Surrey is getting ready to ditch the RCMP. Will there be a domino effect?

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Eight days after two murdered teens were found on the side of the road in Surrey, B.C., 8,000 showed up at a sombre demonstration against gang violence last June.

While violent crime has fallen in Surrey over the past three years, the brazenness of targeted hits concerns the city’s diverse community. Another shooting happened 11 days after the rally, killing Paul Bennett, a beloved minor hockey coach in his driveway.

The scene of a rally against gang violence in Surrey on June 13, 2018.

Twitter/Janet Brown, CKNW

Surrey is Canada’s 12th most populous city. Currently considered a suburb of Vancouver, its population is set to overtake its better-known neighbour’s by 2041. In recent years, the city has borne witness to shocking crimes. Six years ago, four bodies were found along the remote Colebrooke Road in three months, prompting the installation of new lights and cameras worth $80,000.

RCMP Assistant Comm. Dwayne MacDonald, Surrey’s officer in charge, soon issued an open letter after the June demonstration, writing that he was “confident” in the RCMP’s policing model. But residents of Surrey weren’t as confident.  In October, they voted in a council where all but one member ran on a pledge to replace the RCMP with a local police force.

WATCH: Dec. 19, 2018 – Surrey residents concerned about safety following budget approval






Council passed a motion on Nov. 5, its first day in office, to take “all appropriate steps to immediately create a Surrey Police Department.”

A spokesperson for the RCMP says the force is a “neutral party’” in this process, and the vote “is not a critique of the service provided by the RCMP to the citizens of Surrey.”

Observers have said this could be the first domino to fall in a region where the RCMP has over a dozen detachments. But they also say it’s an opportunity for the Mounties to change how they approach local policing.

Jack Hundial, a former RCMP officer who spent 25 years with the force, was one of numerous speakers at the June rally, which was organized by anti-gang violence group Wake Up Surrey.

“It was a sort of boiling point in our community,” Hundial told Global News, describing a city where kids are coming home with unexplained cash and multiple cell phones, clear signs that they’ve joined gangs.

READ MORE: $220M and counting — the cost of the RCMP’s ‘culture of dysfunction’

Hundial now sits on city council. He ran on, and ultimately voted on, a proposal to end the RCMP’s contract and to move ahead with independent policing. Hundial admitted that passing the motion without fully costing it out was “putting the cart before the horse,” but given there are many steps before a local police force could take over, he believes it could also give the Mounties a chance to reflect on how they approach their work in the city.

“Let’s look at increasing our presence in our schools, be more interactive. Let’s look at having more community input into what we do with our policing resources.”

The RCMP’s accountability to Surrey is set out in a Municipal Police Unit Agreement — it dictates that Surrey’s officer in charge reports directly to the mayor, though he also delivers reports to council. That contrasts with a municipal police board, civilian bodies that include the mayor, one person from council and up to seven people appointed by the province.

Surrey is a very diverse city, for instance, those of South Asian descent make up over 32 per cent of the total population.

WATCH: June 13, 2018 – Surrey residents rally against gang violence






Having a city-based police force, said Sukhi Sandhu, an organizer with Wake Up Surrey, would be more effective at tackling a gang crisis in particular.

It’s about the policing model, it’s about understanding our demographics and diverse population,” he told Global News.

“One of the benefits of having a municipal police force such as Delta or Vancouver is you’re more ingrained in the community, you’re more in touch with your neighbourhoods,” he said. “You have more of a presence, and to make changes to your business model, it doesn’t need approval from Ottawa.”

The RCMP maintains that their detachment in Surrey is a local police force: it’s had a presence since 1951. The average time an officer spends there is seven years and 38 per cent of them also live in Surrey.

While the RCMP are headquartered in Ottawa, in Surrey, they said their “primary accountability” is to the city. The Surrey RCMP’s officer in charge reports to the mayor and also updates the city’s Public Safety Committee on matters such as policing priorities, crime statistics and trends, the Mounties told Global News.

Local policing has been shown to foster partnerships that have helped the police identify suspected gang members within communities. When it comes to gangs, the Surrey RCMP has a long-term strategy focused on promoting “positive choices for kids at a young age and to provide accessible support and guidance to parents.”


READ MORE:
Resistance to reform: Is civilian oversight the magic bullet the Mounties need?

However, critics charge that the RCMP have been slow to adopt gang-targeting measures that exist in other communities.

An example is a “Bar Watch” program aimed at keeping gang members out of bars and restaurants.

Kash Heed, a former B.C. solicitor general and ex-police chief in West Vancouver, said local RCMP detachments have to go through “layers of structure” to approve creative policing methods like this.

