Don’t allow cannabis edibles that look like candy, medical officer of health says

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Cannabis products made in shapes that appeal to children — such as gummy bears or lollipops — should be banned when the sale of edibles becomes legal later this year, Toronto’s medical officer of health says.

The city’s board of health should also urge the federal government to ban cannabis vaping liquids that are offered in “youth-friendly” flavours that mimic candy or soft drinks, Dr. Eileen de Villa said Friday.

“One of the major objectives of the legislation is to actually protect health and, in particular, to protect youth from the potential harmful effects associated with cannabis,” de Villa said.

“We feel the best thing to do in terms of protecting youth, is to avoid having these edible products in a gummy bear, lollipop or other shapes that might be appealing to youth.”

De Villa added that there’s a need for clearly defined labelling, which includes both dosing information and warnings about the risks of combining cannabis edibles with alcohol or highly caffeinated drinks.

Consultations on those amendments are set to end next week.

Villa also supports on how much THC — the primary active component of cannabis — is available in one-time-use vaping devices, and would like them to include a mechanism that limits the maximum quantity inhaled in a single puff.

“The federal regulations already have quite a bit in this regard,” she said.

Industry consultant Mitchell Osak commended Toronto Public Health for what he deemed a list of prudent suggestions ahead of the products becoming legal.

“The recommendations are consistent with the federal government’s objective around safe and responsible usage and protection of youth,” said Osak, a managing director of business consulting and technology services at Grant Thornton LLP, who advises companies in the Canadian cannabis industry including licensed producers, investors and governments.

Despite their illegal status, edible cannabis products are currently being sold at stores throughout Toronto.

A spokesperson for one dispensary visited by the Star this week said its customers are being given “childproof” bags to prevent youngsters from accidentally eating cannabis products that come in the form of a candy or a cookie.

That doesn’t go far enough, says Osak, who believes that restricting the colour and design of the products is the right approach.

During a visit to a Cannabis and Fine Edibles (C.A.F.E.) location on Harbord St. this week, the Star observed a wide array of edibles ranging in potency from 55 to 300 milligrams of THC.

All of them exceeded the government’s proposed limit of 10 milligrams, which Osak described as “a little too cautious.” He’s concerned that such low levels of THC will push customers towards the black market.

Information labels on products sold at C.A.F.E caution users to start with a small portion in order to determine one’s tolerance level.

C.A.F.E. spokesperson David Thompson said “childproof” bags and information on packaging are some of the ways the underground cannabis retailer — which has several locations across the city — is trying to improve safety for customers.

“We make sure to try to place our edible dosing guidelines on each and every package that leaves the store,” Thompson said, adding, “We believe Health Canada’s position to begin at ultralow dose concentrations is warranted.”

He said C.A.F.E. is advising edible producers to read the regulations that are being discussed and to begin implementing the recommendations.

“Health Canada has to be a beacon and a responsible steward to affect change over time,” he said. “We do not see any of this as a problem.”

Jason Miller is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Reach him on email: jasonmiller@thestar.ca

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‘They need a scapegoat,’ officer who released Bruce McArthur says of Toronto police

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The Toronto police officer facing disciplinary charges related to a 2016 arrest and release of serial killer Bruce McArthur has accused the force of turning him into « a scapegoat » to divert attention from other errors made during the investigation.

Sgt. Paul Gauthier made the comments in a letter, emailed to colleagues on Wednesday, which has been obtained by CBC Toronto. (See below.) 

Gauthier is accused of breaching the force’s policy on how to handle reports of domestic violence. 

Lawrence Gridin, Gauthier’s lawyer, says the charges relate to allegations that when he obtained a statement from a man complaining about McArthur, he did not record it on video as the policy requires. He is also accused of failing to take photos of the complainant’s injuries within 72 hours. 

Gauthier adamantly disputes those charges in his two-page letter. He claims to have followed all proper procedures and that the decision to release McArthur was approved by his supervisors.

« Based on years of investigative experience, I didn’t believe there were grounds to charge McArthur, » he wrote.

Not aware of investigation

Gauthier goes on to say that, at the time, he was not made aware of McArthur’s connection to Project Houston. McArthur had been interviewed as part of that investigation, which was launched in 2012 after the disappearances of three men he was later found to have killed.

