Amber Alert mobile system working despite glitches, but could be tweaked, experts say

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Some people received duplicate alerts on their mobile phones, some not until hours after the incident, and some as far away as Manitoba.

But despite those glitches, the Amber Alert sent out Thursday to locate a missing 11-year-old Brampton, Ont., girl shows the mobile emergency system seems to be doing what it was intended to do, experts say. 

Ontario Provincial Police issued the Amber Alert around 11 p.m. ET, searching for 41-year-old Roopesh Rajkumar and his daughter Riya. A motorist spotted the car described in the alert, and police were able to locate and arrest the man. The girl’s body was found about an hour later in his apartment.

Rajkumar was charged Friday with first-degree murder.

« This is exactly why it was designed, and someone who was somewhere at the right time, even at 11:00 [at night], was able to contribute, » said security expert Matthew Overton. « Unfortunately, the little girl was already dead. »

Overton said he has received several alerts since the CRTC made it mandatory last year for telecom companies to support Amber Alerts on their mobile phone networks.

« It certainly caught my attention, so it has done everything it wants to, » he said. « I think from that perspective it seems to be moderated pretty well. I’m not seeing a series of alerts [that] I’m wondering: ‘Why should I get that?' »

Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, was arrested on a highway about 130 kilometres north of Brampton, Ont., after an Amber Alert was issued late Thursday. His daughter, Riya, was found dead in his basement apartment shortly before his arrest. (Facebook)

Peel Regional Police said they received a series of emails and calls from people complaining about receiving the late-night alerts that were accompanied by a siren-like sound.

« I appreciate that a lot of people were sleeping, but the immediate need to locate the child outweighed the momentary inconvenience that some people encountered, » Const. Akhil Mooken said on Twitter. « Tragically this incident did not have the outcome we were all hoping for but the suspect was located as a direct result of a citizen receiving the alert and calling 911. The system works. »

That doesn’t mean there weren’t technical glitches. In a statement, Pelmorex, the company that operates the alert system, acknowledged it received reports that some users received duplicate alerts, as well as some users outside the province, in neighbouring Manitoba, who received alerts.

Pelmorex spokesperson Yulia Balinova said in a statement that the company was reviewing those reports, but that initial checks indicated that devices set with a reminder feature on may cause the alert to repeat until it is acknowledged by the user.

The system also sends simultaneous alerts to multiple distributors. One of the simultaneous alerts remained « active » and resulted in some users receiving the message after the alert had been cancelled, she said.

‘Still some problems’

Overton said glitches like those will « carry on a for a while » and « obviously there’s still some problems. »

« But I think it’s going pretty well right now, » he said.

Since April 2018, the CRTC has required that all wireless service providers participate in the National Public Alerting System (NPAS) and distribute wireless public emergency messages warning of imminent safety threats such as tornadoes, floods, Amber Alerts or terrorist threats. 

Telecom companies wanted an opt-out option or the ability to disable the alarm for some types of alerts, but that was rejected by the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator.

Peel Regional Police Const. Danny Marttini responds to complaints prompted by a late-night Amber Alert. 0:27

The U.S. system classifies alerts at different levels, allowing people to opt out of receiving the less serious ones, according to Sunil Johal, policy director at the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto. Canada only pushes out alerts at one level — urgent — a policy officials may want to reconsider, he said.

Johal suggested Canada could geotarget  the alerts more effectively so that if, for example, something is happening in Toronto, people in Ottawa or Thunder Bay won’t necessarily get that same alert.  

Tweak the sounds

He said the goal should be finding that « perfect balance where we’re warning people but not inundating them with things they can’t do anything about. »

Overton said it may be possible to tweak the sounds of the alerts yet still allow them to catch the attention of people.

Still, the unnerving sound that frightened and annoyed some people — that, too, means the system is working.

« Because, in a little way, it’s supposed to be annoying to catch your attention to something around you that you may not be aware of. »

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Why experts say Canada should follow Australia’s lead on China in wake of Huawei crisis

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VANCOUVER—Canada should not be afraid to follow Australia’s lead in standing up to Beijing in policy and practice, say experts who have analyzed foreign relations for decades.

Ottawa has long prioritized economic gain over national security, worrying over the state of its relationship with the global heavyweight rather than voicing and defending its interests, say analysts.

Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne visited Beijing for his first time last month, which analysts say suggests that new, hawkish Australian security policy has been taken in stride by its heavyweight neighbour.
Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne visited Beijing for his first time last month, which analysts say suggests that new, hawkish Australian security policy has been taken in stride by its heavyweight neighbour.  (Andy Wong / The Associated Press)

The Australian experience shows that, over time, Beijing will make room for firmly drawn boundaries. A case in point is the 2018 overhaul of Australian national security and foreign interference laws that added 38 new crimes to the books. They cover, among other things, engaging in covert activity at the behest of a foreign power to influence politics and a ban on foreign political donations.

Then in February 2019, Australia blocked the citizenship application of billionaire Huang Xiangmo, a prominent political donor and former top lobbyist for Beijing, stranding him, possibly for good, outside the country where he had lived with his family for most of a decade.

Observers in both Australia and Canada said these developments constitute a “clear signal” meant to usher in a new, more muscular era for Australian national security in its response to potential threats from foreign actors, including its largest trading partner.

Despite sharp words from Beijing on the new, more hawkish stance, Beijing invited Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne to visit in November 2018, the first time in nearly three years an Australian holding that office had stepped foot on Chinese soil. Likewise, Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne visited China at the end of January 2019, even as reports confirmed that Australian writer Yang Hengjun was being held on suspicion of endangering national security.

Read more:

Global anxiety reflected in Australian outcry over Canadians detained in China

Huawei Night in Canada: Inside tech giant’s push to burnish its brand

Trudeau silent on how Huawei controversy will figure into private talk with Telus exec

An expert in Asian security and international relations at La Trobe University in Melbourne said this suggests diplomatic relations between Australia and China are being “reset,” despite significant tensions over the new legislation, Huang’s citizenship, and the imprisoned Australian writer.

“To me it proves that if you’re willing to just maintain your continuity of policy, not give in to pressure and don’t feel you have to buckle because of a perceived risk of economic retaliation, China can accommodate that over time in the relationship,” said Euan Graham, executive director of La Trobe Asia, who is charge of the school’s Asia strategy.