Under Bar Watch, bars and restaurants can scan patrons’ IDs to see whether they’re “inadmissible persons” — flagged for bad behaviour or involvement in violent criminal activity.

Heed worked on such a program when he was with the Vancouver police about 12 years ago. The aim was to “go after gang bangers that were frequenting specific areas” such as bars and restaurants, he said. “We had shootings, we had murders, that was all part of saying that, you’re not going to be allowed to come into these particular areas because of your behaviour.”

WATCH: June 21, 2018 – More anti-gang rallies in Surrey






The program was later introduced to other local police forces in Metro Vancouver, who implemented it “right away,” Heed said. The RCMP, however, criticized the program “for years,” he said.

Then, in December 2018, the Surrey RCMP announced their own version of Bar Watch, called the ‘Inadmissible Patrons Program.’

“You want to talk about a structure in the RCMP where, for example, you can’t do things in a timely fashion… there’s the best example you can get,” Heed said.

READ MORE: Surrey needs 350 more cops, says anti-crime group Wake Up Surrey

In a statement, the Surrey RCMP countered that it took five months, “not 12 years,” to launch their program — those months capture the time that passed since the city released a report endorsing the idea.

Moving toward community-based policing would run counter to trends seen within the national police force over the past two decades — and globally. While some in Surrey are pushing for a community-based approach, the RCMP nationally has been focusing on an intelligence-led approach since 2000.

Surrey isn’t the first Metro Vancouver community to look at replacing the RCMP with an independent police force — nor is it alone across Canada.

In B.C., the City of Richmond examined what it would take to move to a local police department four years ago for similar reasons to Surrey — concern that decisions were being made in Ottawa without consideration for the local context or the cultural makeup of the city. If Richmond were to move ahead with its own police force and maintain existing service levels, then the operating cost for policing would jump from anywhere between $2 to $4 million per year, and would require a property tax hike of up to two per cent.

Nevertheless, Richmond opted to keep the Mounties, citing a low crime rate and strong service from the Mounties locally.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has estimated the cost of moving to a local police force at $120 million. What hasn’t been estimated is how much operational costs will change, or how that might affect tax bills.

WATCH: Dec. 26, 2018 – B.C. public safety minister working closely with Surrey to establish new police force






Other communities still policed by the RCMP are reviewing their law enforcement, however. That includes the City of Red Deer, which has recorded Canada’s highest crime levels in communities with over 100,000 people in the past six consecutive years. The city has called for an outside review of its policing, as crime continues to be a top concern for residents there.

Red Deer operates under a hybrid model, in which the RCMP provide primary enforcement, though there’s also a “very strong municipal component that supports that,” Mayor Tara Veer said in December.

Crime levels pop up as a concern every time crime figures are published, said Red Deer Coun. Buck Buchanan, a former Mountie himself.

READ MORE: RCMP civilian advisory board to tackle bullying, harassment — is it enough?

There’s almost a “50/50 split” when it comes to feelings about the RCMP in Red Deer, he told Global News — some happy with the service, others not.

“I don’t think, as an ex-member, that we as the force have done large municipal policing well,” Buchanan said. “I think that we have tried to take a smaller style of policing, or rural policing, and tried to implement it into a bigger place.”

Buchanan said Surrey’s decision has sent a “shockwave through the policing world,” because it’s the force’s biggest detachment. And that “everybody’s looking” at Surrey to see what the future of RCMP’s involvement in local policing of cities will be.

Shirley Heafey agrees.

The former chair and CEO of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP from 1996 to 2006, an agency that has since morphed into the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, Heafey said the RCMP is a “costly burden” on taxpayers, with a culture that “cannot be fixed.”

She said communities policed by the Mounties are “not getting the service they should be getting due in large part to sub-par training of members and they must answer to Ottawa headquarters first.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits with RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, the officer in charge of the Surrey RCMP, to his left, during a roundtable discussion on gangs and gun control, in Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 4, 2018.

“They are not trained to deal with people in a mental health crisis and in most communities they are faced with this issue daily,” Heafey told Global News.

This, she said, was apparent in the 2007 Tasering death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). Dziekanski, a Polish man, was seen shouting and throwing items at the airport before RCMP arrived and shocked him with a Taser. He died minutes after the deployment.

In that incident, officers who deployed Tasers “approached the incident as though they were responding to a barroom brawl and failed to shift gears when they realized that they were dealing with an obviously distraught traveller,” the inquiry report into the Tasering said.

“Their response in these situations is too-often a ‘gun’ and not because they want to shoot but mostly they don’t know what else to do,” Heafey said. “Their de-escalation training is non-existent.”

The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment about the force’s approach to de-escalation.

Far from criticizing Surrey’s mayor for overlooking costs, Heafey praised Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, calling him a “progressive and courageous politician.”

