GTA school boards take unusual step in declaring snow day


John Malloy isn’t an early riser but the head of Toronto’s public school board was up at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday, without the aid of an alarm clock, because of a gut feeling that he would need to make “a really big decision.”

By about 6 a.m., before a single snowflake had fallen, Malloy had taken the rare step in declaring a snow day — the third in the last two decades — shutting down the Toronto District School Board, impacting thousands of families.

Several school boards across the Greater Toronto Area shut down, while classes at most universities and colleges were cancelled. Some flights were also cancelled at the city’s airports.
Several school boards across the Greater Toronto Area shut down, while classes at most universities and colleges were cancelled. Some flights were also cancelled at the city’s airports.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

“The safest and wisest thing was to close schools,” explained the director of education, during the afternoon as a storm of snow, ice pellets, and freezing rain pummelled the city. “It was the smart move.”

He wasn’t alone in making that call. Several school boards across the Greater Toronto Area also shut down and classes at most universities and colleges were cancelled. There were also disruptions at Toronto’s Billy Bishop and Pearson airports, with flights cancelled.

“Closing schools is something we seldom consider,” explained Malloy of the TDSB which is the largest public school board in Canada with 582 schools and 246,000 students. It’s rarely considered because 90 per cent of students live within walking distance of the school, many parents have to work, which can leave some scrambling about what to do with their children, and staff are supported if they feel they can’t get to work safely.

The last time the board closed was in 2011, when a storm dubbed Snowmageddon failed to deliver the anticipated wallop, leaving some parents saying school officials had overreacted. Prior to that, there was a snow day in 1999, when then-mayor Mel Lastman called in the army to help clear snow.

Read more:

Snow and ice pellets to give way to freezing rain as winter storm rages on

It’s a snow day. University and college closures announced as city prepares for winter storm.

Look south — study finds analogues for future climate of Canadian cities

“These decisions are important — they are about safety, about family, about service and so we take it very, very seriously,” said Malloy. “All of this happened between 5 a.m. and 6:15 a.m.”

By 5 a.m. transportation staff at the TDSB and the Toronto Catholic District School Board were in joint talks with their bus carrier, which services both boards, about current and forecast weather conditions and road conditions. After the associate directors at both boards made the decision to cancel buses, it was up to the directors to decide on school closures for their boards. Malloy called his counterpart at the TCDSB, Rory McGuckin, and the pair discussed weather conditions and what other boards, universities and colleges were doing. And, he said, they listened to their instincts, both agreeing that closing schools was the best move.

“People sometimes wonder why we don’t make these decisions early and the reason we don’t is because weather changes — and if weather changes and the conditions we expect don’t happen, people get upset,” explained Malloy.

At the Catholic board, the closure affected 196 schools and 95,000 students.

“We don’t take the decision-making process lightly,” said TCDSB spokesperson Shazia Vlahos. “(We’re) always erring on the side of safety for children and staff.”

People wait for the bus in an iced-up bus shelter at Bay and Queen streets. Freezing rain began to fall during the evening commute in Toronto.
People wait for the bus in an iced-up bus shelter at Bay and Queen streets. Freezing rain began to fall during the evening commute in Toronto.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

Peel District School Board, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, Halton Catholic District School Board and Halton District School Board also closed schools. In York Region and Durham, public and Catholic school boards cancelled bus service but remained opened, which drew criticism on social media from people who said classes should have also been cancelled.

The early decision by Toronto school boards meant that daycares operating inside of schools were also closed, said city spokesperson Brad Ross. The city also cancelled recreation programs, such as swimming and skating lessons, and at city hall, “non-essential” staff were able to leave work early afternoon.

“We really leave it up to the division head’s discretion in terms of who they’re able to free up to allow to go home,” added Ross. “It’s not unlike, really, how things are dealt with on a Christmas Eve.”