Tensions between Western countries and China should be expected, Graham said, and it’s important to accept that reality as part of the narrative so “we don’t just dress things up in terms of ever-closer friendship and partnership, because that has failed to carry the public with it.”

After extensive redrafting, Australia’s new laws passed with bipartisan support in parliament, suggesting heightened vigilance has become a permanent feature of Australia’s stance toward Beijing and other foreign powers.

“Australia’s experience should be an example for us, not just because it is admirably clear-eyed, but because it shows a degree of self-confidence that we should emulate,” David Mulroney, who was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, wrote in an email.

“China commonly seeks to compel its adversaries to capitulate without a struggle,” said Mulroney, who is now a fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. “We shouldn’t be afraid to stick to our principles because we’ll find that, despite its bluster, China is pragmatic and will seek to protect its own considerable interests in the relationship with Canada.”

Conservative MP Peter Kent said both Canada and China have “learned the hard way,” that the Communist Party of China (CCP) will use the country’s economic might to meet its “imperial objectives” by leaning on both Western countries and developing nations.

Kent, who served as a federal minister and international executive co-chair of the China council under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, pointed to “predatory economic policies” in countries like Panama, where China made several major national investments in order to “leverage” the Panamanian government into cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Kent characterized the move as “loansharking to gain influence” in Beijing’s bid to isolate Taiwan — a self-governing, democratic nation which China considers part of its territory — from international support.

“Increasingly, during our years in government, we learned to be much more cautious about an increasingly aggressive, imperialistic, bullying Chinese government,” he said.

Beijing’s growing economic influence signals a shift in “world order,” he added, which demands a change in Ottawa’s approach to engagement with China.

The issue of foreign influence and interference in the Canadian political sphere is another ongoing, slippery problem that successive governments have grappled with, Kent said.

“I hope the Liberal government is finally realizing that China is not like our democratic partners, that China does not recognize the rule of law or a level playing field or treaties or contracts signed, and it is time to rethink, perhaps, that relationship in the way that Australia has.”

But, he cautioned, with tensions between China and Canada escalating, now may not be the time to attempt redress with new legislation, which could be seen as a direct indictment of Beijing by an already-furious Communist Party.

The Dec. 1 arrest in Vancouver by Canadian authorities of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of star Chinese tech giant Huawei, outraged Chinese officials, who have since lobbed accusations of “backstabbing” and “white supremacy” at the Canadian government. In the following weeks, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China in apparent retaliation for Meng’s arrest, which observers have called “hostage diplomacy.”

China's Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye is one of several Communist Party officials to take aim at Canada over its arrest of a top Chinese tech executive in December. Experts say threats are par for the course in dealings with Beijing, and Australia's example shows boundaries can earn respect from the Chinese state.
China’s Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye is one of several Communist Party officials to take aim at Canada over its arrest of a top Chinese tech executive in December. Experts say threats are par for the course in dealings with Beijing, and Australia’s example shows boundaries can earn respect from the Chinese state.  (The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, a federal review of the potential security risks posed by Huawei equipment in Canada’s forthcoming 5G infrastructure is underway. Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye has warned of “repercussions” should Canada follow the example of New Zealand, the U.S. and Australia in banning the company from such projects.

But allowing national security to be overshadowed by the quest to appease an increasingly belligerent foreign power is what brought Canada to its current diplomatic impasse to begin with, argued Alex Joske, a researcher working with the International Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.

“This is really something that to some extent the West has brought on itself by tolerating misbehaviour and non-compliance to international agreements and public statements and promises from China for many decades now,” said Joske, an expert in CCP influence, overseas Chinese communities and Chinese military technology.

“Because countries have historically taken this quite simple approach to engagement, where engagement itself was seen as a good, that’s just led to a lot of countries downplaying — or not really looking closely enough at — cases where engagement is actually not contributing to their national interest.”

But Paul Evans, director of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, said while he believes some areas of Canadian law need reform to address the challenges that face a modern nation-state, Australia is not the example to follow.

“What I don’t support is the Australian national legislation,” he said, pointing to civil rights groups in the country who argue the new laws could be exploited by Australian officials looking to clamp down on domestic dissent by criminalizing protests or silencing opinions critical of government.

In particular, Evans worries Australia’s legislation risks blurring the line between citizens whose perspectives align with the Chinese government and those actively seeking to undermine the Canadian political process for the benefit of the Communist Party.

“I think (such laws are) unnecessary in Canada, because we have certain antibodies, or antidotes, to Chinese influence activities here that are not perfect, but that generally (work) fairly well.”

He pointed to numerous Chinese-Canadian communities that are finely attuned to identifying local players in organizations that work to realize Communist Party goals globally. They include the United Front, an offshoot of the CCP which works to influence local politics, the Chinese diaspora and foreign elites.

Huang Xiangmo, the Chinese national whose permanent residency was recently revoked in Australia, was chairman of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, which Australian analysts confirmed is “the number one United Front organization within Australia.”

The United Front is likewise active in Canada, according to Charles Burton, an expert on the foreign policies of Western nations toward China.

He said conversations around the limits and potential overreach of a Canadian legislation modelled on the Australian example would be challenging if not arduous.

But, he argued, difficult conversations are necessary given the charged and increasingly perilous nature of global relations, where the balance of economic power is shifting from the U.S. to China.

In the past, Canadian policy has been geared toward securing greater access to the Chinese market to “promote Canadian prosperity and to reduce our dependence on the United States,” said Burton, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad. Meanwhile, the concerns of Canadians over issues such as China’s human rights violations and pugnacious international conduct have been seen as secondary to the pursuit of expanding trade, he added.

The current conflict between countries does suggest that strengthening foreign policy now would not be “politically prudent,” Burton said. But once the Kovrig and Spavor cases are resolved, that would be the time to revise Canada’s plan on how it should engage China.

The Australian Embassy in Beijing. Experts say Australia's relationship with China provides proof a balance can be struck between clear-eyed engagement and clearly articulated, firmly defended national security policy.
The Australian Embassy in Beijing. Experts say Australia’s relationship with China provides proof a balance can be struck between clear-eyed engagement and clearly articulated, firmly defended national security policy.  (The Associated Press)

Australia’s example also provides lessons in terms of how intelligence services can most effectively track, monitor and address foreign interference, said Wesley Wark, a security and intelligence expert who served two terms on the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on National Security from 2005 to 2009.

