A photo taken on Toronto’s Corso Italia 49 years ago became a family legend. No one saw it — until now

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Mary and Nick Pascale have always told their children about the summer day, nearly 50 years ago, when a newspaperman snapped their photograph on Corso Italia.

In 1970 they had just started dating. Nick was 19, welding in a factory by night and studying at the Marvel Beauty School by day. Mary was nearly 16 — in high school, working part time at Mr. Textile on St. Clair W., the place where Italian ladies shopped for imported silk, wool and Crimplene, that miraculous stretch fabric.

On St. Clair Ave. W. in 1970, photographer Bob Olsen asked Nick if he would pose for a photo, then he saw Mary walking toward them and changed his plan slightly.
On St. Clair Ave. W. in 1970, photographer Bob Olsen asked Nick if he would pose for a photo, then he saw Mary walking toward them and changed his plan slightly.  (Bob Olsen / Toronto Star)

It was a Saturday in July when Mary and Nick decided to meet on St. Clair. Mary had lived in Canada for about four years, and the street felt like home with all the Italian voices. Money was tight, and if she wanted the latest fashions, she sewed them herself. Nick can still remember the softness of the jersey knit fabric of her red paisley mini-dress. He was about two years in Canada then, by way of Milan, and he lived with his sister in Toronto, where fashion was “zero.”

A Star photographer named Bob Olsen was walking along St. Clair W. and College St. that summer, taking pictures of Toronto’s growing Italian community.

According to the 1971 census, there were 270,000 Italians in Metro Toronto, many arriving after the Second World War. Men found jobs in the construction industry, and many Italian women worked in factories. More than 90 per cent of Italian families owned their own homes or were planning to buy them, according to a survey by Corriere Canadese, the city’s Italian-language newspaper.

Italians had changed Toronto forever, and it wasn’t just the cement verandas. “The town’s cosmopolitan flavour, due in large part to the Italian influence, is several kilometres removed from the homburg-and-briefcase, roast-beef-sandwich Toronto of the early 1950s,” Star reporter Trent Frayne wrote in 1970, noting that Italians had worked hard for a good life in Canada, but faced challenges. Children learned English in school, but the language divide was hard on adults.

According to the 1971 census, there were 270,000 Italians in Metro Toronto, many arriving after the Second World War.
According to the 1971 census, there were 270,000 Italians in Metro Toronto, many arriving after the Second World War.  (Bob Olsen / Toronto Star)
The image of Nick and Mary, who in 1970 had just started dating, was arresting. But what became of the photo, and the couple?

Olsen asked Nick if he would pose for a photo, then he saw Mary walking toward them on the south side of St. Clair, east of Lansdowne Ave., and changed his plan slightly. He didn’t know that Nick and Mary were an item ever since they met at La Rotonda, a restaurant and dance hall on Dufferin St., where every Sunday afternoon Italian teens danced to live bands. Southern Italian parents were especially strict so Mary pretended she was going to the library, but her dad knew better.

One Sunday, Nick was there. He ordered a Coke, and held a cigarette to look cool. He saw Mary in her red leather skirt and white blouse, turning down every guy who asked for a dance. What’s she here for if she doesn’t want to dance? he thought. He walked over to her, prepared to make a point, but he asked her to dance instead. She had already noticed him when he walked in, handsome in beautiful Italian clothes.

Part of a photo series on Toronto's Italian neighbourhood in the summer of 1970.
Part of a photo series on Toronto’s Italian neighbourhood in the summer of 1970.  (Bob Olsen / Toronto Star)

They danced all afternoon.

They were both born in small towns in Calabria, the sun-drenched southern region where the air was fragrant with sage, rosemary and oregano, and a faint smoky smell from the small fires that always seemed to be burning.

At the dance, someone had a car, and a group of them went to Vesuvio’s Pizzeria in the Junction. Nick passed her a family business card for a painting company. Call me, he said. “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles was playing on the radio.

Olsen didn’t know any of this, when he snapped their photo in front of a small grocery store on St. Clair. The story about the Italian community ran that fall, but not their photo, which was filed away in a plastic box of slides in the newsroom. The couple married four years later. Mary sewed the blue silk bridesmaid dresses. Three children followed. She worked at COSTI, an organization that had been founded to help Italian immigrants adjust to life Toronto. (As the city became more multicultural, the organization widened its focus.) Nick became an in-demand hairstylist in Yorkville.