People make their way along the sidewalk on Wellington Street West. With schools closed and many office workers staying home, the downtown core was unusually quiet.
People make their way along the sidewalk on Wellington Street West. With schools closed and many office workers staying home, the downtown core was unusually quiet.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

City services such as 311, garbage collection, and snowplowing continued throughout the day.

Some flights at Toronto’s airports were cancelled or delayed. Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said a “number of considerations” go into cancellations, including weather at the arrival airport, if the airline has space on a later flight to the same destination, or if they can find a larger airplane and consolidate two flights into one.

“We don’t like to cancel flights with lots of connections because then people can get stranded,” he said in an email. “We tend to cancel more short-haul trips on routes with lots of daily flights.”

Once a cancellation is decided, customers are contacted to rebook, he said, urging people to always check their flight status before heading to the airport.

In the region, classes at many universities and colleges were cancelled, including University of Waterloo, Ryerson University and George Brown College.

At the University of Toronto, the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses were closed for the day; however the downtown St. George campus remained open. By midday officials had reversed their decision, cancelling classes after 4 p.m.

A woman crosses Front and Sherbourne streets. Toronto had a mixed bag of snow, rain and ice on Tuesday making driving and walking treacherous.
A woman crosses Front and Sherbourne streets. Toronto had a mixed bag of snow, rain and ice on Tuesday making driving and walking treacherous.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

The initial decision drew sharp criticism from students on social media, who wondered why the downtown campus was open when others were closed.

Third-year English major Lindsay Tramble called this approach a “blatant disregard for the safety of students.”

“As a commuter from Etobicoke I am forced to schlep two hours each way on the TTC through the ice and cold when other colleges/universities have made their students’ safety their number one priority,” she said in an email.

University spokesperson Elizabeth Church, said in an email the decision to cancel classes is based on a number of factors, “including, public transportation, highway conditions and snow and ice removal on campus grounds.” She added, the safety of the community is the top priority when making a decision about class cancellations.

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74


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‘Super sponge’ seen as absorbent next step in oil spill mitigation


Engineers at the University of Calgary say they’ve come up with a fresh and effective new technique in the global hunt for a better way to clean up oil spills. 

The process uses a material they call a « super sponge. » It’s non-toxic and biodegradable, to boot.

To demonstrate, Nashaat Nassar puts bitumen into a two-litre glass container filled with water and then flicks a switch. The mixture is shaken and stirred.

The chemical engineer and associate professor then sprinkles on it a dark powder — a magnetic chemical compound of boron nitride.

« They are hydrophobic. So, they don’t like water. They like oil, » Nassar says.

Nashaat Nassar, a chemical engineer and associate professor at the University of Calgary, is part of the ‘super sponge’ research project. They hope to test it on a larger scale. (Dave Rae/CBC)

At a microscopic level, the material is extremely porous, kind of like a sponge, says Nassar as he demonstrates by hovering a magnet wrapped in foil over the oil and sucks it right out of the water.

« With this material, we can minimize the spread of the oil, » he says. 

The « sponge » also has the benefits of being non-toxic and inexpensive to produce, Nassar says.

The innovative project is part of a burgeoning area of research in oil spill cleanup.

Seth Darling is a scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, where work is ongoing on another possible sponge solution to oil spill cleanup. (Submitted by Seth Darling)

Similar research in the U.S.

Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory just outside Chicago are working on another spongy solution. Theirs uses specially treated sheets of polyurethane foam that can soak up oil.

« You can pick it up, squeeze it like a kitchen sponge, and the oil will come out, » said laboratory scientist Seth Darling.

« We went out there and demonstrated very clearly that you could pick up oil slicks off the surface of the ocean, out there in the real world, deployed from a boat. »

Darling says the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 — when millions of barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico — prompted many scientists to rethink cleanup technologies.

The explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon offshore rig on April 20, 2010, killed 11 workers. (U.S. Coast Guard/Associated Press)

« Everyone saw the catastrophic effects it was having on the environment and the monetary burden it also created for the company and the whole local economy there. So, lots of researchers thought, there’s got to be a better way to deal with this than what’s out there. Lots of folks started working on this idea of asorbents. »

Typically, oil spill cleanup involves skimming and burning the crude off the water’s surface, or breaking it down with chemical dispersants.