“One of the real problems for Canada is for the last 17, 18 years, we’ve been obsessively focused with the question of terrorism, at home and globally,” he said in an interview.

“And because of that focus, we’ve paid much less attention, given much fewer resources, to dealing with both foreign intelligence on major state actors and foreign interference in terms of intelligence and espionage activities,” said Wark, who is currently director of the Security and Policy Institute for Professional Development at the University of Ottawa.

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior manager and senior intelligence officer with CSIS, said competing perspectives on what form new Canadian foreign policy laws should take is exactly the reason legislation is needed.

From a national security perspective, he said the “Achilles heel” of democracy is that governments constantly pursue reelection. Because political winds may shift every several years, policy can be overturned when leaders change.

This is not the case with China.

“The Chinese government is there to stay. This allows them, with the central committee, to plan not only years ahead, but generations ahead … So agents of influence can be planted which will bear fruit only years from now. They have the capability to be patient.”

It’s a competitive advantage that short-sighted Western governments are hard-pressed to address through policy alone, he said.

The value of a law is that it survives regime changes. And while thrashing out new, potentially controversial legislation can take years, it’s a challenge that can — and must — be resolved, said Juneau-Katsuya.

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering community issues and Canada’s drug policies. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer

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Experts call Ontario’s full-day kindergarten ‘visionary.’ The Ford government is eyeing changes

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Ontario’s full-day kindergarten program is in a class by itself.

With a full-time teacher and full-time early childhood educator working together, it provides a unique staffing model and two-year curriculum for the province’s 4- and 5-year-olds.

But now, the Ford government is eyeing potential changes, raising concerns among experts who say the program — while costly, at $1.5 billion a year — is worth the price.

“It would be extremely disruptive to change the model — disruption for education, for children, for families,” said Rachel Langford, a professor in the school of early childhood studies at Ryerson University.

The staffing, which has been in place since full-day kindergarten was rolled out almost a decade ago, has made Ontario “a leader, a visionary in this regard, and that, from our perspective, is very positive,” said Langford, who at one time was a kindergarten teacher.

Other provinces with full-day kindergarten typically use a teacher-only model.

Late last month, Education Minister Lisa Thompson launched consultations, asking unions and trustee associations about the “implications of the present two-educator model” for students, working conditions as well as “value for money” — and whether other options are available — as the government faces a deficit of up to $14.5 billion.

Last month, she and Premier Doug Ford caused an uproar after they wouldn’t commit to keeping full-day kindergarten. They later backtracked, affirming they would continue with what they referred to as “full-day learning.”

The full-day program was introduced by the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. The original report on its design had recommended teachers work a half-day, with early childhood educators (ECEs) covering the rest of the school day as well as after-hours care.

However McGuinty — in a move to please the teacher unions — opted for one full-time teacher and one full-time ECE for the school day, adding half a billion dollars annually to the cost.

Since it was implemented, critics have derided it as expensive daycare; economist Don Drummond recommended scrapping it to trim the deficit, and in 2014 former PC leader Tim Hudak proposed a teacher-only model — with smaller class sizes — to save $200 million a year.

When full-day began, there were growing pains: Teachers were used to working alone at the head of the class, and ECEs working in teams in child-care settings. Their differing education credentials and huge salary discrepancy meant some ECEs felt more like assistants than educators. (School-based ECEs can earn well below half of what top-earning teachers do.)

Over time, “the level of integration of the staff team increased,” said University of Toronto professor Janette Pelletier, a researcher of Ontario’s full-day program. “Staff members reported that they benefited professionally from working together and that families benefited from the integrated team approach.”

Team teaching has also been key to the academic, social and emotional success children have had in full-day kindergarten, added Pelletier of the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study.

“The current model works,” she added. “If student success is important, then why talk about changing the model? I can speculate — perhaps student success would be negatively affected if educators no longer had the same combination of professional training and expertise.”

A teacher-only model might mean less focus on the play-based nature of the program; two early childhood educators would need to be trained in kindergarten curriculum, she added.

Pelletier also noted there is a shortage of ECEs in the system.

For teachers and early childhood educators, the strengths they each bring to the classroom are key.

Sarah Fernandes, who teaches one of five full-day kindergarten classes at Scarborough’s St. Maria Goretti Catholic School — each with the maximum 29 students — has worked with early childhood educator Anthonia Ikemeh for the past five years.

“We work well together,” said Ikemeh, adding the two bounce ideas off one another and create inquiry-based projects on topics the kids are interested in.

The two closely document everything their young students do, taking photos and creating a binder of pictures and classwork to detail their progress over the two years they are in the full-day program.

Over the years, they’ve refined and improved their program and projects. They’ve brought in bins of “loose parts” — bottle caps, paper towel rolls, buttons, clothespins, smooth beads — and put them out on shelves for children to touch, play with and use to help with counting and adding. They created a family tree on the wall with photos of students’ families, as well as their own.

Meanwhile, next door, teacher Kayla Larkey and ECE Celeste Riparip take turns instructing students, working with small groups.

Larkey, who worked as an early childhood educator before returning to university to earn her teaching degree, said, “I love it because I feel like we both bring different things to the table.”

Riparip “has a lot of experience with what’s child-appropriate and developmentally appropriate for kids in the class, and she keeps me on page to make sure everything is play-based,” Larkey said.

In turn, Larkey, who has taken professional development in areas such as special education, shares that expertise and knowledge.

“Recently we’ve noticed (students) are really into snow, so we are doing a snow inquiry,” Larkey added. “I might bring in some books from the Toronto Public Library; Celeste might prepare some activities for them.”

Recently, “we brought in some snow and they were watching it melt.” (A student put a snowball in his pocket to share with the class.)

“With both of us being here, we can work with kids one-on-one or in a smaller group,” said Riparip. “Whereas if it’s just a teacher, it’s harder to do that with 20, 25 or 30 kids. It’s a lot for one person to handle.”

Larkey points to the teacher desk in the classroom, saying it’s nice to have but it’s hardly used.

“We never sit.”

The University of Toronto’s Charles Pascal, the architect of Ontario’s full-day program, said after consultations on his report to McGuinty, “we decided to combine the specialized knowledge of kindergarten teachers about the school environment” and also thinking ahead to the transition to Grade 1.

