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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Could eviction changes help fix a broken system or lead to good tenants being unduly turfed? Depends on who you ask

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Last year Mark Farquharson and his young family were almost evicted. After helping organize strikes against an above-guideline rent increase at his building in Parkdale, the landlord, Nuspor Investments, served him with eviction notices. He was accused of abusing staff and hindering the safety of other tenants. He denied the accusations, and instead accused the landlord of retaliating.

The case went through the hearing process at the Landlord and Tenant Board, and last November the adjudicator sided with Farquharson and dismissed the landlord’s application. Farquharson, who says his family had been under intense pressure throughout the lengthy process, was relieved but made an ominous prediction about the future of renters.

“With Doug Ford in power, it’s going to be even easier for landlords to force people out and raise the rents,” he said at the time of the decision.

Fast forward to Tuesday this week, the Star reported that the Ford government was already looking for ways to speed up eviction processes in Ontario — notably by reducing the waiting periods for eviction notices and using private bailiffs to remove tenants.

The news, which the province in internal government documents portrayed as an effort to make more rental housing available, has sparked strong reactions from both sides. Tenants are worried about being thrown out into the red-hot and increasingly unaffordable housing market, while landlords welcome the proposal as a step toward fixing a “broken” process.

While Farquharson can see the reasoning behind the proposal — “the more people that get evicted for their wrongdoings, the more available homes and rentals for better tenants,” he said — he’s concerned about the lack of protection for good tenants who could get caught in the “greedy” system as housing prices continue to skyrocket.

Farquharson said he pays about $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment, and knows a similar room could go for around $2,000 in the current market. Generally, it is therefore in a landlord’s interest to try and evict longtime tenants in order to make more money on units, he said.

“It’s in their best interest to put applications out to evict people for very minimal situations,” he said, noting a lot of tenants just give up and leave instead of going to the board to fight the evictions.

“This is a vicious loophole and the tenants are on the losing side big time.”

Read more:

Tenants occupy damaged Junction-area house rather than risk losing affordable housing

Ebony Menzies, a Toronto west-end resident who has been evicted twice, called the proposal to ease the eviction process “unfair and downright cruel.”

She said the practice of “renovictions” — in which a landlords pushes tenants out for housing renovations and increase rent prices afterwards — is already rampant, and the province’s new proposal to speed up the eviction process is only going to make the situation worse for tenants.

“It makes me very upset and angry,” said Menzies, who is also a member of affordable housing advocacy group ACORN Toronto. She said more evictions will send more people into homelessness and cause even more problems for a shelter system that’s operating at full capacity.

“I don’t think anybody is ready for that,” she said. “I think it’s a poorly thought out idea. They should instead invest more in community housing.”

In a statement to the Star, the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO) said it welcomes the move and will continue to consult with the province in addressing the housing supply crisis.

“The current Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) process is fundamentally broken and does not work for either landlords or tenants,” said spokesperson Danny Roth.

He said the board often doesn’t meet its timelines to process applications, taking months longer than in other provinces. In places such as Toronto, even enforcing an order after the board has issued it can take an “additional two or three months due to capacity issues,” he said.

Joe Movassaghi, who owns a condo he rents out in downtown Toronto, said he welcomes the proposal and hopes it will help him get out of a situation he’s been stuck in for the past three years.

He said his tenant has been putting the unit on Airbnb, “sometimes to 20 or 30 people,” despite the contract stating subleasing is not allowed. He took the issue to court, but found out that there’s no law against it in Toronto.

“I actually have a lot of stress and anxiety because of it. My hands are totally tied as a landlord,” he said, noting he’s also been given rent cheques that have bounced.

He hopes the proposal can make it fair for him as an investor to have an option to evict a tenant if they misbehave or breach the rental contract.

“I respect the rules around rent control but it has to be fair for me as an investor,” he said. “Otherwise I want out now so I can sleep at night.”

At Queen’s Park, NDP MPP Suze Morrison expressed alarm at the revelations in the Star about the government’s proposal to expedite evictions.