“I fully support his courage to have made such a decision because the citizens of Surrey will be much better served by their own police service who are accountable to only one master and who are trained to serve the particular needs and problems in that community,” she said.

The Mounties, she added, should stick to federal policing alone.

If Surrey ditches the Mounties, a “domino effect” could result within Metro Vancouver, said Heed. If other communities see Surrey’s transition as successful, “I think you’ll see others looking at that as a way to reform their police.”

While Heed doesn’t see Surrey’s move away from the Mounties fostering a “domino effect” far beyond Metro Vancouver, but John Deukmedjian does.

The criminologist at the University of Windsor said other large municipalities “could and some probably will follow.”

He wasn’t surprised to see the movement starting in Western Canada.

“I think where there is dissatisfaction with Ottawa, which has been traditionally seen as deaf to local concerns particularly by Alberta and B.C., then you’ll get municipalities moving away from the RCMP.”

But he questions how much an independent force would change policing in Surrey. Sure, there’d be a police board, but many officers are likely to be hired from the ranks of the current force — “just a change in uniform.” He added, however, that replacing the RCMP there is an “earthquake in Ottawa — and that’s a good thing because the RCMP will be redefining itself, wary of losing more municipalities.”

Ultimately, Heed said, the Mounties have an opportunity, even in the face of such a loss. The RCMP, he said, have to “redefine themselves” as a federal force.

“I think it can be viewed as very positive to them, and if they were wise, they would really consider it that way.”

  • With files from Janet Brown, Emily Mertz and Herman Chau

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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York students fume as ‘outrageous’ GO bus changes take effect, forcing many to pay two fares

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The daily commute for thousands of York University students got more expensive and less convenient this weekend, after GO Transit discontinued its bus service to the school’s Keele campus.

As of Saturday, bus routes that used to terminate in the heart of the North York campus have been diverted to Highway 407 station on the new TTC subway extension, about 2 kilometres away.

Students taking GO Transit buses to the school now have to pay a second fare and transfer to the subway, which stops directly at the campus. For adult Presto fare card users who don’t have a monthly TTC pass, the additional subway ride costs $1.50 each way.

The change affects seven GO bus routes and about 575 daily bus trips to and from the university that are used by about 8,600 riders every day.

Among them is Jaskarn Duhra, a 19-year-old commerce student whose trip to school requires him to take a MiWay bus to Square One Shopping Centre in Mississauga, then a GO bus, and now a TTC subway.

“Now I actually have to accommodate more time to my commute,” said Duhra, adding he worries about being late for exams and other important events.

“It just makes it a lot more frustrating,” he said.

Sébastian Lalonde, vice-president of campaigns and advocacy for the York Federation of Students, said the organization has received “non-stop” emails from students complaining about the change.

The GO service adjustments come on the heels of York Region Transit deciding last fall to divert its bus routes from the campus to nearby Pioneer Village subway station.

Lalonde complained that students were never consulted about the changes despite their having a direct impact on their daily lives.

“These were all closed door conversations,” he said. “This is outrageous.”

The federation is calling on GO Transit and YRT to reinstate campus bus service.

Anne Marie Aikins, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, the provincial agency that operates GO Transit, said it “has always been part of our plan” to divert bus routes to Highway 407 station once the subway extension opened.

She said the new route to the subway could improve service reliability, as buses travelling directly to campus often encountered gridlock that could delay them by about 20 minutes.

The subway extension entered service in December 2017, but according to Aikins GO bus service to campus was maintained for the following year “to minimize financial impact to York University students.”

The school’s administration said it wants GO buses to come back.

“We have made this clear to the Ministry of Transportation, Metrolinx and the York community. At this time, Metrolinx has advised the university that it will not consider reversing its decision,” said York spokesperson Yanni Dagonas in an email.

Both the students federation and the school administration say they support integrating fares between GO Transit and the TTC — a move that would allow passengers to ride both services on a single fare.

But although last January the former Ontario Liberal government introduced $1.50 adult fare discounts for transfers between GO and the TTC, full integration, which would likely require a significant subsidy from Queen’s Park, has yet to be put in place.

According to Ted Spence, who was a senior policy adviser at York University until 2007, the need for fare integration between the TTC and other transit agencies serving the extension was apparent before the subway was even under construction.

“The issue was clear at least 10 years before the subway opened but there was no resolution at the political level,” he said.

In a written statement Monday, Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said the Conservative government considers fare integration to be “important not only to York University but to the entire region.”

He didn’t say if or when the government will implement such a policy.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Free speech policies now in effect at Ontario’s colleges and universities

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Ontario’s post-secondary institutions have ushered in free-speech policies, meeting a provincially imposed Jan. 1 deadline to tackle an issue that has polarized students in this province and beyond.