Using ECEs only would require about 8,000 more when there is a shortage within the profession, Pascal added.

“The cost savings would not actually be huge and the major disruption to something that is working would produce chaos for several years that’s not good for kids and parents,” he said.

“It’s taken nine years to begin to smooth out the model — and now, on the back of an envelope, a hasty change that will likely inhibit the social and economic progress being made, is irresponsible.”

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

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Expect every year to be ‘awful’: Experts weigh how to protect B.C. public from wildfire smoke

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If the last few years are any indication, wildfire smoke is becoming a fact of life in B.C. — and with that comes the inevitable questions about how it’s affecting our health.

As it turns out, the experts still have nearly as many questions as average British Columbians.

On Wednesday, scientists from across North America gathered in Vancouver at a workshop organized by the B.C. Lung Association to share what they’ve learned so far and what they still need to figure out.

One message came out loud and clear — the changing climate means we can expect longer and more severe fire seasons in the future, and we need to do what we can to protect public health.

« We need to go into every wildfire season expecting it to be awful, because if we do that then we’ll be ready for whatever comes at us, » Sarah Henderson, senior scientist at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, told the conference.

Henderson laid out some of the research findings. Living in smoky conditions during the wildfire season might cause lung irritation, trigger asthma and bring increased risk of dying from a stroke or from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

During the record-breaking summers of 2017 and 2018, researchers measured a 40 per cent increase in people needing Ventolin inhalers — commonly used for breathing problems — and an 18.6 per cent increase in doctor visits for asthma, Henderson said.

Millions in additional health care

Those poor health outcomes can impact society in other ways, too. When a group of researchers looked into the health effects of a 2001 wildfire that burned for seven days in Alberta, they estimated that smoke inhalation accounted for an additional $10-$12 million in health care costs.

But the actual contents of wildfire smoke and its effects on humans can vary widely depending on what type of tree or plant matter is burning, if the fire is smouldering or flaming, the weather conditions and distance from the fire.

And we don’t have enough information about how the smoke affects babies in utero, infants, pregnant women, or about the long-term effects of repeated exposure. 

« We know almost nothing about the mental health impacts, beyond anecdotes, » Henderson said.

The long-term effects are particularly concerning when it comes to those who spend their time closest to the source — the firefighters who head out to the front lines every summer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently studying a cohort of these men and women, but it’ll take a few more years before data is available, the conference heard.

Researchers are studying the long-term effects of wildfire smoke on firefighters. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

John Balmes, a professor at the University of California’s School of Public Health, pointed out that firefighters are often exposed to toxic gases that don’t reach the rest of the population, including carbon monoxide. At the same time, they generally don’t wear respirators or masks because the equipment isn’t practical for the job and can even melt onto their faces.

« We actually don’t have an effective way to protect the wildland firefighters, » Balmes said. « We need new technology. »

The overarching message of Wednesday’s meeting was that there’s an urgent need for more research and new strategies for mitigating damage to human health from wildfires.

« We need to change the conversation about smoke. There’s this deep desire for these things to go away and not come back again, » Henderson said.

« But we will have more bad wildfire seasons — we may have worse wildfire seasons. »

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New Manitoba court for people with FASD could be game changer: experts

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Lawyers and judges say a new court set to open in Manitoba specifically for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder could be a game changer.

« If you have somebody who can’t read, can’t write, physically cannot connect cause and effect, there has to be a way to address a sentence that they will understand, » said Winnipeg defence lawyer Lori Van Dongen.

« That is just common sense. »

Van Dongen said people with the disorder are often set up by the justice system to fail. The legal world has been slow to adapt to their challenges — whether it’s bail conditions they can’t adhere to or a list they are unable to read, she said.

When a fetus is exposed to alcohol it can cause brain injury and the impacts range from mild to severe. Only some people show physical signs, but most people with the disorder see and understand the world differently.

They struggle to understand the consequences of their behaviour and many are impulsive. They follow others easily and have drug or alcohol problems. Without the proper support they often end up in front of a judge and behind bars.

It’s not known how many people in Canada have the disorder, because it can go undetected and is difficult to diagnose. But Health Canada says it’s the leading known cause of preventable developmental disability in the country.

Research suggests that up to one-quarter of inmates in federal corrections facilities could have the disorder. A 2011 study out of Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba found the rate was 10 times greater in the federal prison than in the general population.

Mary Kate Harvie, a Manitoba provincial court judge, said it was clear a long time ago that changes had to be made so people with the condition could be treated fairly in the legal world.

In 2004, she was involved in creating a program that helps young people get a diagnosis and connects them to community supports. It also gives lawyers and judges more information about issues an accused offender might have because of the disorder.

Challenges linked to criminal behaviour

The program has had more than 1,200 referrals, has done more than 400 assessments and helped get almost 300 kids diagnosed.

Harvie said the Manitoba Court of Appeal has made it clear that a sentencing judge should consider how challenges faced by someone with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can be linked to their criminal behaviour.

« If people are not showing up to court because they have short-term memory loss, that’s a big difference from someone who is just blowing court off. »

Administrative charges have filled courts, remand centres and prisons with offenders who break curfew or miss a meeting with their parole officer because they struggle with the concept of time, Harvie said.

« We are hoping this project will start to address a number of aspects of that. »

Smaller, quieter courtroom

The court, which is expected to open at the end of February and sit one day a week, is an extension of the original youth program. It will have judges with an understanding about the complexities of the disorder as well as support workers to advise and connect sufferers with community programs.

It will also help obtain a medical diagnosis for anyone who shows signs of having the brain injury — although the wait continues to be long.

This is a really good move for our courts, for our province, for our clients.’– Defence lawyer Wendy Martin White

There will be a smaller, quieter courtroom with fewer distractions and visual images will be used to make sure offenders understand what’s going on.

Defence lawyer Wendy Martin White said she is optimistic that the new court will help her clients and hopes it will divert people from jails and toward community supports.

« This is a really good move for our courts, for our province, for our clients, » she said. « I’m looking forward to seeing where it’s going to be in a year’s time and then in five years’ time. »

Audrey McFarlane, executive director of Canada FASD Research Network, suggests it’s time for a national strategy.

« Right now all the provinces and territories do what they think is best and … they are trying really hard, but Canada needs to also provide additional support, guidance and leadership, » she said.