“At a time when the rising cost of housing is making it harder for Ontario families to find a place they can afford, and keep a roof over their heads, Doug Ford’s Conservatives are focused on helping landlords toss tenants out on the street faster,” said Morrison (Toronto Centre).

“Everyday Ontarians need more affordable places to live — not more crackdowns on renters.”

With files from Robert Benzie

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

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Trudeau’s ‘all are welcome’ immigration system damages its integrity: Scheer – National

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the prime minister damaged the integrity of Canada’s immigration system when he tweeted two years ago that Canadians will welcome all those fleeing persecution, terror and war.


READ MORE:
Scheer says Canada ‘can’t afford four more years of Justin Trudeau’

“In terms of illegal immigration, we have seen this problem grow for the past few years. We all remember Justin Trudeau’s famous tweet where he couldn’t resist jumping in on Twitter and tweeting out all are welcome,” Scheer said Friday at a town hall in suburban Vancouver held by the Surrey Board of Trade.

“Well, people have taken him up on his word. The problem is that that damages the integrity of our immigration system and people who are trying to come to Canada the right way are now having to wait longer,” he said to applause from members of the audience.

In January 2017, Trudeau posted on Twitter: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

WATCH: Scheer says PM fooling Canadians with carbon bill bigger than savings






He made the post shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning entry of citizens from seven countries with majority-Muslim populations for 90 days.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada says 34,854 refugee claims were made by irregular border crossers between February 2017 and September 2018 and of those 3,142 – or nine per cent – were accepted. Some 2,429 were denied and 28,314 are pending. It says there has been an “influx” of irregular border crossers.

Trudeau recently warned people to be wary of fear-mongering about immigration, suggesting the issue will be a hot-button topic during the federal election campaign this fall.


READ MORE:
Scheer ‘cash-for-access’ fundraiser comes under Liberal scrutiny

Scheer said he has met people who spent years in a refugee camp waiting to enter Canada and don’t understand why someone can enter through upstate New York.

The parliamentary budget officer recently reported that the influx of asylum seekers at the border is on course to cost Ottawa more than $1 billion, he added.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan has criticized the Conservatives and Liberal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen for using the word illegal to describe people crossing the U.S. border seeking asylum. Hussen said he was using the word to describe the act of crossing the border outside of a normal point of entry, but he had never described asylum seekers themselves as “illegal.”

WATCH: Everyday Canadians can’t afford 4 more years of Trudeau: Scheer






Asked by a reporter about his use of the word illegal, Scheer said there’s a sign at the border that says it’s illegal to cross into Canada outside of regular checkpoints.

He said when he talks to new Canadians, they express frustration at how long it took them to be allowed into the country compared with people crossing the U.S. border.

“To see a government that allows people to come and jump the queue and skip the line, that frustrates them,” Scheer said.


READ MORE:
Andrew Scheer says Justin Trudeau is Canada’s most divisive prime minister

The Conservatives were probably planning to highlight immigration policies in the election, but the new People’s Party of Canada led by former Tory MP Maxime Bernier is likely causing them to double down on the issue, said political scientist Hamish Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley.

“It’s going to be a wedge issue and it’s going to place the Conservatives and the People’s Party on one side and the Liberals and the NDP on the other side,” Telford said in an interview.

Asked whether the People’s Party is pushing him farther right on immigration, Scheer replied: “It’s not about left or right on this issue. It’s about what’s right for Canada. I’m going to continue standing up for principles and not be worried about the politics of it.”

Bernier’s party has promised to reduce the total number of immigrants to 250,000 a year, increase border security and end reliance on the United Nations for refugee selection.

WATCH: Scheer says Trudeau won’t say how much carbon tax will cost






Telford said Trudeau’s 2017 tweet and welcoming stance toward Syrian refugees likely haven’t lost the Liberals any supporters and may have actually gained them some progressive voters. But it has also produced an angry reaction among those who oppose the Liberal policies, he said.

The electorate has become more polarized since 2015, he said, noting that in the last general election campaign the Conservatives floated the idea of a hotline to report immigrants bringing in “barbaric cultural practices” and it was poorly received.