  (Bob Olsen/ Toronto Star)

In 1993, they opened a gourmet grocery shop near Yonge and Eglinton, with Italian deli, cheese and imported food. All the while, they wondered about the photo. It became a family legend, and even this past Christmas they were talking about it. Their daughter Cinzia always wanted to see it. Her parents didn’t have a lot of money then, and cameras were expensive. There weren’t many photos.

Toronto Star visuals editor Kelsey Wilson, who runs the @torontostararchives account, recently found the box of extrachrome slides in the newsroom. She posted the photos online in January, and one of the most arresting images was a woman in front of a St. Clair grocery shop, a young man beside her, with a child in an apron holding an orange. People recognized her face.

Not long after, Mary was at the back of Pascale Gourmet when a customer came in waving her phone: Is this you?

Mary and Nick Pascale and their daughter Cinzia hold a framed copy of the photo taken by Bob Olsen in 1970. They're pictured at the grocery store they own, Pascale Gourmet.
Mary and Nick Pascale and their daughter Cinzia hold a framed copy of the photo taken by Bob Olsen in 1970. They’re pictured at the grocery store they own, Pascale Gourmet.  (Toronto Star)

Mary saw the sunny Saturday of 49 years ago on the screen. She screamed. She jumped up and down. She drove home where Nick was busy making dinner. He shrugged it off at first, and then he “really saw it.”

It was the photo. The photo.

“I had tears,” he says. “I really had tears.”

At their shop, where you can buy sandwiches named for customers, or try “The Mary” or “The Nick,” they hold up the slides to the light and Mary reflects on how they “grew up together.” “The Long and Winding Road” was on the radio this morning, she says. It’s been the song of their life.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re still together. That’s what I find is amazing,” she says. “Here we are 50 years later … still very much in love the way we were then.”

  (Bob Olsen / Toronto Star)

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Toronto’s potholes were the No. 1 complaint to 311 last year — and they’re costing us more money

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In an occasional series, the Star delves into 311 data to see what our concerns say about the city. In this fourth instalment, we look at the number one complaint in Toronto: potholes.

In a land not far away, next to a castle on a hill, lies a “republic” with a whimsical approach to dealing with the city.

A pothole graces a street in the west-end “Republic of Rathnelly” neighbourhood, near Casa Loma. It's the number two neighbourhood in the city for complaints about potholes to 311 — and the site of last year’s infamous pothole tomato plants.
A pothole graces a street in the west-end “Republic of Rathnelly” neighbourhood, near Casa Loma. It’s the number two neighbourhood in the city for complaints about potholes to 311 — and the site of last year’s infamous pothole tomato plants.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

Last summer a massive hole that sat unfixed for months on a side street just west of Avenue Rd., steps from Casa Loma, was transformed into an impromptu community garden.

“One of the kids who lived on Poplar Plains Cres. just for a lark threw some tomato seeds into the pothole, and low and behold they started to grow,” recalls Republic of Rathnelly neighbourhood historian Pym Buitenhuis.

“Because the hole was there for so long they evolved into fully grown plants and there were hundreds of tomatoes on them.”

Rathnelly, with boundaries of Avenue Rd., Poplar Plains Cres., Poplar Plains Rd. and the CP Rail tracks, lies in Ward 12 (Toronto — St. Paul’s), which made 1,613 requests to the city’s non-emergency 311 hotline about potholes in 2018.

Read more:

The Fixer: It’s been a tolerable winter for potholes — so far

Toronto is known for dead raccoons and potholes. The city’s 311 nerve centre knows this reputation is well-earned

Is this Scarborough area the noisiest neighbourhood in Toronto?

In a construction-plagued city of aging infrastructure, potholes are a constant scourge almost everywhere. Potholes were the number one complaint to 311 in 2018 with almost 20,000 service requests.

Ward 8 (Eglinton—Lawrence) nudged Ward 12 out of top spot for the most pothole 311 complaints at 1,657; and Ward 11 (University—Rosedale) rounded out the top three at 1,214.

Potholes can come with a big price tag for drivers when they cause damage to cars, and they’re a danger for cyclists, leading them to fall or swerve into traffic. But they’re also costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars as the amount the city pays out on pothole damage claims has skyrocketed, from roughly $245,000 in 2015 to about $807,000 in 2018.

A 2011 city ombudsman’s report found more than 90 per cent of small claims for compensation for pothole damage, flooding from sewer backups and fallen tree limb damage were dismissed by its insurance adjuster. But in 2018, just over half of claims, 55 per cent, were paid out. As well, more drivers made claims in 2018, almost 4,000 compared to 867 in 2015.

The city says this is because of a rough winter that saw three full freeze and thaw cycles, which had a dramatic impact on potholes.