“It strikes a balance … It will give people some guidance,” said Linda Franklin, president of Colleges Ontario, of the new standard policy adopted in mid-December by all publicly-funded colleges.

“It gives administrators the right to say ‘We have to think about safety on campus and hate speech’ ” — which remains prohibited — but also doesn’t silence those with opinions that are unpopular, she said.

Those on campus have to know there are “speakers that you may not like or who support your world view,” but open dialogue is essential, Franklin added.

“We’re committed to the open discussion of diverse ideas and respecting everyone’s rights to express their opinions.”

In Ontario, protests — and even arrests — have followed controversial speakers such as University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson and Lindsay Shepherd, a Wilfrid Laurier graduate student and teaching assistant.

Shepherd was disciplined after showing her students a video of Peterson, who has gained notoriety for his public fight against the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

Institutions will be monitored and have been told they could face funding cuts for failing to comply with principles outlined by the province.

These include ensuring that universities and colleges are “places for open discussion and free inquiry,” that they “should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that (those students) disagree with or find offensive;” and that “members of the university/college … may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views.”

Before the holiday break, Fullerton told reporters she was pleased colleges met the deadline, and was expecting universities would as well.

“I think what (the free speech policy) will do is create some certainly around expectations, and we want to make sure that there’s an environment of respect, of open debate, respectful dialogue and that’s really the foundation,” said Fullerton.

“We don’t want to see hate speech — we will not tolerate hate speech — that is not permitted. Anything that is against the law already, there will be repercussions.”

However, Fullerton added, the government was “constantly” hearing that free speech was being stifled on Ontario campuses.

“We heard that from students, we heard that from faculty — it was a message that we heard consistently during the campaign and after. So we know (it was an issue),” she added.

The Ontario colleges’ policy — modelled on a well-regarded one developed by the University of Chicago — aims to strike a balance between promoting free speech while protecting against hate speech.

Colleges Ontario has come under fire from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which said more input was needed and claimed no faculty members were included.

“This so-called free-speech policy is anything but. In fact, a better name would be ‘gag-order policy,’” OPSEU president Warren “Smokey” Thomas said in a release.

It accuses the Ford government of “trampling the democratic rights of the people of Ontario” because the policies are more aimed at avoiding protests than protecting freedom of speech.

But Franklin said a group of college leaders, as well as a representative from the College Student Alliance and legal experts, all took part in its creation, and that it will be reviewed in a year.

She said campuses around the world have dealt with protests and disruptions over speakers who students have objected to for various reasons.

The Ontario colleges’ policy states, in part, “Freedom of expression, which means the right to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, must be protected as it is essential to discovery, critical assessment and the effective dissemination of knowledge and ideas and leads to social and economic advancement.”

Colleges, it adds, “must be places that allow for open discussion and free inquiry where diverse voices can be heard and ideas and viewpoints can be explored and discussed freely and debated openly without fear of reprisal, even if these are considered to be controversial or conflict with the views of some members of the college community … it is not the role of colleges to shield members of the college community from ideas and opinions that they may find disagreeable or offensive.”

The University of Toronto has a free-speech policy that has been in place for more than 25 years.

Among those universities approving new policies, Queen’s in Kingston did so Dec. 18, stating that the “failure to explore or confront ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate, and argument, does society a disservice, weakens our intellectual integrity, and threatens the very core of the university.”

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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Little to no proof police carding has effect on crime or arrests: Ontario report

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Police street checks widely known as carding have little to no value as a law enforcement tool and should be significantly limited across Ontario, a judge tasked with reviewing the practice said Monday.

The report from Justice Michael Tulloch outlines certain circumstances in which police may have legitimate grounds to conduct street checks, or stop people at random and request identifying information.

But Tulloch, who was hired by Ontario’s previous Liberal government to assess the effectiveness of new regulations meant to limit the impact of street checks on racialized groups, said those circumstances are very specific and the practice as a whole should be sharply curtailed.

« There is little to no evidence that a random, unfocused collection of identifying information has benefits that outweigh the social cost of the practice, » Tulloch wrote in his 310-page report.

« Given the social cost involved with a practice that has not definitively been shown to widely reduce or solve crime, it is recommended that the practice of randomly stopping individuals to gather their identifying information for the creation of a database for intelligence purposes be discontinued. »

Tulloch, who previously led a review into Ontario’s complex police oversight system, was asked to turn his attention to carding months after the previous government made moves to eliminate what it described as systemic racism in law enforcement.

Police oversight

Street checks started coming under intense scrutiny several years ago amid data showing officers were disproportionately stopping black and other racialized people.