“Since then, I think that people who are … tough on immigrants or refugees have frankly been emboldened by the Trump administration in the United States and perhaps movements in Europe as well.”

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Flawed system: Canada’s family reunification program comes under fire – Montreal

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Nivin Zaim dreams of the day her father can move to Canada permanently.

He lives in Denmark, and the 23-year-old flight attendant only sees him once a year.

“He feels life is too short and too precious. And it’s difficult for him to be away from me,” said Zaim, who was born in Denmark but has lived in Montreal with her mother since she was seven.

“Imagine only getting to see your parents once a year. It’s tough, it’s really tough.”

Zaim got excited when she heard about the government’s parent and grandparent sponsorship program. The program allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents to apply to bring their grandparents and parents to Canada as permanent residents.


READ MORE:
Canadians vent frustration on social media after online applications to bring family to Canada fill up in mere minutes

To apply this year, the government turned to an online application process, open at noon on January 28th.

Zaim took the day off work to submit the application. But she never got a chance to actually do that.

She tried logging in at noon, but the application form was nowhere to be found on the Immigration Canada website.

Within minutes, a notice popped up, informing her the application process had closed.

“I could not believe it. I thought surely it was a glitch. I didn’t understand what was going on,” a frustrated Zaim said. “Why is it the system isn’t fair for everyone? Isn’t that something we pride ourselves on, fairness and equality?”

WATCH: Many frustrated after online applications to bring family to Canada fill up in just minutes






Immigration Canada told Global News more than 100,000 people tried accessing the application form on Monday. Only 27,000 succeeded.

In a statement, press secretary Mathieu Genest told Global News:

“We understand that those who were not able to make a submission are disappointed. The Parents and Grandparents program has always been popular….Which is why we quadrupled the intake of applications to 20,000 from 5,000 under the Conservative government.”

Last year, the Trudeau government held a randomized lottery to apply for the program, which also came under heavy criticism for being unfair.

This year, the government changed the system to a first-come, first-served format.


READ MORE:
Canada’s parent, grandparent sponsorship program criticized for lack of fairness

Genest said older systems also came under criticism.

“Under the Conservatives, the process favoured those who could pay courier companies to submit application at local offices.  In response to feedback about this practice, IRCC moved to a random selection process,” Genest wrote. “After extensive consultations and hearing directly from Canadians across the country, we implemented this first come first serve online system to ensure it was fair and created safeguards to ensure the system is not abused.”

Thousands of Canadians who couldn’t access the system complained online on social media. Some are starting a petition to complain about the process.

Experts admit the system’s isn’t perfect.

“Any system to some extent is going to be flawed, in that all the people who want to come in are not all going to be satisfied,” said immigration lawyer David Cohen.

Immigration Canada says relatives can still apply for “Super Visas,” allowing them to stay for two years.

But they won’t have access to health insurance or employment.

“It’s not necessarily because someone is in a dire situation that they want to come to Canada.”

Zaim said she’s already looking ahead to next year, when she hopes, at the very least, she can get her application submitted.

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

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Video from Toronto shelters shows ‘inhumane’ conditions, indicates shelter system is broken, advocate says

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Inside one of Toronto’s warming centres, dozens of small beds are placed alongside the walls, with homeless people covering themselves in Red Cross-issued blankets.

At a 24-hour respite centre that’s supposed to host 100 people, many rows of small beds are lined up in a dimly lit hallway. Some people are curled up in their beds, others are milling around. There’s indistinctive noise from all around, and at some point someone somewhere seems to be banging on the door.

A video taken from inside the city’s respite centres and shelters shows conditions in which homeless people are living on a particularly cold evening in January 2019. This clip has been shortened from the original 6-minute version.

“Someone in there?” a voice asks later, as a note indicates one of four washroom stalls is out of order.

That’s part of what is contained in a six-minute video secretly filmed this past weekend offering a glimpse inside various drop-in centres and respite and warming locations as the city grapples with housing the homeless population amid extreme cold weather.

Street nurse and longtime homeless advocate Cathy Crowe said the “inhumane” conditions observed at the sites indicate how the shelter system is broken.