The powdered boron nitride developed at the University of Calgary, when added to oil, allows the oil to be drawn out of the water with a foil-wrapped magnet. (Dave Rae/CBC)

‘Far from perfect’

The oil recovery rate, though, is far from perfect, says a science historian at the University of King’s College in Halifax.

« Nobody would dispute that our track record is not very good, » Ian Stewart says.

« It’s a very, very complex, deeply challenging thing to deal with. »

The size and location of a spill are also factors in recovery, he says.

Ian Stewart, a science historian at the University of King’s College in Halifax, says the oil recovery rate after a spill is far from perfect. (Submitted by Ian Stewart)

« Five to 15 per cent is what’s said. But it really depends. If you’re in a very calm, secluded bay and you’ve got the right technologies on hand, then a lot more can be recovered. It does vary. The big spills that have happened throughout history, they have typically been in places that were very hard to recover. »

But, he cautions, real world testing of the new cleanup technologies is yet another challenge.

« It’s all promising stuff. The problem, as these researchers will tell you, is that they’re far away from being operational. »

Back at the University of Calgary, researchers recognize that a lab demonstration is one thing. The open ocean is another.

« We are always trying to look at efficient techniques to go beyond the lab and try to have more real solutions to what the industry is facing these days, » Nassar says.

The next step is testing the « super sponge » on a larger scale, he says.

Engineers at the University of Calgary hope to expand the research to larger projects. (Dave Rae/CBC)


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‘We’re running out of time’: Canada under pressure to step up at global climate conference


The Canadian government is under intense pressure to fill a leadership void as countries try to hammer out how they will hold themselves accountable for implementing the Paris climate-change accord.

Political leaders from most countries are in the small, coal-mining city of Katowice in southern Poland for the 24th meeting of the United Nations « Conference of the Parties, » where the « rule book » for the Paris agreement is supposed to be finalized.

With the United States preparing to leave the Paris agreement altogether, the host country less than enthusiastic about it, and the biggest European powers distracted by domestic events like the Brexit crisis and riots against a fuel tax in France, Canada is being pushed to lead where they can’t or won’t.

The rules decided at Katowice are to dictate everything from how carbon markets work to what each country must do to report on their own emissions cuts and how they’ve helped finance the decarbonization of the developing world.

There is also a push for them to agree to make deeper emissions cuts, after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported earlier this fall that global targets must be substantially higher if the world has any hope of slowing catastrophic global warming.

Canada struggling

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said at the moment the only developed country really fighting for tougher cuts to emissions is New Zealand.

« They need help, » she said.                                                                               

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna answers questions after meetings in Toronto on Dec. 6, 2018. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Other countries know that Canada is struggling to meet its own targets, that the Liberal government is facing legal and political pressure over its planned carbon tax and that Canada is continuing government support for developing oil and gas reserves.

Some officials are snarking that Canada is good for talking points but not action.

Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change, told The Canadian Press last week Canada will be ready — as the Paris agreement requires — to increase its targets for cutting emissions in 2020. It was a departure from an earlier line that McKenna had no plans to increase Canada’s ambitions until policies were in place to realize its existing ones.

Abreu was thrilled about the change of tone but said she will be happier if McKenna says it at Katowice as well. Thus far she has not.

In a call with reporters Tuesday, McKenna said only: « We are absolutely committed to meeting our target. »

Hoesung Lee, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addresses the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018. (Agencja Gazeta/Grzegorz Celejewski via Reuters)

She also said the Canadian government is well aware there are just 12 years in which to act, after which hope will be lost to keep the world from getting more than 1.5 C warmer than it was in pre-industrial times. The existing policies under the Paris agreement have the world on track to exceed 3 C in warming.