« I had no idea there had even been a project with respect to missing men from the LGBT community downtown, » he wrote.

Gauthier claims that concerns about his investigation only surfaced after Chief Mark Saunders « embarrassed himself » by saying that members of the LGBT community could have come forward to police sooner with information about McArthur.

My employer has effectively set me up to be their fall guy.– Sgt. Paul Gauthier

He suggests that Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga, the lead investigator on the McArthur case and a former partner of Saunders, began investigating the 2016 arrest in order to divert attention away from the chief’s comments.

« The past year has taken a tremendous toll on me both personally and professionally. There have been many sleepless nights thinking about Mcarthur’s unspeakable crimes, his victims and their families, and the fact that my employer has effectively set me up to be their fall guy for all this. Simply because they need a scapegoat, » he wrote.

Not present at tribunal

Gauthier is charged with insubordination and neglect of duty, but the allegations had not previously been released by police because he was not present for what was meant to be his first appearance before the police tribunal on Tuesday.

Gridin has said he is confident the evidence will show his client did not hamper the investigation into McArthur’s crimes.

The lawyer has also argued the case should be heard by a judge rather than, as usual, by a high-ranking officer appointed by Chief Saunders. 

But the prosecution and the superintendent who oversaw Tuesday’s hearing said it was too early in the process to make submissions on that issue.

McArthur pleaded guilty last week to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of men with ties to Toronto’s Gay Village.

He was arrested in January 2018 and shortly afterwards, the force’s professional standards unit launched an internal investigation related to the case.

McArthur pleaded guilty to killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right: Skandaraj Navaratnam, Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen and Abdulbasir Faizi. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi and Majeed Kayhan. (John Fraser/CBC)

McArthur deemed ‘credible’

The review was sparked during a probe of two previous investigations into missing men from the Gay Village.

McArthur had been interviewed by police a few years ago in a separate, unrelated incident.

McArthur’s sentencing hearing was told that a man called 911 and gave a statement to police in June 2016 after escaping from McArthur’s van.

An agreed statement of fact read in court said the two knew each other and had agreed to meet in the van. When the man arrived, he found the back seat was gone and the floor of the van was covered with a plastic sheet and a fur coat.

McArthur, seen here in a court sketch, gave an ‘exculpatory’ statement after his 2016 arrest according to an agreed statement of facts revealed during his sentencing hearing. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Court heard McArthur told the man to lie down on the coat and then grabbed his wrist « with an angry look on his face. » He then grabbed the man’s throat and started strangling him, court heard.

The man tried pleading with McArthur and eventually managed to roll free and escape, court heard. « He was unable to swallow properly again for a week, » the statement said.

After the man reported the attack, McArthur was arrested and gave an exculpatory statement to police, it said.

« An officer released McArthur without charges, believing his statement to be credible, » court heard.

Police later found photographs of the man on McArthur’s electronic devices, court heard. In some, he is wearing a fur coat that appears identical to the one with which McArthur posed the men he killed, the statement said.

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Toronto officer facing misconduct charges over 2016 McArthur choking arrest asks for independent judge

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A Toronto police officer facing professional misconduct charges in connection to the investigation into serial killer Bruce McArthur is requesting an independent judge hear the case.

In a brief hearing Tuesday morning at Toronto police headquarters, the disciplinary tribunal heard the case of Sgt. Paul Gauthier, who is charged with neglect of duty and insubordination in connection to the McArthur investigation.

Gauthier’s charge stems from a 2016 encounter between the serial killer and Toronto police that came after a man reported McArthur had attempted to strangle him during a sexual encounter. McArthur was arrested but let go with no charges.

Gauthier, a former member of the force’s sex crime unit, was not present at the tribunal. He was represented by Toronto lawyer Lawrence Gridin, who formally requested an independent adjudicator.

“You have no independence from the chief of police,” Gridin told the hearing officer, Toronto police Insp. Richard Hegedus.

Gridin had begun discussing how, in December 2017, police chief Mark Saunders held a press conference denying the existence of a serial killer at work in Toronto’s Gay Village.