“We are now in a position where we are housing people in places that are not shelters,” she said of the city’s overnight drop-in, respite and warming centres, where more than 1,000 people — young and old, male and female — are currently being housed.

“That’s the only place they can go, and they are going to be there for weeks and months on end.”

In addition to existing shelters, the city has opened a number of 24-hour respite sites and drop-in centres to help homeless people who need shelter during the extreme cold weather period.

Crowe described the “shame” of living in a “dismal-looking” and crowded hallway with not enough space for people to securely store their belongings. Bathrooms and showers are scarce, and a number of them are out of order.

Some of the occupants are in wheelchairs, use walkers or have others medical issues, making it difficult for them and the rest of occupants to feel properly cared for, she said.

A secretly filmed video shows conditions inside various Toronto drop-in, respite centres.
A secretly filmed video shows conditions inside various Toronto drop-in, respite centres.  (YouTube)

“There’s a lot of coughing, a lot of tension,” said Crowe, noting the city’s response to the homeless issue has created “a second-tier of shelter that’s not really proper shelter.”

She said it is important for the public to see videos and images from inside the centres to understand the magnitude of the issue.

“I think they’re used to seeing pictures like that after a catastrophic thing like hurricane Katrina or in other countries a tsunami or a mass of fire or power outage,” she said.

Cathy Crowe stands beside a homeless memorial at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto on January 12, 2016. Crowe, a street nurse and longtime homeless advocate, says the “inhumane” conditions observed at the city's  drop-in centres indicate that the shelter system is broken.
Cathy Crowe stands beside a homeless memorial at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto on January 12, 2016. Crowe, a street nurse and longtime homeless advocate, says the “inhumane” conditions observed at the city’s drop-in centres indicate that the shelter system is broken.  (Randy Risling/Toronto Star)

Crowe and other advocates will join some city councillors on Tuesday to lobby for the ongoing homelessness issue to be declared an emergency, and seek for more help from all levels of government and other organizations. Four homeless people have died on the streets so far this year, including Hang Von, 58, who was struck by a garbage truck driver last week.

Mayor John Tory has been reluctant to officially declare an emergency situation over the homeless issue, something Crowe called “upsetting.”

“He used the word ‘urgent’ but refuses to use ‘emergency’ or ‘crisis’ or ‘disaster,’” she said. “I think he is extremely out of touch with the overall situation and continues to stigmatize the issue by blaming it on either mental health issues or refugees, and it’s just so wrong.”

Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat said the city’s own report on street needs assessment last year showed 32 per cent of respondents had a mental health issue and 27 per cent had an addiction issue, while 40 per cent were refugees or asylum claimants.

“The Mayor is being honest with the public about the underlying issues putting additional pressure on our shelter system and his commitment to working with city council, city staff, community organizations, and the other governments to tackle homelessness and the issues that contribute to homelessness,” he wrote in a statement.

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

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Edmonton winter warming bus helps city’s homeless chart a route to survival

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Mother of adult with autism calls Alberta’s support system ‘broken’

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A Calgary mother says she can no longer take care of her grown son with developmental disabilities, and she’s been fighting for years to get the provincially-funded support he needs to live on his own.

Lisa Matthews describes her 24-year-old son, who has autism, as gentle, artistic and fun-loving. But at six feet three inches and 450 pounds, Nicholas Matthews also faces many challenges.

« I’m afraid I’m going to find him dead in his room, » she said.

Lisa says her son struggles with depression and an eating addiction, and he spends most of his time in his bedroom working on art projects.

There have been violent outbursts and he has even attempted suicide.

« For 4½ years, we’ve been begging and pleading to get help to get Nicholas living outside of our house. »

Nicholas Matthews’ parents say they’ve been waiting for a supportive living arrangement for him through Alberta’s PDD program for more than four years. (Submitted)

While they do have funding for help inside their home, the family has been asking the province — through its Persons with Developmental Disabilities program (PDD) — for a supportive living arrangement so Nicholas can live on his own with some help.