Rathnelly neighbourhood historian Pym Buitenhuis wants the city to come up with a long-term strategy address potholes.
Rathnelly neighbourhood historian Pym Buitenhuis wants the city to come up with a long-term strategy address potholes.  (Toronto Star)

Buitenhuis believes the Rathnelly potholes are “exacerbated” because of persistent work around the High Level Pumping Station on Poplar Plains Rd, central control for the city’s water distribution system.

“You call and you call and you call and you log complaints and nothing seems to happen at any great speed,” she says.

“If a whole waft of tomatoes was able to grow over the space of four months in a hole in the road, clearly something’s not right in the state of Denmark.”

It was a “classic” response for a community that’s long had a “tongue and cheek attitude toward anything to do with bureaucracy,” she says.

The neighbourhood was the site of a tense battle over stopping the Spadina Expressway in the 1960s. Out of that fight emerged a feisty and fierce spirit that saw it “secede” from Canada in 1967 in protest, adopting its own Queen (longtime resident Eileen Robertson, then 97), head of state (Bubbles the poodle), playful name, flag and coat of arms.

The coat of arms now graces street signs in the small but mighty Republic of Rathnelly. Its red brick two- and three-storey homes give it a stately air even on a wet, grey Sunday, where three snowmen wearing bright-coloured toques preside over piles of melting slush.

There’s no sign of the epic hole, which was eventually fixed. But there are plenty of puddles, cracks in the road and black asphalt markings that show past repairs.

Buitenhuis’ neighbour Marnie Gold says the city has been quick to respond to her other 311 complaints, such as those regarding too-long grass in a park nearby. But it’s slower to act on her calls about potholes, she says, and the tomato plants show it.

“The city roads in general are a mess,” she says. “Look how ridiculous this is, you can have like a farm.”

Tomato plants growing in a hole in the Republic of Rathnelly, near Casa Loma, last summer.
Tomato plants growing in a hole in the Republic of Rathnelly, near Casa Loma, last summer.  (Amanda Myers)

City spokesperson Diala Homaidan said in an email that city crews could not find a leak or water main break in the initial Rathnelly hole so the area was backfilled with stone to monitor for any potential leak in spring 2018.

Crews returned to the site in mid-August and determined “there were fractures on the sewer main.” After repairs they completed a permanent backfill with asphalt on Aug. 18, making it fully driveable again.

Another city spokesperson, Eric Holmes, said staff are constantly working to manage the number of potholes on roadways and the resulting claims. This includes pothole-fixing “blitzes” every year as required, re-decking part of the Gardiner in 2018 and an ongoing review of materials used to fix potholes.

The city fixed 133,861 potholes over winter 2018, up from 94,069 in winter 2015, according to numbers provided to the Star.

“Toronto has endured more freeze-thaw cycles over the past few years than what was considered usual. These cycles have had a dramatic impact on our roads and often result in an increased number of potholes,” Holmes said.

“Staff are working hard to repair as many potholes as possible, as quickly as possible.”

The most common streets for pothole complaints based on intersection locations from 311 service requests are Lawrence Ave. E (366), followed by Bathurst St. (347) and Yonge St. (283). Just over half of 311 service requests are logged by intersection.

Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, says potholes are a serious concern for cyclists, as “cars have advanced shock absorption systems. Bikes do not.”

“Anytime you’re driving your car and you feel a pothole, try to imagine what that must feel like for a cyclist,” he said in an email.

They can also cause cyclists to “swerve unexpectedly” into traffic, he said, noting a backlog of funding for road repairs impacts the most vulnerable road users the most.

Potholes are just “a reality” in a place with such extreme weather and fluctuations in temperatures, says Raymond Chan, government relations specialist with Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) — South Central Ontario.

Moisture can seep into cracks in the ground, which expand when the weather changes. When cars roll over them and the pavement or concrete starts to break apart, it can cause pothole.

Toronto’s problem is “quite significant and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon,” he says.

“The more time that you allow for that concrete to break up the more costly it’s going to get,” he says, both for the city to fix the potholes and to pay out motorists whose vehicles are damaged by them.

“We need to make this issue more of a priority than it currently is,” Chan adds.

The city fixed 133,861 potholes over winter 2018, up from 94,069 in winter 2015, according to numbers provided to the Star.
The city fixed 133,861 potholes over winter 2018, up from 94,069 in winter 2015, according to numbers provided to the Star.  (Toronto Star)

But Carleton University professor Abd El Halim thinks it’s the way asphalt is laid down that’s the real problem.