“We now know, because this matter’s up in court, and there’s been an agreed statement of facts files, details have come out… that the information at the press conference was not correct.”

But Gridin was interrupted by Toronto police prosecutor Alexandra Ciobotaru, who said Gridin’s comments were not what she was expecting and that initial comments should only pertain to the behaviour of the officer in question.

Gridin replied that he was providing the information to show justification for an independent adjudicator, not a Toronto police hearing officer chosen by Saunders.

Outside the tribunal, the lawyer told reporters that he was confident the evidence will show that the work done by Gauthier contributed to the identification of McArthur as a serial killer, rather than detracted from it.

He stressed that the voices of people giving their victim impact statements as part of McArthur’s sentencing hearings should be heard today, “not mine.”

Gauthier’s matter was scheduled to be heard again later this month.

McArthur went on to kill two other men after the 2016 incident: Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman, both murdered in 2017.

New details about the incident were revealed in Ontario Superior Court Monday during McArthur’s ongoing sentencing hearing. The killer had earlier pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder.

According to a summary of the facts read out in court, the encounter occurred on June 20, 2016, when a victim reported McArthur showed up at his place of work and asked him to meet that evening in his van in a parking lot.

The man did so and reported finding McArthur had removed the seat behind the driver’s seat so that there was room to lie down, revealing a plastic sheet on the floor of the van and a fur coat on top of that.

McArthur asked the victim to lie on the coat and instructed him to put an arm behind his back. Then, “with a look of determination on his face,” he “grabbed the victim’s throat and started strangling him,” Crown lawyer Michael Cantlon said in court Monday.

“What do you want from me,” the victim asked, according to the statement of facts. McArthur did not respond and “continued squeezing the larynx” of the victim, who was unable to swallow properly for a week, Cantlon said.

The victim managed to roll away and escaped the van. He later called 911.

McArthur went to the police station on his own and was arrested, but gave an exculpatory statement, court heard.

“An officer released Mr. McArthur without charges, believing his statement to be credible,” Cantlon said.

In a statement last week, Gauthier’s lawyer said the decision not to charge McArthur for the 2016 incident “was made in conjunction” with Gauthier’s supervisor “and based on the information available at the time.”

“Gauthier conducted a proper investigation and fully documented the arrest of McArthur so that the information was available to all other investigators,” said lawyer Lawrence Gridin.

“McArthur’s monstrous nature was difficult to uncover because he led a life of extreme deception, not because of anything to do with the 2016 arrest … Gauthier has great sympathy for the victims and the community.”

According to police tribunal documents, Gauthier was previously charged with two counts of professional misconduct while he was with the sex crimes unit.

Those charges, which are unrelated to the McArthur case, were ultimately dropped and the matter was dealt with internally.

The police document that outlined the earlier allegations against Gauthier stated that, beginning in July 2011, Gauthier was working with the sex crimes unit when he was investigating a case where he had reasonable and probable grounds to arrest the suspect. Specifically, Gauthier had DNA evidence identifying the alleged perpetrator through a positive link to an offender in the National DNA databank.

But the suspect was never arrested. Five years later, Peel Regional Police arrested the same man for unrelated sexual offences. During the Peel police investigation, it was determined that “the information originally received in 2011, by (Gauthier), was never acted on,” according to police documents.

According to the police document, Gauthier “failed to ensure that a thorough investigation was conducted”; “failed to ensure” the DNA link was acted upon; and “failed to ensure” that the measures were in place for the apprehension of the suspect.

“In so doing, you committed misconduct, in that you did, without lawful excuse, neglect or omit to promptly and diligently perform a duty, as a member of the police force of which you are a member.”

McArthur pleaded guilty earlier this week to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Kinsman, Esen, Lisowick, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam.

With Star files

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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Manslaughter trial of Ottawa police officer charged in Abdirahman Abdi’s death to begin Monday

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The high-profile criminal trial of Ottawa police constable Daniel Montsion is set to begin Monday, two and a half years after Abdirahman Abdi died following an altercation with city police outside his apartment building in Hintonburg.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) charged Montsion in 2017 with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon, following an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 37-year-old Somali-Canadian man’s death in 2016,

WATCH: Ottawa police officer charged with manslaughter in death of Abdirahman Abdi





Police were dispatched on the morning of July 24, 2016, in response to reports of “multiple assaults” at a coffee shop west of downtown Ottawa. After attempting to make an arrest, officers chased Abdi on foot and a struggle ensued in front of his apartment building on Hilda Street.