But, according to Lisa, they’ve been faced with a barrage of setbacks, including high turnover of PDD staff. Nicholas has had six different caseworkers in four years.

« The system is a mess. There’s too much turnover. There’s too much transition … it’s broken, » she said.

To make matters worse, Lisa and her husband, Art, say they’re now struggling with physical and mental health problems they attribute to chronic stress. Art has heart problems, which required triple bypass surgery a year ago, and Lisa struggles with depression and a health condition that is still being investigated by doctors.

« [I’m] feeling helpless and hopeless because I don’t know where we go from here » she said.

Long waits a growing concern

A decade ago, Lyndon Parakin, executive director of Autism Calgary, would hear from one or two families a year in this situation.

He now hears from as many as five families per month.

« Unfortunately it’s becoming more common, » said Parakin, adding he worries about the toll these long waits for service can take on individuals and their families.

« Sometimes matters get so bad that they’re having to go to the hospital to get some help because there’s risk of harm to themselves and others, » he said.

« It becomes wearing. Your own mental and physical health is at risk, » said Parakin.

Parakin says the province needs to create a better way of transitioning people with autism to different types of care and supports as parents age or are no longer able to cope.

Lyndon Parakin, executive director of Autism Calgary says long waits for supportive living arrangements through PDD are becoming more and more common. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Province responds

According to the province, 60 to 70 Albertans are currently eligible for, but not receiving services through the PDD program, which is currently under review.

« [It] would not be my experience that things take that long. If the family needs supports, we would be looking to provide supports as soon as possible, » said Roxanne Gerbrandt, executive director of the disability services branch with the department of community and social services.  

She says four years is not a typical wait for a supportive living arrangement.

« How long that takes to find a right match can depend person-to-person based on the uniqueness of their needs or even the complexity of their needs, » she said.

Other factors can also play a role in wait times, according to Gerbrandt, including specific location requests, requirements that a home be on one level, safety concerns, and finding the right supportive roommate.

« Sometimes we can offer family supports that they may or may not choose to accept, » she said.

‘I’m done. I’m so tired’

While it won’t discuss specific cases, it appears the province has a different account of how long Nicholas Matthews has been on the wait list.

In a recent email to Lisa, a government official stressed the PDD team has been working with the family for just over a year to find a supportive living arrangement and that a possible placement was identified earlier this year, but turned down.

According to Lisa, they were concerned the placement wasn’t a good fit and were unable to arrange a time to view the home.

Several hours after CBC News first requested information about their case, the province contacted Lisa about two more potential homes, but she says neither worked out and the search continues.

If a home isn’t found soon she says she may consider a drastic step — dropping her son off at a police station or PDD office.

« [We] can’t continue on the way we’ve been going. I’m done. I’m so tired, » she said.

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Premier John Horgan opens door to including dental coverage within B.C.’s health care system

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B.C. Premier John Horgan is not opposed to the idea of the province covering dental care as part of the provincial health care system.

Horgan was asked about the issue as part of a year-end interview with Global News.

“We have been looking at it and hopefully we will be able to do something about it in the next budget,” Horgan said.

WATCH: March 2018 — B.C. to increase number of annual dental surgeries






The Ontario NDP unveiled a campaign promise in March in to extend dental care to people in the country’s most populated province without insurance coverage.

The NDP estimated the plan would provide dental benefits to 4.5 million Ontarians at a cost of $1.2 billion.


READ MORE:
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath pitches public dental plan

The plan would cover basic procedures such as dentures, exams, X-rays, fillings, cleanings and restorative work.

“It would take pressure off of our doctors’ offices, and off of our hospitals, where people are now forced to go when they’re in absolute crisis when it comes to their mouth and their oral health and their dental needs,” NDP leader Andrea Horwath said during the election campaign.

Horwath is now the leader of the official opposition, losing to current Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Under the plan, public cash would cover care for seniors without insurance and those on social assistance.

For employers, the NDP would make offering a minimum standard of dental coverage mandatory, including for part-time and contract workers.


READ MORE:
Overcoming barriers to affordable dental care

British Columbia’s Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums currently cover medically necessary services provided by physicians and midwives, dental and oral surgery performed in a hospital, eye examinations that are medically required and some orthodontic services.

