone, Fortin says since the synthetic hormone is identical to the natural hormone, it’s impossible to tell whether the hormone is present in milk.

As for effects on human health, the bovine hormone rBGH can trigger an increase in another hormone called IGF-1 which has the capacity to impact humans.


READ MORE:
Alberta dairy farmer explains why he’s disappointed with NAFTA replacement

Health Canada found no evidence of adverse health concerns from the hormone, which is also called rBST.

But Fortin says the science isn’t clear on how much this second hormone can affect us.

“Frankly, the results go both ways,” Fortin said.

“We have some studies in the United States that have looked at its possible impact on humans. … It’s not clear if there’s an increase in potential for the development of tumours or cancer.”

A study commissioned by Health Canada said there was not yet evidence to suggest IGF-1 is carcinogenic to humans, but that the worldwide scientific community will continue to study the matter.

No way to tell

While some dairies attempt to use farms that don’t use the growth hormone, there’s no test or third-party certification.

“It means that if Canadian consumers do not want to have dairy products (or) milk that comes from cows that have received this hormone, (there) is really very little we can do,” she said.

Once American milk starts coming into Canada, Fortin says processing plants will have to update their policies.

“Right now the different packages or labelling types that we see across the country are not are not equal in how much they disclose,” Fortin said.

“There’s nothing in any regulation of any source that requires that processing plants to disclose where the milk comes from because it has always come from Canada [previously].”

The one thing Canadians can do, is look for the “100% Canadian” logo on their dairy products — which has prompted both Canadian companies and consumers to talk about “buying Canadian.”

“This symbol guarantees 100% Canadian milk ingredients, no antibiotics and no synthetic growth hormones. #bluecow,” Manitoban cheese company Bothwell wrote on Facebook.

 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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