In its statement announcing the charges laid against Montsion in 2017, the provincial police watchdog said there was “an interaction” between Montsion, another police officer and Abdi that Sunday morning and Abdi “went into medical distress.”


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Video footage recorded after the confrontation showed a handcuffed, bloodied and unconscious Abdi lying on the ground. He died in hospital the next day.

Family, friends and the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition have described Abdi as someone who had mental health challenges but who was not violent.

His death sent shock waves throughout the Ottawa community and across Canada, sparking questions about racial profiling, police brutality and mental health supports, and prompting demands for police training reform.


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Montsion’s trial begins Feb. 4 and has been scheduled for a three-month period. Montsion is being represented by well-known Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Edelson.

Both Edelson and Philip Perlmutter, the Toronto Crown prosecutor assigned to the case, declined to speak with Global News ahead of Monday’s trial.

The Ottawa Police Association did not respond to a request for comment.


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A community vigil and candlelit walk was held Friday night in Abdi’s memory and to inform the public on how they may support Abdi’s family during the trial period.

“Nearly three years later, the injustice and pain of Abdirahman’s death continues to ripple through his family and his community,” a description for the event read.

As support rallied around Abdi’s relatives in the aftermath of his death, so it did around Montsion after the SIU laid charges against him.

In late March 2017, it was reported that black and blue rubber bracelets were being purchased and worn by members of the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) in solidarity with the criminally charged officer.


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The bands were inscribed with the words “united we stand” followed by Montsion’s badge number on the outside, and “divided we fall” on the inside.

Ottawa’s disbanded community police advisory group expressed concern at the time that the bracelets were causing needless tension and division as Montsion’s case progressed through the courts.

The president of the Ottawa Police Association said in the response that the wristbands were not part of the OPS uniform and officers would not wear them while on duty.

– With a file from The Canadian Press

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

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Toronto police officer to be charged with misconduct in connection with Bruce McArthur case

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A Toronto police officer is expected to be charged with two counts of professional misconduct in connection with the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur.

Sgt. Paul Gauthier is set to appear at a tribunal Tuesday on charges of insubordination and neglect of duty under the Police Services Act, his lawyer Lawrence Gridin tells CBC News. The allegations are not criminal in nature and have not been tested. 

On Tuesday, McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty to killing eight men, many of whom had ties to Toronto’s Gay Village, between 2010 and 2017. 

But the allegations against Gauthier relate to an early interaction between McArthur and police, which is regarded by some as a missed opportunity.

In 2017, Chief Mark Saunders publicly dismissed the idea of a serial killer in the Village, remarks that drew the ire of residents once McArthur was arrested.

But a police source close to the investigation previously told CBC News officers spoke to McArthur as part of a investigation not connected with the broader investigations into disappearances in the Village. 

McArthur’s monstrous nature was difficult to uncover because he led a life of extreme deception.– Lawrence Gridin, lawyer for Sgt. Paul Gauthier

Reports emerged that a man had once told police McArthur had tried to strangle him. Police questioned, then released McArthur sometime before 2017, a move that later prompted the Toronto police professional standards unit to launch an internal investigation into the matter.

In a statement Friday evening, Gridin said, « The decision not to charge Bruce McArthur for the 2016 incident was made in conjunction with Detective Gauthier’s supervisor and based on the information available at the time. »

At least three of McArthur’s victims are believed to have been killed after 2016. His victims were Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. 

McArthur pleaded guilty to killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. (Toronto Police Service/CBC)

Police believe Lisowick was killed sometime between 2016 and 2017. Unlike most of McArthur’s other victims, Lisowick was never reported missing.

Esen disappeared from area of Yonge and Bloor streets over the Easter weekend in 2017. He was reported missing on April 30, never to be seen again.

Just two months later, Kinsman vanished from Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood, one day after the annual Pride parade. He was reported missing three days later.

Further details the allegations against Gauthier are expected after his appearance Tuesday. 