« Canada, as a whole, has put in very few resources to address FASD. »

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Why experts say we should investigate Bruce McArthur’s motive — even if we never get answers

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“I don’t know if we’ll ever know why,” Toronto police Det. David Dickinson told reporters outside the court.

Even an exhaustive trial may not have provided an answer, but the search for an explanation after a horrific crime is common, experts say — it’s part of how we cope.

McArthur is next in court Monday for sentencing proceedings that are expected to include a detailed statement of facts and at least two dozen victim impact statements.

“People are really just hoping there’s a simple answer at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But criminologists and sociologists have been studying the motivations for violence for millennia and we still don’t really have a foolproof answer.”

Earlier this week, the FBI concluded its investigation into the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival, when Stephen Paddock killed 59 people, including himself, and injured 851 more while firing indiscriminately into the crowd from his 32nd-floor hotel suite. Despite a thorough, months-long investigation, authorities could not find a “single or clear motivating factor” behind the attack.

Surviving victims of last summer’s shooting on the Danforth and the families of Reese Fallon and Julianna Kozis may likewise never know why gunman Faisal Hussain did what he did.

The lack of explanation for a violent tragedy is part of the trauma, Lee said. “It’s part of the ongoing anxiety and stress that’s connected to thinking about your loved one, whose last moments were in all likelihood very traumatic.”

Trying to make sense of a senseless act helps construct a “grief narrative,” said Stephen Fleming, a psychology professor at York University who specializes in grief. “If we can find out what is motivating (the killer) we have some reason for it.”

Random deaths are “intolerable” to us, Fleming said. “It means that we’re all vulnerable.”

Knowing why a loved one was killed doesn’t make someone feel better, but it does allow people to put some “distance” between them and the crime, Fleming said. “If there’s no reason and it’s completely random it’s way too threatening. It means any of us could die. If you can get a reason you can build a sense of safety back into the world.”

But understanding a killer’s motive won’t bring closure, Fleming stressed — “Don’t ever use that word with bereaved people,” he said. Closure only applies to discrete acts, he said, so while McArthur’s guilty plea might give closure on the question of who is responsible, it doesn’t soothe the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the victims’ friends and families. “They go on a lifetime.”

That said, Fleming added, it’s only after the legal process is complete can grieving truly begin. Before that point “you’re kind of frozen,” he explained.

“To be able to begin to grieve and feel that vulnerability of loss, you have to feel a sense of safety and how can you do that if you’re being constantly retraumatized?”

Scott Bonn, a criminologist and author of a number of books on serial killers, said as humans we are uncomfortable with ambiguity. “We don’t like things that are unresolved, particularly when it involves something as heinous as murder.”

Bonn said we try to understand why a violent crime was committed in order to make it seem less frightening.

“Otherwise, if we don’t have the answer, then it’s just this terrifying idea that maybe we could become the victim of a perpetrator for who knows what reason.”

Brendan Kennedy is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @BKennedyStar

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L’accès à l’intelligence artificielle devrait être un nouveau droit fondamental, disent des experts

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Ces spécialistes faisaient partie d’un panel sur la « quatrième révolution industrielle », qu’ils associent à la démocratisation de l’intelligence artificielle.

Marc Benioff, président-directeur général de l’entreprise d’infonuagique Salesforce, a notamment appelé à la prudence dans le développement de l’IA.

« La quatrième révolution industrielle est un moment historique extraordinaire, a-t-il affirmé. [Elle] porte de grandes promesses de création de nouveaux emplois, de nouvelles façons de guérir des maladies et de soulager la souffrance. Mais d’un autre côté, il existe un risque qu’elle aggrave les inégalités économiques, raciales, environnementales et de genre. Nous risquons une nouvelle division technologique entre ceux qui ont accès à l’IA et ceux qui n’y ont pas accès. »

Combattre la pauvreté

Ce dirigeant d’entreprise établi à San Francisco, en plein cœur de la Silicon Valley, s’exprime régulièrement au sujet des inégalités dans les sociétés technologiquement très avancées. Il a notamment milité dans les derniers mois pour la Proposition C, un projet de loi visant à augmenter les impôts des grandes entreprises de San Francisco pour soutenir le nombre croissant de sans-abris dans la ville californienne. La loi a été adoptée en novembre à la suite d’un référendum.

« Aujourd’hui, seuls quelques pays et quelques entreprises ont accès à la meilleure IA au monde, mentionne-t-il. Et ceux qui la possèdent seront plus intelligents, plus en santé, plus riches et, bien entendu, leurs forces armées seront significativement plus avancées. »

M. Benioff croit que les dirigeants mondiaux ont un devoir de réflexion et d’introspection à l’égard de l’IA : « Que faisons-nous de concret pour rendre ces technologies réellement accessibles à tout le monde? Ceux qui n’ont pas d’IA seront moins éduqués, plus faibles, plus pauvres et plus malades. On doit se demander si c’est le genre de monde dans lequel on veut vivre. »

Je pense sincèrement que l’IA sera un nouveau droit fondamental. Chaque personne et chaque pays doit avoir accès à cette nouvelle technologie cruciale.

Marc Benioff, président-directeur général de Salesforce

Une réflexion mondiale

Marc Benioff faisait ces déclarations au lancement par le FEM d’un centre pour la quatrième révolution industrielle en Colombie. Celui-ci s’ajoute à des groupes du même genre aux États-Unis, en Chine, en Inde et au Japon.

Ces centres doivent servir à réfléchir aux conséquences positives et négatives du développement des technologies émergentes et à d’éventuelles politiques internationales. Le FEM espère que l’établissement de tels centres dans différentes régions du monde contribuera à démocratiser davantage ces technologies et à tenir compte d’une grande variété de points de vue.

« Nous devons reconnaître que les attitudes et les visions pour l’IA peuvent différer selon les pays et les régions, et nous devons trouver un moyen de travailler ensemble », a indiqué Kai-Fu Lee, le président du conseil mondial sur l’IA du FEM. « Une approche fourre-tout ne fonctionnera tout simplement pas », dit-il.

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Experts call Scarborough subway funding proposal ‘far-fetched’

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The province’s new pitch to have developers pay for a large part of the Scarborough subway by offering them land is being described by four industry experts as unworkable and “far-fetched.”