In 2016, Ontario introduced rules dictating that police must inform people that they don’t have to provide identifying information during street checks, and that refusing to co-operate or walking away cannot then be used as reasons to compel information.

The aim was to end arbitrary stops, especially those based on race, though anti-carding advocates have called for the practice to be abolished entirely.

Race is prohibited as forming any part of a police officer’s reason for attempting to collect someone’s identifying information.

Police had long argued that street checks have value as an investigative tool, a notion Tulloch challenged in his report.

« A widespread program of random street checks involves considerable time and effort for a police service, with little to no verifiable results on the level of crime or even arrests, » he wrote. « Some police services reported that there are other ways to gather data or use data that they already have more effectively. »

Tulloch’s report also debunked the notion that carding had played a role in solving the high-profile killing of Cecilia Zhang, a nine-year-old girl who was abducted from her Toronto home in the middle of the night in 2003.

Tulloch said many of the more than 2,000 people consulted for the report cited the arrest of Min Chen, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Zhang’s death, as an example of a carding success story. Tulloch said, however, that Chen’s name first came to be in police files as a result of a non-random stop that did not fit the definition of carding.

On July 22, 2004, Peel police charged a 21-year-old male student from China with first-degree murder in the case of Cecilia Zhang, the nine-year-old girl who disappeared from her parents’ Toronto home. (CBC)

Chen was stopped in response to a complaint of illegal fishing filed weeks before the girl was killed, Tulloch said, adding the information gathered during that interaction later gained relevance when Chen’s name surfaced in the Zhang investigation.

« The Cecilia Zhang case does not support the proposition that the police should be authorized to randomly request and record identifying information, » Tulloch wrote. « It simply reinforces that when identifying information is properly obtained during a police investigation, as it was in that case, that information might be useful to help solve a crime. »

Additional recommendations

Tulloch said street checks have value in cases where there are clear suspicious circumstances, or when police need to identify the identity of a missing person or crime victim. Among his many recommendations to the new Progressive Conservative government were some stating the 2016 rules should not apply in such cases.

But other recommendations advise the government to take a harder line on street checks, tightening definitions of terms such as « identifying information » and « suspicious circumstances » and broadening protections during vehicle stops.

Tulloch also recommended an overhaul of the training that was put in place when the new rules took effect. He said it lacked the critical component of explaining why the changes were being made, which left some officers hesitant to get on board.

« Implementing new rules for police officers to follow has little value — and will not achieve the intended goal — if officers are not effectively and adequately trained on the reasons why the changes were necessary, » Tulloch wrote.

He also recommended officers at all levels « should learn how the widespread use of carding by some services and some officers has been abused in the past. »

Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones said the government is taking time to go through Tulloch’s findings, but said his work would « inform » efforts to reform police legislation in the province.

« We are committed to developing legislation that works for our police and for the people of Ontario, » Jones said in a statement. « Our new police legislation will reflect a simple principle: racism and discrimination have no place in policing. »

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Higher drunk driving fines, static minimum wage: These are the changes taking effect in Ontario in 2019

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Fines for drunk driving are going up starting New Year’s Day while the minimum wage holds steady at $14 and politicians will once again be allowed to attend their fundraising events under Ontario law.

Other changes taking effect Jan. 1 under Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government include a tax credit for low-income families, higher political donation limits and new rules for collection agencies.

New requirements for unpaid leave days under Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government, which repealed the previous Liberal government’s mandatory paid leave days, also take effect Jan. 1.
New requirements for unpaid leave days under Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government, which repealed the previous Liberal government’s mandatory paid leave days, also take effect Jan. 1.  (Graham Hughes / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE)

Impaired drivers with blood alcohol concentrations in the “warning range” between .05 per cent and .08 per cent will now face fines of $250 for a first offence, $350 for a second offence and $450 for third and subsequent offences.

The same penalties apply for failing a roadside sobriety test or violating “zero tolerance” rules for new and commercial drivers.

Police will also be able to issue $580 fines to drivers who refuse to take a drug or alcohol test, whose blood alcohol hits .08 per cent or who are determined to be impaired by an officer trained as a drug recognition evaluator.

While the government said in a statement these measures will “ensure Ontario’s roads are safe for everyone,” Andrew Murrie, president of the lobby group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told the Star that increasing fines isn’t much of a deterrent.

He called on Ford’s government to pass a law that vehicles be impounded for three days if drivers are caught with a blood-alcohol level in the warning range, as several other provinces do.

“That makes an incredible difference in driver behaviour,” Murrie said. “People do not want to lose their car at roadside.”

B.C., for example, saw drunk driving-related deaths halved and Saskatchewan has seen a 40-per-cent reduction, he added.

On minimum wage, Ford is keeping a campaign promise to hold it steady at $14, axing the previous Liberal government’s plan for a $1 raise to $15.