That report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says Canada would have to double its planned emissions cuts to do its share to keep the world to the 1.5 C goal, but Canada’s existing policies don’t even get us all the way to our current target, let alone anywhere close to a tougher one.

Participants in UN climate talks on ways of combating global warming leave the venue at the end of the day’s session in Katowice on Dec. 12, 2018. (Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press)

Abreu said bits and pieces of the draft set of rules put together by officials over the last week were released Wednesday but the politicians now have to do the heavy lifting to overcome some of the biggest obstacles.

This week started with the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia refusing to endorse the IPCC report. They were willing to « take note » of it but not « welcome » it, which was what Canada and most other countries wanted. COP rules are such that without a consensus, neither phrasing will appear in the final agreement in Poland.

A climate activist walks by shelves filled with specially grown pro-climate plants at the COP24. (Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press)

The pressure to set the rules, and the risk that won’t happen, is so acute United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres flew back to Poland Wednesday to try to light a fire under the political leaders.

« We’re running out of time, » he told the meeting Wednesday. « To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal. »


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NASA wants Canadian boots on the moon as first step in deep space exploration


The head of the U.S. space agency said today he wants to see Canadian astronauts walking on the moon before long — part of a first step toward the farther reaches of space.

Jim Bridenstine, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said he wants Canada’s decades-long space partnership with the U.S. to continue as NASA embarks on the creation of its new Lunar Gateway.

The U.S. is seeking broad international support for the next-generation space station it is planning to send into orbit around the moon starting in 2021.

Bridenstine said he wants Canada to contribute its expertise in artificial intelligence and robotics, and that could include a next-generation Canadarm on the Lunar Gateway and more Canadian technology inside.

He said NASA wants to create a « sustainable lunar architecture » that would allow people and equipment to go back and forth to the moon regularly.

Next stop: Mars

« If Canadians want to be involved in missions to the surface of the moon with astronauts, we welcome that. We want to see that day materialize, » he told a small group of journalists in Ottawa today.

« We think it would be fantastic for the world to see people on the surface of the moon that are not just wearing the American flag, but wearing the flags of other nations. »

He said the return to the moon is a stepping stone toward a much more ambitious goal: exploration that could include reaching Mars in the next two decades.

« The moon is, in essence, a proving ground for deeper space exploration, » he said.

Bridenstine is in Ottawa for a large gathering of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, where speculation is running high about Canada’s possible participation in the U.S. space program.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, a vocal booster of Canada’s AI hubs in Ontario and Quebec, is also scheduled to speak, along with one of Canada’s former astronauts, Marc Garneau, the current federal transport minister.

On Dec. 3, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will travel to the International Space Station on his first mission.


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Bruce Oake Recovery Centre one step closer after marathon public rezoning hearing at city hall – Winnipeg


The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre took another step to becoming a reality early Wednesday morning after a marathon public hearing at city hall lasting for more than six hours.

More than 60 people were in the crowd at the Assiniboia Community Committee Meeting. Typically, these meetings are held in a smaller room, but this one was moved to the council chambers to accommodate the crowd.

The committee approved a rezoning and conditional use plan but it will still have to go through the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Executive Policy Committee and City Council before getting the go-ahead.

The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre is planned to be a 50-bed long-term addictions treatment centre at the old Vimy Arena site in the Crestview neighbourhood.

READ MORE: Winnipeg family shares personal tragedy to fight stigma of addictions treatment

While the vote was on the rezoning of the land, dozens of people both for and against the centre came to voice their opinions on the project.

Many of those against it live in the neighbourhood. They say the increase in traffic and safety is a concern, property values will decrease and they will lose green space and recreation space.

“I realize rehab facilities are important, but so are young people,” Vicky Fedyk, who has lived on Vimy Road for 47 years, said.

“And recreation prevents them from getting caught up in the drug scene.”

Several former drug addicts and families of those who lost family members voiced their support for the centre along with nurses and residents in the area who think it is much needed.