Horgan said that his own experience has made it clear to him how important dental services are.

WATCH: March 2018 — Vulnerable B.C. children will have quicker access to dental surgery






“I got my two front teeth knocked out playing basketball when I was a kid and it meant that I was always tentative about smiling. Dental care, dental health is critically important to physical well being as well as mental well being,” Horgan said.

“I believe it’s an area we need to move into with kids and get good habits with good oral hygiene and make sure that is funded.”


READ MORE:
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In 2008, the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) supported a motion to ask the province to take immediate steps to remove access barriers to dental health care, allocate more funding for basic dental health care insurance for low income individuals and families in the province, and work with the BC Dental Association to resolve the discrepancy between the BC Dental Fee guide and the actual fees charged by dentists.

In 2018, UBCM discussed requiring the Ministry of Health to add basic dental care to MSP coverage and to have B.C. mandate a provincial requirement for all public water source treatment to include fluoridation where naturally-occurring levels do not meet the minimum suggested level of 0.07mg/L.

  • With files from Kerri Breen

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

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Council powerless to stop provincial takeover of TTC subway system, confidential city report says

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Premier Doug Ford’s government has the legal authority to unilaterally take over the TTC subway system without offering the city as much as a cent in compensation, according to a confidential council report.

The four-page document written by the city’s legal department and obtained by the Star is a confidential attachment to a public report released Monday on the province’s plan to take ownership of the subway network. The confidential legal opinion provides advice to councillors ahead of a key council vote on the proposal expected Thursday.

The legal opinion lays out in stark terms how few options the municipal government likely has to prevent the province from taking control of the subway on terms dictated almost entirely by Queen’s Park.

“The province can by legislation take over ownership of subway assets, including real property and other assets, and can do so without compensation to the City of Toronto or the TTC if the legislation expressly provides that no compensation shall be payable,” the report reads.

While generally no entity in Ontario can take property from another without providing some kind of compensation, according to city staff the provincial government has the jurisdiction to legislate property rights in the province and “it could enact legislation that explicitly removes the city and/or the TTC’s right to compensation for subway lands, fixed assets, and chattels.”

The province could also pass a law that would compensate the city for its subway assets at a level below market value or “otherwise in an amount considered to be inadequate by the city,” the report states.

Legal staff speculate that by assuming responsibility for subway maintenance or other costs currently paid by the city as part of the upload, the Progressive Conservative government could argue it had provided fair compensation for Toronto’s rail assets.

The report warns that the province could even leave Toronto saddled with the debt the city has accrued in the course of funding the subway network it has owned for decades. That’s because debt issued by the city to finance subway capital costs are general obligation debentures, and are “not secured by the subway asset.”

“Accordingly, the transfer of the asset does not affect the debt,” the report says.

City legal staff say that by law the province could even completely dissolve the TTC.

Only the federal government could put a check on provincial authority over the subway system, according to the opinion.

Under the Constitution Act, the federal government could theoretically claim jurisdiction over the subway system by declaring it to be a public work for “the general advantage of Canada.”

Historically, the federal government has most frequently used this power to assume control over railways.

“The Toronto subway system could be seen to be analogous to a railway due to its importance in keeping the country’s largest economic region running,” the report states.

However, the city would have no ability to compel Ottawa to step in, and the Canadian government assuming jurisdiction of the subway would likely subject it to federal regulations, a change that would have uncertain implications for the transit system.

At its meeting Thursday, council is expected to vote on whether to authorize city manager Chris Murray to begin talks with the Ford government about the upload, including entering into an information-sharing agreement to provide details about the subway that could help facilitate a provincial takeover.

Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek wants written commitment from Mayor John Tory by Thursday that the city will participate in the information-sharing arrangement.

In the public report released Monday, Murray recommended the city engage with the province in order to better understand its goals and “ensure the province understands the city’s key interests and objectives.”

Tory has said he will support engaging with the province, arguing that with Queen’s Park wielding so much legislative power, the only chance the city has to preserve its interests is to have a voice at the table.