The move, widely applauded by business groups and criticized by anti-poverty advocates, comes with other measures to tone down Liberal labour law reforms Ford said would cost employers too much and hurt job creation.

“When business succeeds, workers succeed, families succeed, communities succeed,” he said this fall in touting his “open for business” strategy.

Mandatory paid leave days have been repealed and replaced with requirements that employers allow a minimum of three unpaid days for personal illness, two unpaid bereavement days and three unpaid leave days for family emergencies.

The minimum wage will be frozen until 2020 and then increase by the annual rate of inflation, meaning the $15 level won’t be reached for another four or five years.

To offset the impact of the static minimum wage, the PCs are bringing in a new tax credit called LIFT — short for low income individuals and families.

“It will provide low-income and minimum wage workers up to $850 in Ontario personal income tax relief and couples up to $1,700 when they file their 2019 tax returns,” the government said in a year-end statement.

Critics say low-income workers would be better off with a minimum-wage increase because the money comes right away in their pay — instead of waiting another year to file their 2019 tax returns — and that many low-rate workers don’t pay income tax.

As Ontario’s political parties recover from expenses incurred in last spring’s election campaign, allowable donations are being increased to match the federal maximum of $1,600.

The previous Liberal government’s ban on MPPs and prospective candidates attending fundraisers is being lifted, raising the spectre of “cash for access” events where donors get to lobby politicians.

Donors will no longer have to certify their contributions are being made from their own funds — a move criticized as a “back door” way for unions and corporations to bankroll political parties.

In a measure aimed at discouraging collection agencies from using unsavoury tactics in recouping funds, agencies employing more than 10 people will be required to record all telephone calls and to keep them for one year.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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Canada’s new impaired driving laws are now in effect — here’s what to know – National

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Canada’s new impaired driving laws kick in Tuesday, giving law enforcement new powers when it comes to interacting with drivers.

READ MORE: How many drinks is too many under new impaired driving rules?

Alcohol-related impaired driving laws will be updated in the Criminal Code of Canada as of Dec. 18, in order to become in line with drug-impaired driving laws that were recently reformed earlier this year.

Changes to both drug and alcohol impaired driving come as part of the former Bill C-46, which aims to make Canada’s laws “amongst the strongest in the world.”

WATCH: Mandatory impaired driving laws to hit the roads before the holidays







Here are some key changes:

Mandatory alcohol screening

The new laws will give police officers the authority to demand breathalyzer tests from any driver they pull over. Previously, officers could only test drivers if they had a reasonable suspicion the person was impaired. Any driver who refuses to take the test can be charged.

These stronger laws are similar to ones in several other countries around the world, such as Australia, Denmark, France and Germany. In Ireland, mandatory screening reduced the number of road deaths by about 40 per cent in the first four years it was enforced.

No more ‘bolus drinking defence’

Before Dec. 18, drivers could use the “bolus drinking defence,” arguing that they consumed alcohol just before driving and it was not absorbed yet.

The new law eliminates this defence, by making it illegal to be at or over the alcohol limit within two hours of being behind the wheel.

READ MORE: Heavy share of Canadian pot users admits to driving within 2 hours of toking up, study says

Updated penalties 

The new law also bumps up the maximum penalties for many alcohol-impaired driving offences.

Formerly, the mandatory minimum fines were: $1,000 for first offence, 30 days imprisonment for second offence, and 120 days in jail for a third offence.

These are the penalties now:

  • First offence, with blood alcohol content of 80-119 mg: mandatory minimum $1,000 fine
  • First offence, with blood alcohol content of 120-159 mg: mandatory minimum $1,500 fine
  • First offence, with blood alcohol content of 160 mg or more: mandatory minimum $2,500 fine
  • First offence, but refuse to be tested: mandatory minimum $2,000 fine
  • Second offence: mandatory minimum 30 days imprisonment
  • Third or more offence: mandatory minimum 120 days imprisonment
  • Maximum penalties for impaired driving causing no bodily harm or death: summary conviction carries two years less a day imprisonment, indictment carries 10 years imprisonment
  • Maximum penalties for impaired driving causing bodily harm: Summary conviction for less severe injuries carries two years less a day imprisonment, indictment carries 14 years imprisonment
  • Maximum penalty impaired driving causing death: life imprisonment

WATCH: York Regional Police begins naming drivers charged with impaired driving






Criticism of new laws

While the new laws have been welcomed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, several groups have raised concerns.

Toronto-based lawyer Michael Engel, who often defends those charged with impaired driving, said the new rules are a big change that raise concerns about baseless searches.

“This is a radical departure from previous law, which insulated people against warrantless searches without probable cause,” he said.