”We can help make Bruce’s life mean something and we can make sure it doesn’t happen to anybody else,” Scott Oake, father of Bruce and head of the centre’s board of directors.

Barb Ashley lost her son to addiction earlier this year and said he went to a treatment facility in Vancouver. But when he returned to Winnipeg, the drug issues returned and he was put on a waiting list at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, unable to get the help he needed.

“If there had been a facility [in Winnipeg], he would have been able to access post-treatment supports and integrate back into the community,” Ashley said.

Oake said if rezoning goes in their favour, they will launch a capital fundraising campaign. He said they have already raised a significant amount, and they have people “ready willing and able” to write substantial cheques.

Things were much calmer than at an information meeting in the summer when supporters and opposers got into loud arguments about the centre.

READ MORE: Screaming matches, passionate pleas dominate Bruce Oake meeting

The proposed plan for the three-acre plot of land would see it divided into lots. The first lot is 2.45 acres and would be rezoned from parks and recreation land to a residential multi-family area.

The remainder of the land would be used for green space.

If the rezoning process is approved, the province would be able to buy the land from the city and lease the $1.43-million plot of land to the centre for $1 a year.

Most of the arena would be torn down to build the recovery centre, except for a third of the western rink surface which would be used for a public gymnasium if it was possible to reuse the site. If not, a new gymnasium would be built.

The facility would be the only long-term treatment facility in Winnipeg and would cost nothing for those attending. The centre said no detox will occur and residents must be clean when starting their journey. Approximately 25-30 staff and professional support members would be on site throughout the day.

WATCH: Tempers flare at Bruce Oake information meeting

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


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‘Would have been a step backwards’: Winnipeggers vote to keep Portage and Main closed


Winnipeggers have voted nearly two-to-one to keep the city’s iconic downtown intersection closed to pedestrian traffic. 

Voters were asked to mark « yes » or « no » in response to the question, « Do you support the opening of Portage and Main to pedestrian crossings? » 

On Wednesday, 65 per cent said « no. » 

While the results of the plebiscite are non-binding, Brian Bowman, who was re-elected mayor, promised during the campaign that he would honour the result.

Coun. Jeff Browaty, re-elected Wednesday night, was a vocal opponent of opening Portage and Main. 

« I don’t think we’re saying ‘no’ to progress and improvements to our downtown. I think what Winnipeg didn’t approve of was the dramatic impacts it would have on our traffic, » Browaty said. « I think this would have been a step backwards. »

The intersection was closed to above-ground pedestrian traffic in 1979, sending pedestrian traffic to an underground concourse.

Vote Open campaign spokesperson Adam Dooley called the results « super disappointing. » 

It would be difficult to win support for any public works project through a plebiscite, he said. 

« I think we’ve raised a lot of issues, and … this issue isn’t going away, and I don’t think we’ll be going away, either, » Dooley said.

« At some point those barricades have to come down, when the intersection is repaired, and I think that there’ll be an opportunity to continue discussion. I just hope it isn’t by a plebiscite and I hope it’s not as divisive as this one has been. » 

Dooley said he also hopes the new city council deals with some of the downtown traffic and accessibility issues identified during the campaign.

John Giavedoni, a Vote Open volunteer and a resident in the Exchange District, said the group fought an uphill battle and were disappointed with the result. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

John Giavedoni, executive director of the Residents of the Exchange District, also volunteered for Vote Open and was disappointed by the result, but said he’s not giving up. 

« We knew it was a big hill to climb, » he said. « It’s very difficult to ask people to spend money for something that may delay their commute, in an area they might not even go to. » 

‘The whole city got to vote’

People didn’t have enough information before this plebiscite, he said, and he expects when cost estimates to fix the concourse come out next year, council may take another look. 

« I don’t vote on a roundabout in River Heights and I don’t vote on a traffic light in Charleswood, and yet the whole city got to vote on a very small expenditure at Portage and Main, » he said.

« I don’t blame this on the voters — this is on city council. »

Council approved the plebiscite question — the first in Winnipeg in 35 years — in July.