He has said he wants more information about what the province is planning but that any upload scheme must be beneficial for the city, transit riders and TTC workers.

Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 12, Toronto—St. Paul’s), who opposes the upload, wouldn’t comment on the confidential report. But he said the city likely has little choice but to engage with the province.

He argued that doesn’t mean the city should “capitulate” to any provincial plan that would disadvantage Toronto residents and transit users.

“I support in principle being at the table to discuss transit with the province given that they have an enormous amount of power over us, and we can’t deny that reality,” he said.

“I don’t believe the city should go to the table and just say, ‘hey, how can we help you screw us?’”

The Ontario PCs have argued that the upload would be beneficial for the region’s transit system because the province is best equipped to efficiently finance new lines and create a seamless network across municipal boundaries. The party says that while Queen’s Park would take ownership of the subway, the TTC would be responsible for operations and the city would still collect fare revenue.

Transit advocates, the TTC’s largest union and some councillors vigorously oppose the proposal, warning the PCs would privatize work on the subway, sell off its assets, and extend lines to the party’s political base in the GTA suburbs at the expense of building the badly needed Relief Line.

With files from David Rider.

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

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WSIB staffers decry chaos caused by ‘broken’ system that’s putting injured workers at risk

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Chronic understaffing, long wait times, and chaotic case management at Ontario’s workers’ compensation board are putting vulnerable accident victims at risk, compromising the integrity of the provincial compensation system, and jeopardizing financial accountability, according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s own employees.

Staff made the criticisms in response to a September blog post by WSIB president Tom Teahen, which solicited feedback on whether the board was making Ontario a safer place to work, improving recovery for injured workers, meeting customers’ needs and acting in a financially responsible manner.

On all four counts, the 60 responses obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request, show the answer was overwhelmingly no.

“Accident rates are going up while resolutions to (injured worker) claims are going down,” said one employee. “There are not enough people to process work and queues keep piling up, while people that are disabled from a workplace injury are waiting for someone to get back to them. I find that embarrassing.”

In another post, an employee complained they were “frustrated” by delays faced by injured workers calling the board for help, some of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder. The employee said call wait times could sometimes mount to 20 minutes — enough time for “somebody to give up and take their own life.”

“It is not unheard of that clients complain of waiting in excess of 30 minutes to reach the right person,” said another. “If you can’t help an injured worker who’s (sic) literal livelihood depends on the WSIB within a reasonable time frame, that’s an incredible shortfall.”

The September blog post came in the wake of a new service delivery model — rolled out in July at the board — which aims to make the compensation claim process more effective and “help people recover and return to work quicker.” The change came in response to rising claim duration and recovery times.

Under the new model, injury claims no longer have a dedicated case manager. Instead, callers go into a general pool and are triaged based on the complexity of the case. The idea is that complex claims get more focused attention from experienced staff, while uncontentious claims are processed more efficiently.

WSIB chief operating officer Brian Jarvis said in an interview with the Star last week that the new model experienced some early “bumps on the road,” but said statistics already show 95 per cent of injured workers are now receiving compensation decisions within 10 days, up from 89 per cent in May, and that 60 per cent were back on the job in days, up from 51 per cent.

“We’re trying to help the injured workers that come to us every day who need our help and need our support and we’re seeing examples of how we’re doing better recently than we were prior to making these changes,” he said.

“The improvements were really designed to get the right people getting the right claims at the right time,” he added, noting other positive new changes included giving workers an option to upload documents electronically rather than using fax or mail.

In response to Teahen’s September blog, some board employees expressed skepticism.

“I beg you to look beyond the stats to ask questions about what is not being captured,” said one. “To really listen to what many of us are saying to you on this blog and realize the system is putting some of these workers at risk of being lost within the system.”

Statistics obtained by the Star through its Freedom of Information request, which also sought all records pertaining to the new service delivery model, show average call wait times were up from 39 seconds in 2017 to almost two-and-a-half minutes in 2018. Jarvis said wait times are now under two minutes “on most days.”

Numerous employees complained that losing ownership over claim files meant they had to start from scratch each time an injured worker or an employer called them.