Civil rights organizations have also sounded alarms about the new rules, with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association expressing concern that mandatory alcohol screening will unfairly affect racial minorities who are disproportionately singled out by cops for traffic stops.

WATCH: Drunk driver uses tragedy to save lives






Impaired driving, by the numbers

Last year, there were more than 69,000 police-reported impaired-driving incidents — about 3,500 were related to drugs.

In 2016, there were more than 70,00 such incidents, and 3,000 were drug-related.

According to federal statistics, an average of almost four people die in Canada daily due to impaired driving.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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

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Ottawa moves to pardon Canadians convicted of pot possession as legalization takes effect

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OTTAWA—Ottawa will move to pardon those with past convictions for pot possession as Canadians wake up Wednesday to a new weed regime.

As Canada becomes the second nation in the world to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, the federal government will announce Wednesday that it intends to move quickly to grant pardons to Canadians with past criminal convictions for simple possession of pot under 30 grams, a senior official told the Star.

The exact details of how Canadians can apply for pardons will be announced in the near future, said the official, who spoke on background in advance of the official announcement.

“For people to whom this applies in their past, we’re going to give them certainty that there will be recourse for them … in terms of exactly how it gets rolled out, the steps that we take, how much time it will take them, we’ll lay that out in the coming days and weeks,” the official said.

The lead ministers on the cannabis file — Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Bill Blair, minister of border security and organized crime reduction — will speak to reporters Wednesday morning.

“Canadians continue to have difficulties with employment, rentals and travelling. These barriers are felt even more by marginalized communities including Indigenous peoples,” NDP MP Rachel Blaney (North Island—Powell River) said in question period Tuesday.

Blair, a former Toronto police chief, signalled Tuesday that the government had been waiting for legalization before announcing its next steps.

“We understand the impact that those criminal records have had on people,” Blair said. “At that point in time, we’ll have the opportunity to deal with those records in an appropriate way.”

Legalization, a key plank in the Liberals’ campaign in the 2015 election, is a revolution that’s been years in the making.

And it may be a few days yet before the effects of the relaxed cannabis laws start to be seen — and smelt. That’s because in Ontario at least, storefront locations selling cannabis won’t open until April so for now residents will have to order it on-line for delivery by Canada Post. Postal workers Tuesday announced rotating strikes starting next Monday, which could snarl pot deliveries.

The legalization of cannabis has social and legal implications and for the Liberals, potential political peril if it goes awry with the next federal election now less than a year away.

Liberals privately concede that the year ahead is full of unknowns. How many Canadians will want to try cannabis now that it’s legal? Will legalization truly undercut the black market for marijuana, one of the stated goals for the endeavour? What will be the impact on young people?

On the eve of legalization, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet ministers were quick to tout their rationale for the move, “to protect our kids and to keep the profits out of the pockets of organized crime.

“By controlling it, by legalizing it, we’re going to make it more difficult for young people to access and we’re going to ensure that criminal organizations and street gangs don’t make millions, billions of dollars of profits every year,” Trudeau said Tuesday as he headed into a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill.

But some are already sounding the alarm. Ontario Premier Doug Ford accused Trudeau of “rushing legal cannabis out of the door” before police have a reliable machine to test for drug-impaired driving.

In a Monday editorial, the Canadian Medical Association Journal cautioned what it called a “national, uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians.”

“I think there’s going to be a lot of unintended consequences that have not been properly thought through,” said Conservative MP Tony Clement (Parry Sound—Muskoka).

“I know that a lot of people psychologically may be ready for legalization. I get that. It doesn’t mean that all of the wheels of justice and of protection of society are in place,” said Clement.

He accused the Liberals of over promising in their vows to cut organized crime, protect children and ensure the readiness of front-line police officers. “I don’t want the public to be fooled into thinking that everything is taken care of,” he said.

But Blair said the federal government has worked with provinces, police forces and other stakeholders to ensure a “strong regulatory framework” is in place for the legal sale of weed.

“For the first time starting (Wednesday) there will be competition in the marketplace and for adult consumers who choose to use cannabis, they will have a socially responsible, safer and legal choice,” said Blair (Scarborough Southwest).

“There’s still a great deal of work to do and to make sure that we achieve our objectives of protecting our kids, displacing that illicit market. That work will continue apace,” he said.

That work — involving several hundred people hired to help administer and enforce the new pot regime, also includes gathering data and educating the public.

Starting Wednesday a new volley of ads will begin about the health risks, targeting parents and young people. And it has promised millions for public health education campaigns.

The advertising started to roll out on 2017 with advertising initially aimed at parents, to guide conversations with children about the risks of pot. A federal official said it then shifted to educating about the road safety risks of using cannabis, before shifting to travel advisories and border issues.