The math suggests that in order for developers to cover the cost of building two additional stations for a three-stop subway rather than the planned one-stop extension, the province would need to allow those developers to build two of the largest private real-estate projects in Canada — eclipsing neighbourhoods largely made up of single-family homes.

The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a proposed station under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a proposed station under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

Those experts say there is simply no way that enough demand for that real estate would materialize in time to make those projects financially viable, leaving the province’s proposal dead on arrival.

What’s at stake is that Scarborough residents may be soon left without any rapid transit. The subway is meant to replace the aging Scarborough RT, widely considered to be at the end of its run.

Assessing the government’s plan, James McKellar, director of the Brookfield Centre for Real Estate and Infrastructure at Schulich School of Business, said “Someone must have bought some of that new green stuff … That won’t work.”

Details of how the province proposes that the development industry would recover the costs of building the transit infrastructure remains vague, but Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek earlier told the Globe and Mail it would involve offering developers land and air rights around and over the future subway stations. Yurek said this plan would “not be a cost to the taxpayer.”

Graham Haines, research manager at Ryerson University’s City Building Institute, looked at that plan by asking how much buildable square feet a developer would need to be offered, in order to offset the cost of building just one of the subway stops.

The city is currently moving forward with planning of a one-stop subway extension at the Scarborough Town Centre, which is estimated to cost at least $3.35 billion; a three-stop subway was last estimated to cost, as of July 2016, $4.6 billion. The additional stations would be at Lawrence Ave. and Sheppard Ave. along McCowan Rd. Building the northern Sheppard station would also involve connecting it to the line with an additional kilometre of tunnel.

It’s not clear how the additional $1 billion in costs breaks down between the two stations, so Haines started with the assumption of an even $500 million to build each station.

Market analysts Ben Myers, president of Bullpen Research & Consulting Inc., and Shaun Hildebrand, president of Urbanation, said the price of land per buildable square foot in Scarborough is between $30 to $50 per square foot.

The corner of Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

At that value, the scale of development required to offset the cost of building one station at $500 million would be in the magnitude of 10 million to 17 million square feet.

That amount of development is equivalent to between eight and 13 Aura towers — the 78-storey condo at Yonge and Gerrard Sts., which is for now the tallest residential building in Canada. Looking at it another way, the development required would be equal to 12 to 19 times the Honest Ed’s redevelopment site at Bloor and Bathurst Sts.

Based on typical condo development, that amount of development would be expected to produce some 11,000 to 19,000 condo units. By comparison, only 9,339 residential units were proposed in the fastest-growing part of Scarborough during the five years between 2013 and 2017, according to statistics from the city’s planning division.

Haines did calculations along the lines of Myers’ work, but assumed the land value around stations was much higher at $100 per buildable square foot. That scenario would allow the cost of building just one station to be offset by 5 million square feet of development, or the equivalent of four Aura towers.

That would produce some 5,500 units at just one site — by comparison, the entire CityPlace neighbourhood is expected to be about 7,500 units when completed downtown. Haines said even one of these projects in Scarborough would be one of the biggest development projects in Toronto.

McKellar said the province’s plan would require “the most exceptional demand for condos that ever existed in the City of Toronto” noting no transit station has ever drawn anywhere near that demand, including in the downtown core.

“Whether it’s five or 10 million (square feet), it doesn’t matter in that there isn’t the market for that kind of density,” McKellar said.

Myers noted that typically a developer is looking to make 15 to 20 per cent profit on their investment.

“It sounds really far-fetched,” Myers said of the province’s plan.

The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

On Thursday, Mayor John Tory — who has long backed a subway plan, originally three stops and then the one-stop version pitched during his first term in office — said he was open to the province’s plan to pay for the additional stations with development assuming it was on “acceptable terms,” which he said “means any development that produced the money for that would have to be compatible with the city’s planning guidelines and with neighbourhoods that those transit stations are in.”

The province currently doesn’t own the land where the stations would go, meaning that property would have to be expropriated not only to build the station but also to accommodate the development at each site.

There is little room, for example, at Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd. where today there is the Scarborough Hospital campus, several apartment buildings and sprawling, leafy neighbourhoods.

A development of the scale calculated would also conflict with several planning principles in the largely lowrise area.

Hallbank Terrace, very near Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., where the province's proposal might place a new subway station, is filled with the sort of single-family homes and lowrise buildings that might soon exist adjacent huge real-estate developments.
Hallbank Terrace, very near Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., where the province’s proposal might place a new subway station, is filled with the sort of single-family homes and lowrise buildings that might soon exist adjacent huge real-estate developments.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

In response to an email from the Star outlining these calculations, the concerns about feasibility and question about how their proposal would work, Yurek’s spokesperson Mike Winterburn reiterated past statements.

“Well-designed land value capture mechanisms, like the sale of air rights, provide ways for private sector builders to decrease the cost of building transit for taxpayers,” he said. “Our government is confident that private sector support will help secure funding that will allow for construction to begin sooner. We will be able to build better transit, faster for Ontarians.”

He said their government is currently working on options to “maximize the value achievable from transit-oriented development.”

The previous Liberal government earlier agreed to fully fund a seven-stop light rail line, completely separated from traffic, to replace the SRT. That project was cancelled under former mayor Rob Ford in favour of the more expensive subway, which is in part being funded through a special tax collected from all Toronto homeowners for the next 30 years.

The earliest a subway extension could be completed is mid-2026. If the LRT project had gone ahead as planned, it was expected to be in operation next year.

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Montreal homeless especially vulnerable when the mercury drops, experts say – Montreal

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With the wind chill, the temperature verged on -35 degrees Saturday, a temperature that can easily trigger frostbite.

Most Montrealers have developed a keen sense of avoiding the cold if they can help it. But not all of them have somewhere to go when the mercury drops.


READ MORE:
Old Royal Victoria Hospital converted to emergency homeless shelter

“The people who seem to be most at risk are obviously the people who don’t have the resources to be able to take care of themselves,” said Dr. Mitch Shulman of the MUHC.

“Cold is always difficult — it’s kind of sneaky how it creeps up on you. When people develop hypothermia, they actually may not even be aware of it.”

On Thursday, the city’s four largest homeless shelters — the Old Brewery Mission, the Welcome Hall Mission, Accueil Bonneau and Maison du Père — announced they would be organizing an 80-bed overflow shelter at the former site of the Royal Victoria Hospital.