Vote Open spokespeople, Adam Dooley (left) and Brent Bellamy (right), took their loss in stride after the city voted in favour of keeping Portage and Main closed on Wednesday. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Downtown successes

« When it comes to our downtown, I believe that all Winnipeggers have a stake in it, » Browaty said. « Public perception of Winnipeg, I think a lot of that comes from downtown. » 

He cited developments in the Exchange, The Forks and True North Square. 

« I don’t think Portage and Main needs to be open for our downtown to succeed. »

Reopening the intersection to pedestrians was part of Bowman’s successful 2014 mayoral campaign, but Browaty pushed for the plan to go to a vote.

Watch re-elected Mayor Brian Bowman speak on the Portage and Main vote:

‘Winnipeggers on both sides of the issue care passionately about our city,’ says Brian Bowman, who was re-elected as Winnipeg’s mayor on Oct. 24. 0:51

Motkaluk said the plan was nothing more than a vanity project for Bowman and the money could be better spent on other things.

Initially, reopening the intersection was projected to cost $11.6 million, including the cost of purchasing more buses to offset rush-hour transit delays.

Plebiscite results aside, the city will still go ahead with $2 million in repairs to the intersection.

The city said earlier this year that even with a « no » vote on reopening the intersection, the repairs, both above and below ground, could result in the removal of some of the concrete barricades.

A CBC-commissioned Probe Research poll conducted in August found a majority of respondents — 67 per cent — opposed the idea of reopening the Portage and Main intersection. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Poll showed strong opposition

CBC-commissioned Probe Research poll conducted in August suggested most people opposed reopening the intersection for three main reasons: concerns about traffic delays, costs and the potential for collisions between cars and pedestrians.

Those who said they wanted the intersection reopened cited concerns about accessibility for people in wheelchairs, the need to design downtown for pedestrians as well as cars, and concerns about safety in the underground concourse and stairwells.

After council approved putting the question on the ballot, a group of Winnipeggers started a Vote Open campaign and pushed for the removal of the barricades, saying reopening the intersection would help revitalize downtown.

​​With files from Bartley Kives and Holly Caruk.


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Kingston police step up enforcement after cannabis legalization – Kingston


Now that marijuana is legal, Kingston police are stepping up enforcement on the roads and making sure their officers are ready to recognize if drivers have smoked up before hitting the road.

Although it may seem like everyone has pot on the brain, on day two of legalization, it seems like business as usual in Kingston.

“To my knowledge, I haven’t seen any issues with drug-impaired driving relating to cannabis,” said Constable Fil Wisniak with Kingston Police.

Police say they have several methods in place to sniff out drivers under the influence of marijuana and other drugs.

When will you be charged for driving after smoking pot? ‘It depends on a case-by-case basis:’ Minister

Const. Wisniak patrols Kingston’s streets, and says police will be vigilant in watching the roads.

“With Kingston police, we’re ready and we’ve been putting a process in place.”

Wisniak has been a part of the pot preparation process. He is trained as a drug recognition expert, which means he knows how to tell when drivers may be under the influence of drugs.

“We do a series of eye examinations and psychophysical tests. A balanced, one-leg balance test and a walk and turn test.”

There are at least two drug recognition experts now trained in Kingston. Wisniak says a number of officers have already trained in standard field sobriety testing, and that with the two types of training, officers will have a good idea of who could be driving while high.

“They are able to determine some level of impairment if they perform poorly on the standard field sobriety test,” Wizniak said. “They would be brought into the station to see a drug recognition expert.”

Global News tests new roadside device testing for cannabis in drivers

As for the controversial Dreger breathalyzer, Kingston police say they’re still looking into it. The device tests saliva for THC levels. It has been shown to be inaccurate because it can pick up trace amounts of THC, and can’t determine whether a person smoked up hours or days before.

And despite all the hype around cannabis, Wisniak says Kingston police haven’t caught anyone high behind the wheel, but they will be ready if they do.

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


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