“As all of our telephone conversations are recorded, there is no reason senior management would not (be) able to hear the stress, fear, anger and uncertainty that front-line staff hear every day,” said one employee.

“I continue to see obscenely long claims durations (which, of course, is not financially responsible) and an inability to attend to every claim to provide the service each worker, employer or provider deserve.”

“Please do not add further chaos to an already broken model,” said another.

While numerous employees said there was a need for change at the board, the vast majority raised significant concerns about the new approach — and more importantly, the lack of staff available to make it work.

Staff are “burning out due to the unmanageable caseloads yet we are being told to ‘do more with less.’ Not sure how that is humanly possible, ” said one employee, while another called the number of empty desks due to stress leave “staggering.”

“This work environment not only adds undue stress, it is teetering on compromising my professional standards, which I am not OK with,” added one registered nurse at the board.

The records obtained by the Star show that there has been a 33 per cent increase in allowed lost-time injury claims between 2015 and 2018, from 51,500 to almost 70,000 projected claims this year. But despite this increased volume, the number of front-line staff at the board fell by 9 per cent over the same period. There are currently 785 case managers and adjudicators at the board, down from 815 in 2015.

“We are drowning,” said one employee in response to Teahen’s blog.

Harry Goslin, president of the Ontario Compensation Employees Union, said he has “continued to raise concerns about rising work volumes.”

“The WSIB on the other hand maintains the view that there is not a workload problem,” he told the Star.

As previously reported by the Star, a January poll conducted by the union found that 90 per cent of the 263 employees surveyed said work-related stress was impacting their personal lives and 92 per cent attributed the workload issues to understaffing at the WSIB.

Asked if the board would commit to hiring more front-line staff, Jarvis said his organization would replace staff who retired or were moved within the organization, but said hiring was “based on the data that shows how much activities and claims we have.”

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Employees made clear in their responses to Teahen’s blog that they cared deeply about serving Ontarians and the integrity of the compensation system.

“Our founding father created a fair compensation system whereby workers gave up their right to sue their employers in exchange for a fair and compassionate system that adjudicated (a claim) on the basis of its own merit,” said one 30-year veteran.

“How can adjudicators make the best possible decisions if they are short-changed in training, do not have enough people to do the job, have unreasonable time frames, and have processes in place that short-change the worker?”

“We as the employees of WSIB do care about the outcomes for our workers and the experience they have,” added another.

“We want to be proud of where we work and say what good things we are doing. Right now I am not feeling that.”

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz

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Get ready for another test of the wireless emergency alert system

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Emergency officials will conduct another test of the country’s new wireless alert system later this month, after an initial test in May failed to reach some mobile users.

The alert will be sent out in all provinces and territories at 1:55 p.m. local time on Nov. 28 except for Quebec, where the alert will go out an hour later at 2:55 p.m.

Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) requires that all wireless carriers be capable of warning their subscribers of imminent safety threats, such as tornadoes, floods, Amber Alerts or terrorism.

Since the wireless alert system was implemented in April, « close to 100 alerts and updates have been successfully delivered to warn Canadians of imminent threats, » according to the CRTC, Canada’s telecommunications regulator.

On a smartphone, users should hear a tone similar to an ambulance siren, feel their device vibrate and see a notification displayed on-screen.

Alerts will also go out across radio and television stations at the same time. The system, called Alert Ready, is operated by Pelmorex, which is the parent company of The Weather Network.

The CRTC says that the additional testing is being conducted to raise awareness and « to address any outstanding issues that could reduce the system’s effectiveness, » after the first test failed to reach some mobile phone users across the country — and in Quebec, failed to work at all.

To receive the alert, users must have a relatively modern device that is connected to their carrier’s LTE network, as well as have the latest software updates and support for wireless public alerts.

The CRTC expects that by April 2019 all new devices sold in Canada will be able to receive emergency alerts, but is encouraging Canadians to contact their wireless carriers if the have a supported device that isn’t receiving alerts.

Canadians can also check to see if their devices is compatible on the Alert Ready website.

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