READ MORE:
Record-breaking cold snap leaves Montreal shelters scrambling

Shelters like the Old Brewery Mission are using currently using shuttle buses in the evening, trying to reach out to the city’s homeless population and encourage them to find shelter.

“It will go to areas where homeless people frequent and try to invite them onto the bus,” said Matthew Pearce with the Old Brewery Mission. “We have a staff person on the bus who will get out and go greet them.”

The numbers on homelessness in Montreal constantly fluctuate, but most reliable estimates peg the city’s full-time homeless population at above 3,000 people.

WATCH: Focus Montreal: Ending homelessness in Canada






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

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Ontario Place must remain ‘family friendly’ and accessible to all, experts say. Here are their ideas

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Former Progressive Conservative premier Bill Davis is weighing into the debate to ensure a crucial piece of Toronto waterfront remains “a family place” — with no casino.

Davis, at age 89 a revered figure in the Progressive Conservative party, made the comments about Ontario Place in response to questions the Star put to thinkers, planners and politicians about the site’s future being pondered by Premier Doug Ford and his PC government.

Former Premier Bill Davis, who led Ontario from 1971 to 1985, concluded that Ontario Place should continue putting Ontarians first and “it would be a shame and a disservice if commercial gain replaced the public interest on the present site of Ontario Place.”
Former Premier Bill Davis, who led Ontario from 1971 to 1985, concluded that Ontario Place should continue putting Ontarians first and “it would be a shame and a disservice if commercial gain replaced the public interest on the present site of Ontario Place.”  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

Some are calling for major development but most experts said revitalization steps to date — a walking and biking trail named after Davis in 2015 and the east island’s 7.5-acre Trillium Park — are steps in the right direction.

“Ontario Place was conceived as a family place, with attractions, entertainment, food services, play and theatre areas aimed at the family,” Davis said in a statement, adding its superb Lake Ontario location made it accessible from all directions and “genuinely family friendly.”

“While any site decades old needs renewal and investment, the core idea of a family friendly amusement and enjoyment centre, affordable for all, with perhaps a Ferris wheel, more programming for children, more interactive displays, more cultural and museum facilities, more room for sports and family, makes immense sense,” he said.

Proposals kicked around for years to revitalize the 155-acre park with iconic Cinesphere dome, futuristic over-water “pods” and man-made islands have new urgency as the Ford government says everything, including a casino, is on the table as it seeks a “world-class attraction” for the site.

Read more:

Readers have lots of ideas for Ontario Place redevelopment

Opinion | Edward Keenan: ‘Nothing can be saved’ at Ontario Place? That’s simply not true

Comments trigger alarm bells over fate of Ontario Place

Before being toppled last June, the provincial Liberal government solicited but failed to choose from proposals that had to foster culture, innovation and diversity, with no condominiums and no casinos.

Last week PC fundraiser Jim Ginou, reappointed Ontario Place chair by Ford after a stint two decades ago, alarmed some people when he told Queen’s Park Briefing the site is “in complete disrepair … nothing that can be saved” so it can be rebuilt “any way that Ford wants.”

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, speaking for the government, did not disagree with Ginou, saying: “Let’s look at (everything), let’s not have any closed doors.”

In Davis’s era, the educational amusement park was home to top entertainment and everything from hot dogs to fine dining. “From IMAX films to world class concerts, it was a leader in North American family entertainment, said Davis, honoured in 2015 with the William G. Davis Trail during the first phase of a now-suspended revitalization following the park’s 2012 closure amid sagging attendance.

“What would not make sense is a casino-centered development, priced only for the better off, surrounded by more eyesore commercial or condominium structures.”

Former premier Bill Davis says that while Ontario Place may need renewal and investment, it should remain "a family friendly amusement and enjoyment centre, affordable for all."
Former premier Bill Davis says that while Ontario Place may need renewal and investment, it should remain « a family friendly amusement and enjoyment centre, affordable for all. »  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star file photo)

Davis, who led Ontario from 1971 to 1985, concluded that Ontario Place should continue putting Ontarians first and “it would be a shame and a disservice if commercial gain replaced the public interest on the present site of Ontario Place.”

Apart from Davis, residents of Toronto and beyond are speaking up, demanding the people’s voice be heard. Organizers of Saturday afternoon’s “Rally Round Ontario Place” have had to move the event to a bigger room, at Metro Hall. All seats were quickly reserved, with a waiting list started.

Some say any Ontario Place plan must include Exhibition Place, the bigger city-owned site to the north with TTC and GO train service near growing the Liberty Village and Fort York neighbourhoods.

As for Ford, he has in the past championed splashy development for Toronto’s waterfront, with possibilities including a casino and giant ferris wheel. Others say housing including affordable apartments, townhomes or condos could inject year-round vitality and capital funding into the mix.

Here is a sample of ideas people have for the site:

Jennifer Keesmaat envisions a new, direly needed convention centre — a big “signature building” decided by international design competition — at Exhibition Place and connecting that site and the rest of the city to a more natural Ontario Place.
Jennifer Keesmaat envisions a new, direly needed convention centre — a big “signature building” decided by international design competition — at Exhibition Place and connecting that site and the rest of the city to a more natural Ontario Place.  (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star)
  • Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s former chief planner, notes there is much planning and data from public consultations to draw on so “we’re not starting from scratch.” The big challenge, she said, is connecting Ontario Place to transit and bustling neighbourhoods on the other side of Lake Shore Blvd. W.

“The Exhibition (Place) lands have been revitalized — there is a stadium there now, a hotel, the (Beanfield conference) centre, so there’s an incredible opportunity to plan the entire area as an event space and a destination that prioritizes access to the water’s edge as a public amenity.”

She envisions a new, direly needed convention centre — a big “signature building” decided by international design competition — at Exhibition Place and connecting that site and the rest of the city to a more natural Ontario Place, with park spaces and use of Lake Ontario.

“Make (Ontario Place) a waterfront park that is all about providing access to the water, activity on the water and is accessible to absolutely everyone in the city and the province,” she said. The entire area becomes “a tourist destination, a regional amenity (and) a space that supports the rapidly densifying areas around it.”

A casino is a “horrendous idea,” Keesmaat added, and condos have no place at Ontario Place. “There is only one water’s edge. We have made this mistake in the past already.”