The statement from his lawyer went on to say Gauthier conducted a « proper » investigation of McArthur, and made the information available to all other investigators involved.

« McArthur’s monstrous nature was difficult to uncover because he led a life of extreme deception, » the statement said. « Det. Gauthier has great sympathy for the victims and the community. »

How the Toronto Police Service has handles missing persons cases is now the subject of an independent review led by former Ontario Court of Appeal judge Gloria Epstein. 

In a statement late Friday night, Toronto Police said homicide investigators immediately contacted the professional standards unit when investigative concerns were identified.

« As a result, an officer has been compelled to attend a tribunal in efforts to provide an explanation for his actions. »

The statement went on to point out the role that community members played in solving the cases of the missing.

« The success of the McArthur investigation was a result of the community working with the police. »

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Man accused of shooting Manitoba RCMP officer pleads guilty to attempted murder

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The man accused of shooting an RCMP officer during series of break-and-enters in western Manitoba has pleaded guilty.

Therae Racette-Beaulieu was charged last August with two counts of attempted murder as well as two counts of break and enter, possession of property obtained by crime and weapons-related offences.

He entered guilty pleas to one count of attempted murder, as well as to breaking and entering, stealing firearms and theft of a motor vehicle in Brandon provincial court on Thursday morning. He was 18 years old at the time of his arrest.

Cpl. Graeme Kingdon was shot near Onanole, Man., a town about 220 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, just south of Riding Mountain National Park, on Aug. 29, 2018. RCMP said Kingdon and another constable had arrived at a report of a break-in at a rural property near Onanole at about 9:30 p.m. when shots were fired.

Kingdon suffered a fractured skull in the shooting, while the other officer was not injured physically.

The shooting sparked a massive manhunt that ended the next afternoon in Neepawa, Man.

Three other men from Portage la Prairie — Tommy Edward Beaulieu, 21, Shane Donovan Beaulieu, 30, and Delaney Marcus Houle, 23 — were also charged in alongside Racette-Beaulieu with two counts each of breaking and entering, possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000 and weapons-related offences.

Houle and Shane Beaulieu were previously granted bail, while Tommy Beaulieu was denied bail and remains in custody. All three have yet to enter pleas and are due in court again in February.

Racette-Beaulieu has been in custody since he was arrested in August. He has no prior convictions in adult court in Manitoba

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March.

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Manhunt in Surrey, B.C., after transit officer shot at SkyTrain station

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Police in Surrey, B.C., are asking the public to avoid an area around a SkyTrain station as they search for a suspect who may be armed and is wanted in connection with the shooting of a transit police officer.

RCMP say the injured officer, identified as Josh Harms, 27, was on regular patrol duty Wednesday when a suspect shot him on the platform of the Scott Road SkyTrain station around 4:20 p.m. PT.

Harms was taken to hospital with non life-threatening injuries.

Suspect large, possibly armed

Police are using dogs to search for the suspect, who is still at large and may be armed. At least 80 officers are involved in the search.

They have zeroed in on two areas in Surrey, which they have cordoned off; one from from King George Boulevard to 114th Avenue, and another from 125a Street to 124 Street. 

Police are asking people to avoid these areas, stay indoors and leave on a light on their front porch.

« We are asking you to stay inside and to lock your doors, » said Surrey RCMP assistant commissioner Dwayne McDonald.

The suspect is described as a male in his 20s, with dark skin, a dark stubble goatee and a mustache. He was last seen wearing a blue sweatshirt jacket and white Nike running shoes with a black swoosh. 

A picture of the suspect was released by Surrey RCMP. (RCMP)

Police say they are canvassing video taken at the scene of the shooting, and interviewing multiple witnesses. They’re also warning the public that if they spot the suspect, call 911 and don’t approach him.

Schools, residences on lockdown

Because of the search, police took measures to secure nearby residences and a school where 25 people, including 15 students, 10 teachers and parents, were attending an after-school program when the shooting occurred, said Doug Strachan with the Surrey School District.

The protocol put into place at Bridgeview Elementary School meant everyone was required to stay inside the school and lock the doors, but activities carried on.

Police gave the all-clear at 8:30 p.m. PT and people were permitted to leave.