The 2017 budget allocated $46 million and the 2018 budget set aside $82 million over five years for health education ($62.5 million for community-based health promotion, and $20 million for the Mental Health Commission and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse).

As well, Blair said work continues among federal departments towards the legalization of the sale of edibles, which he said could take another year.

In question period, Clement pressed the government on whether police forces across the country are ready to enforce impaired driving laws.

But one government official told the Star Tuesday that police officers and the courts have been enforcing drug impaired driving offences for decades. “They are well-versed in driving impaired cases. It’s not new,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Police officers who suspect drivers of impaired while under the influence of cannabis will rely on field sobriety tests and in some cases, oral fluid samples. If officers have reasonable grounds to believe a driver is over the legal limit, a 12-step process known as the drug recognition evaluation is done to determine the degree of impairment and the likely drug.

The rate of drug impaired driving was on the rise even before legalization, jumping 10 per cent in 2017 while alcohol-impaired driving offences reported by police declined by 5 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

Drug impaired driving remained low compared to drinking and driving but federal officials say they are worried that younger people in particular “aren’t quite getting the message” about the risks of driving after consuming cannabis.

Files by Tonda MacCharles and Rob Ferguson

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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A chilling effect of #MeToo in academic medicine

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Here’s this week’s Second Opinion, a roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

It’s a hashtag powerful enough to take down Hollywood’s elite.

While the #MeToo movement has officially been around for more than a decade, the campaign really took off a year ago this week, when the New York Times published its investigation into movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Since then, hundreds of women have levelled accusations of sexual misconduct against a growing list of high-profile men.

And while #MeToo has ended, or at least sidelined, the careers of some household names, it also has unintended chilling consequences on women seeking careers in the medical profession, a new commentary says.

A commentary published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that very same hashtag is also creating a « culture of fear » in academic medicine, scaring off men from mentoring women.

Backlash is ‘hostile sexism’

« Some men in positions of power now say they are afraid to participate in mentoring relationships with women, » reads the commentary, penned by six Canadian scientists — all women working in the fields of medical research and education.

« Men say they fear false allegations of sexual misconduct that could compromise their reputations and end their careers, even if they were found to be innocent. »

The authors describe this #MeToo backlash as « hostile sexism » because it punishes women by withdrawing mentorship opportunities from those who challenge the status quo.

« Mentorship for women was never that great.… But now there’s a deliberate withdrawal of mentorship that we found very troubling, » said Sophie Soklaridis, the commentary’s lead author and a scientist at the Toronto-based Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Harvey Weinstein is escorted in handcuffs to a courtroom in New York on July 9. The #MeToo movement really took off a year ago, when the New York Times published its investigation into the movie mogul. But now a commentary says the movement has unintended chilling consequences on women seeking medical careers. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Increasingly, she says, #MeToo is being used as an excuse for men not to mentor women. Mentoring in medical circles is a big deal, with academic doctors having a « professional and moral obligation to mentor the next generation of medical professionals, » the commentary says.

Not doing so would have serious consequences on a woman’s career trajectory, says Soklaridis, noting that it makes all the difference if you have someone that takes you under their wing, and opens the door to opportunities and advancement. « When women are not on the radar, it limits their opportunities for these kinds of advancements, » she said.

It also comes when there are more women than men enrolled in medical schools in Canada and the U.S., yet women only account for 16 per cent of medical school deans and 15 per cent of department heads at teaching hospitals.

The authors fear denying access to mentoring relationships will perpetuate this gender gap.

The commentary was based on a number of years’ worth of academic literature and articles about mentorship and fear. Soklaridis and her colleagues also relied on anecdotal evidence, she said. « The things that I’ve heard [retired] men say is, ‘Oh, I’m so glad I don’t have to do this anymore because it’s just become so complicated,' » she said.

Studying the gender gap

Dr. Sharon Straus, a professor with the University of Toronto’s medicine department, has heard similar stories. She was not involved in the current commentary, but she studied the gender gap in teaching hospitals and wrote an editorial on the #MeToo movement in medicine  this year. « I don’t think it’s a new fear, » Straus said. « I think that the #MeToo movement has raised more awareness of this and people have talked about it a little bit more. »

Some of that comes from individuals who question whether they’re comfortable mentoring people of different genders, she said. In one of her studies looking at gender equity in academic medicine, some of the men interviewed said they treated their male and female mentees differently because of concerns around how the relationship might be perceived.

Her own experience with a male mentor was positive, Straus said, and the pair ended up writing a book on the subject of mentorship — « one of the last things we did before he died. »

Mentorship « is really about being a decent human being, and about treating people equitably, and making sure that we’re behaving professionally, » she said. « And I think the #MeToo movement has highlighted that. »

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