Revitalization of Ontario Place was already underway under the previous provinvincial government, with possibilities including a "canal district."
Revitalization of Ontario Place was already underway under the previous provinvincial government, with possibilities including a « canal district. »  (Government of Ontario)
  • Ken Tanenbaum, a developer who specializes in public-private partnerships, led a proposal to the previous government that wasn’t acted upon to redevelop the west island with university and cultural uses, parkland, an entertainment venue and retail. Tanenbaum, whose bid involved the CNE, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, and Live Nation, said he expects to make a different proposal to the Ford government.

Like Keesmaat he thinks Ontario Place and Exhibition Place need to be planned together because of transit connections, and said the walk across the latter can be “lit up” with an interesting weather-shielded path through the Food Building and BMO Field.

Tanenbaum said he believes Eberhard Zeidler’s Cinesphere and pods must remain. “It’s a sacred part of Ontario Place and needs to be brought back to life but there’s very substantial capital involved in the exercise of bringing it back to life,” with modern sewer, water and power, plus shoreline restoration.

That could mean tens of millions, maybe even $100 million, even with a park-like setting, he said, and the Ontario government will “want to see a commercial engine that can create the economics that can allow that to be funded by the private sector.”

  • Ken Greenberg, a prominent planner who is speaking at the “Rally Round Ontario Place” event, said he believes in a vision he and others put forward in 2007.

Redeveloping Ontario Place and Exhibition Place could produce a “Lakefront Park” with a grand waterfront gathering place, including recreation, entertainment, major annual events, theatres, marinas, art galleries, restaurants and heritage sites, acting as a major international tourism draw.

“Between buildings and stretching across Lake Shore Blvd., attractive landscapes would be preserved as freely accessible park spaces that would extend like an emerald arm across the waterfront,” while linked parks would draw people from downtown to the east.

  • Zahra Ebrahim, a Toronto designer and urbanist, said the province should “play with ideas of how we can mix public art (and) cultural use with green space.

“We have a shot at something like (Chicago’s waterfront) Millennium Park — a great mix of public space, play space for kids, a natural escape and also dynamic and engaging public art.”

  • Phil Myrick is chief executive of Projects for Public Spaces, a non-profit planning, design, and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities.

“Building a casino or a mall there is a vision for 20 years and it’s a vision that brings benefits to very few people,” he said. “The kind of vision that a downtown waterfront needs should be a 100-year vision, which brings benefits to the whole city on a scale that would dwarf the revenues that a casino will make because of the value that you can bring the city when you envision a wonderful public place on the water. That’s value that doesn’t decline.

“It’s value that stays and builds and increases over time and is shared by multitudes of different actors, including of course, the city, which is looking to improve its revenues through a stronger tax base.”

Neither a ferris wheel nor casino make any sense, Ontario Place’s original architect says.
Neither a ferris wheel nor casino make any sense, Ontario Place’s original architect says.  (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star)
  • Eberhard Zeidler, the 93-year-old chief architect of Ontario Place, said he’d like to see his original concept rejuvenated and enjoyed still as the multi-use space it once was.

“History is history and what happened at one time has meaning still today, just to understand the time and the feeling of the time,” he said. “To just tear it down is to lose something. It’s the same thing as saying Rome wasn’t there.”

The purpose too as an exhibition space and urban park is still meaningful, he said. Neither a ferris wheel nor casino make any sense.

“I don’t know why you have to do something different,” he said. “It doesn’t add anything.”

His daughter, Margie Zeidler, president and creator of the 401 Richmond space in downtown Toronto and an architect, said she agrees there’s no need to start over.

“I agree it’s a disgraceful mess,” she said, noting how parts of the site have been allowed to go unused for years, but she said: “It does not need to come down. It’s not structurally a problem.”

The pods could be better used and reimagined, she said, adding it would be important to preserve the buildings.

Proposals kicked around for years to revitalize the 155-acre park with iconic Cinesphere dome, futuristic over-water “pods” and man-made islands have new urgency as the Ford government says everything, including a casino, is on the table as it seeks a “world-class attraction” for the site.
Proposals kicked around for years to revitalize the 155-acre park with iconic Cinesphere dome, futuristic over-water “pods” and man-made islands have new urgency as the Ford government says everything, including a casino, is on the table as it seeks a “world-class attraction” for the site.  (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star)
  • Toronto condo king Brad Lamb: “We need to think bigger.”

“I’d create a boardwalk, a very wide, amazing boardwalk along the waterfront. I’d commercialize it on the interior side … and I’d put bars and restaurants and stores and just a ton of stuff, and I’d make it a massive international tourist destination so that not only local Torontonians enjoyed it, but people travelled for miles to come to it and it was a fantastic experience and event.”

Lamb says the new Ontario Place should have “a yacht club, a proper public yacht club where large, lake-going vessels, 40-to-60-foot boats, can moor up. Why can’t we do that here? Why can’t you pull up to a spot with your boat from Rochester or Buffalo?”

He would make it 60 per cent park public realm and 40 per cent commercialized.

“Let’s make it a generator of revenue for the government, so it’s zero cost to the government, so that it supports itself, or, heaven forbid, what if it made a profit?”

With files from Francine Kopun and Jennifer Pagliaro

Full statement from Bill Davis

“Ontario Place was conceived as a family place, with attractions, entertainment, food services, play and theatre areas aimed at the family. With its superb location at the foot of the City, bordering Lake Ontario, accessible to highways and public transit from East, West and North, it was meant to be genuinely family friendly. Equally comfortable with Tier 1 entertainment, hot dogs, fine dining, as with folk music, picnicking, ice cream and visiting dignitaries, adjacent to sports facilities and interesting exhibits, it welcomed all. From IMAX films to world class concerts, it was a leader in North American family entertainment.

“While any site decades old needs renewal and investment, the core idea of a family friendly amusement and enjoyment centre, affordable for all, with perhaps a Ferris wheel, more programming for children, more interactive displays, more cultural and museum facilities, more room for sports and family, makes immense sense. What would not make sense is a casino-centered development, priced only for the better off, surrounded by more eyesore commercial or condominium structures.

“Ontario Place is and was a Crown Corporation so as to serve the public of Ontario — those living in the GTA and visiting from away. It would be a shame and a disservice if commercial gain replaced the public interest on the present site of Ontario Place.”

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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