TransLink says the station has been closed and a bus bridge put in place. 

Sgt. Clint Hampton, a spokesperson for Transit Police, said Harms is expected to recover.

Hampton says he knows Harms well and described the event as « shocking. » 

McDonald said he checked in with Harms earlier Wednesday evening. 

« He was in good spirits, » McDonald said. Harms has been with the Metro Vancouver Transit Police force for three years.

Meanwhile. police detachments across the country expressed their support for the officer on Twitter.

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New Brunswick police officer rescues woman trapped in clothing donation bin – Halifax

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A quick-thinking and observant police officer was able to save a woman who was trapped inside a clothing donation bin in Miramichi, N.B. early Monday morning.

According to a release from the Miramichi Police Force, the officer was driving past the Lord Beaverbrook Arena on University Avenue at around 3:30 a.m. Monday, when he happened to glance at a number of clothing donation bins at the edge of the arena parking lot.


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‘This is a problem across the country’: Clothing donation bin deaths prompt demand for action

As he drove by, he thought he saw the metal flap on one of the bins move.

When he stopped to check, he found a 60-year-old woman inside the bin. She told him she had crawled inside to get out of the storm a few hours earlier, but had become stuck and was unable to get out on her own.

According to police, the officer was able to get her out and eventually drove her to a residence.

“Other than being very cold, physically she was okay,” the release said.


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‘She was wonderful’: Friends hold vigil for Toronto woman who died in donation bin

The issue of people becoming trapped inside donation bins has been a deadly problem in this country. Earlier this month, the Canadian Press reported that since 2015, at least seven Canadians have died after getting stuck inside a clothing donation bin.

Since that report, a woman has died after being found inside a donation bin in Toronto on Jan. 8.


Many bins have a gate mechanism that is designed to prevent animals from getting in and to prevent theft. That mailbox-like design means that people can get inside the bin, but are unable to get out.

In the wake of the deaths, some jurisdictions have temporarily shut down the bins, while manufacturers look into changing their design.

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

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Toronto officer pleads guilty to misconduct for using database for personal gain – Toronto

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TORONTO – A Toronto police officer has pleaded guilty to misconduct at a tribunal hearing for using his position to obtain a woman’s information for personal gain.

Const. Vincenzo Bonazza admits to using his authority and police databases to search information about a woman who approached him in 2008 asking for help.


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Bonazza first admitted to the misconduct during a criminal trial in 2018 where the woman accused him of raping her shortly after the two met 10 years earlier.

He denied the sexual assault allegations saying the two had consensual sex.


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Bonazza was acquitted of the charge after the judge found the complainant’s testimony to be inconsistent.

The tribunal’s prosecutor and Bonazza’s lawyer have made a joint submission of four days docked pay.

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Three years later, Ontario police watchdog hasn’t begun review of officer suicides

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Three years after the suicide of a Toronto police officer prompted the province’s police watchdog to promise a systemic review of officer mental health, the review still hasn’t begun.

The problem, according to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), is a lack of resources and the fact that two other systemic reviews are already underway.

Back in 2016, director Gerry McNeilly said that a growing number of complaints he was hearing about police mental health issues signalled a pressing need to tackle the problem, province-wide. So one week after the suicide of a Toronto officer, McNeilly said he would employ a special tool of his office to launch a systemic review of officer mental health and suicides, examining police services across Ontario and making recommendations for change.

“I think we’re setting up officers to fail,” McNeilly said in an interview in February 2016, saying he hoped his office would officially announce and launch the systemic review mid-year.

In the years since, police officer suicides have continued, with a spike in 2018 prompting Ontario’s chief coroner Dirk Huyer to launch a review of nine deaths.

Critics say that while they welcome that review, it has long been apparent that a detailed, provincial examination — such as the one committed to by the OIPRD — was warranted.

“It’s a little too late for us, and it’s a little sad that it took this number of deaths for them to spring into action,” said Heidi Rogers, whose husband, Toronto police Sgt. Richard Rogers, died by suicide in 2014.

When she complained to the OIPRD about the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death, which she says included severe anxiety and bullying, she says she was assured the forthcoming systemic review into officer mental health would tackle the issues.

The delay, Rogers said, has sent a message that “you don’t warrant our attention.”

Spokesperson Rosemary Parker stressed that the OIPRD director “continues to be very concerned about suicides, mental health and operational stress among police officers.” But the review has not been launched due to “resourcing issues” and two other ongoing reviews.

“It has always been the intention of the Director to address a range of issues regarding officer mental health and operational stress in a systemic review, should he be in a position to launch one,” she said.

She noted that McNeilly has, in the mean time, spoken with current and former police officers affected by mental health challenges, and families of officers who have died by suicide, and the majority support a systemic review.

Parker added that such a review would “help in addressing issues police services face with the number of staff off due to operational stress.”

The Star asked Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General if it would consider providing additional resources to the OIPRD in order to help facilitate a review of police officer mental health in the wake of the suicides.

“The Office of the Independent Police Review Director is an independent agency and conducts reviews independent of government,” a spokesperson wrote in an email Thursday in response.

Last week Huyer announced that his office would review the 2018 suicides of nine active, or recently retired, police officers. The number is “far greater than we have seen in many years,” he said, noting that in that last few years there have generally been fewer than five.

The coroner’s office has not released the identities of the officers, but one was a Waterloo Regional officer. None of the 2018 suicides were Toronto police officers.

Huyer hopes the review will have an impact across the province, saying his panel will look for systemic approaches to police wellness and identify reasons why distressed officers aren’t getting the help they need. But the coroner’s review is limiting its examination to the affected police services of the nine officers who died, unlike a broader review that would be undertaken by the OIPRD.

Huyer notes, however, that he may ask other police services for their wellness programs for officers.

Former Ontario ombudsman André Marin said a province-wide, independent probe is needed. Marin’s 2012 report, In the Line of Duty, concluded the OPP and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services were “reluctant” to support officers suffering from mental health challenges connected to workplace stress.

In an interview, Marin said he believes little has changed since the release of his report, which made recommendations ranging from counteracting stigma to collecting information about police services’ mental health supports.

He noted that three OPP officers died by suicide within a three week-span this past summer, prompting the provincial police force to launch an internal review.

“It’s hard to say whether or not, had this been addressed more seriously, these suicides would have been preventable,” Marin said. “But there are many that feel they have been given the short shrift.”

“I don’t think this is a problem that’s going away any time soon,” he said.

The ability to perform a broad examination of a policing issue in Ontario is among the OIPRD’s greatest powers, and the work undertaken through systemic reviews “has the most potential impact on policing in Ontario,” the agency said in its 2017-2018 annual report.

Complex and resource-intensive undertakings, the 10-year-old agency has completed three systemic reviews to date, including a comprehensive and scathing report on Thunder Bay Police death investigations, released last month. The watchdog is in the midst of two others, examining policies around strip searches and police use of force against people in mental health crisis.

In his recent review of police oversight in Ontario, Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch specifically highlighted the importance of OIPRD systemic reviews, saying inquiries into policing issues should not be wholly left to “the whim of the government of the day.”

“The OIPRD should be properly resourced and funded to study and report on systemic issues in policing,” Tulloch wrote in his report.

Among Tulloch’s recommendations was that the agency receive funding and resources to bolster its investigations. When the previous Liberal government passed its Safer Ontario Act — omnibus policing legislation which acted in part on Tulloch’s report — the OIPRD began implementing plans that included hiring more staff.

But additional resources for the agency are now in limbo, due to a hiring freeze across the public service in June, and then the decision by Doug Ford’s Tory government this summer to halt and review the Safer Ontario Act.

Parker, the OIPRD spokesperson, said the agency is “not in a position” to spend the entirety its 2019 budget of $11.8 million, “partly due to the expenditure freeze, but also because the agency is awaiting the government’s review of the Safer Ontario Act,” she said.

Rogers stresses that she is pleased Huyer has launched his review, saying it will at least garner more attention to the issue of police mental health. Although she feels “nothing has changed” in the years since her husband’s death, she is buoyed by the belief that the younger generation of police officers are more willing to speak out if they are facing a mental health challenge stemming from the job.

“Whereas the older guys, who have been around for a while, their idea of handling (mental health issues) was to go out drinking after a shift,” she said.

With Star files

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