He’s developed a special machine called the AMIR road compactor (Asphalt Multi-Integrated Roller) for paving roads. Instead of oscillating steel wheels that most rollers have, the AMIR has a rubber belt to make sure the asphalt is distributed constantly and consistently.

Steel rollers, he says, leave cracks. Water gets into those cracks, freezes and expands, making them even bigger. Eventually they become potholes.

El Halim developed the first prototype in Cairo, Egypt, where he’s from, in 1987. Since then it’s been used to pave a road in Sydney, Australia, leading from the airport to Olympic Village, he says. Closer to home, construction company Tomlinson started using it on bridge projects in 2012.

But it hasn’t quite caught on.

“If you go on a cracked airplane you’re compromising your life, but if you go on a cracked pavement you’re not really compromising your life,” El Halim says.

“So nobody cares.”

Instead the roads are weakened when the city merely repairs potholes, “because you’re not really solving the major problem, you’re just hiding it.”

Back in the Republic of Rathnelly, Buitenhuis understands the city is growing and that workers are doing their best.

But she feels that paving over potholes is just a “Band-Aid.” A long-term strategy to co-ordinate street work across silos in the city, and with the pothole repair crews, would have a deeper impact, she says.

At any rate, it’s a problem that’s not going away any time soon, and the city should be prepared.

“All of us have observed a general decay in the roads, and as the snow melts … the number of potholes is going to be catastrophic I think for the city,” she says.

“Spring is coming.”

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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Toronto’s plan for ‘balanced’ budget has $79 million in unknown funding and cuts

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City staff say the budget can be balanced by raising property taxes in line with inflation, increasing TTC fares and relying on tens of millions in unknown cuts and yet-to-be secured funding.

The $13.46 billion operating budget was presented to members of council, the media and the public Monday morning. It is a first attempt at balancing the many services and programs the city provides — from snow-clearing to swim classes — with the various ways the city raises money, such as taxing property owners.

The residential property tax increase staff are recommending for 2019 is 2.55 per cent, which the city says is the rate of inflation.

But that first attempt by staff to put together a “balanced” budget includes $79 million in funding or cuts that have not been identified or received, putting that balancing act at risk of tumbling.

Still, Mayor John Tory’s hand-picked budget chief Councillor Gary Crawford claimed the budget is currently balanced at this early stage, saying he hopes the federal government steps up to help with the city’s housing crisis.

“It’s going to be a tough budget year. There are not a lot of extras,” said Crawford. “We will continue to provide the kind of investments that we have over the last number of years, whether it’s poverty reduction, youth hubs, child care, but there will be some challenges, no doubt.”

Crawford said that the city plans to invest in transit, community safety, libraries, Toronto Community Housing repairs and in child care. He said the city will also invest in speeding up the work on the relief line subway and hire an additional 300 police officers. Policing remains the biggest single line item in the budget.

The unclear balancing is the result of three separate issues.

The city is budgeting for $45 million in additional shelter costs but planning to cover that spending by requesting the funds from the federal government, which has not yet promised to cover those costs. Staff attribute the added pressure on the city’s already overcrowded shelters to number of refugees that have migrated to Toronto. City officials have maintained that the federal government has a responsibility to help offset those costs because they are responsible for the policies that control the flow of refugees across the border.

Also unclear is where the TTC will find $24 million in cuts — what senior staff acknowledged at a board meeting last week was required to actually achieve balance, calling it “undetermined corporate reductions.”

And on Monday, new city manager Chris Murray said they still need to find $10 million in additional savings to find balance, which he told committee members is not an insurmountable problem.

Part of the challenge this year is the fact that Toronto can no longer bank on an incredibly hot housing market as it has over the past four years. The MLTT, introduced in 2008, is a tax paid by homebuyers when they take ownership of a property. A slowing housing market has been cited as the reason for the decline.

The staff-attempted balancing also includes a plan to cut the rebates on garbage bins of all sizes. In 2019, cutting the rebate for large bins first would save the city $35 million, staff say.

Critics who have long opposed the strategy of making inflation the target for property tax increases note it does not account for the growing number of new residents moving to the city also rely on public libraries, road maintenance and other daily services.

“I think it’s uninspired,” said Councillor Mike Layton, who sits on the budget committee. “It’s not really leaving us with something that Torontonians can be proud of, that works towards long term solutions in our city around transit, around housing.”

“What I think that the people of Toronto want to see is a government that is wiling to be brave enough to make bold proposals to resolve these issues across our city that we’re seeing and not just hide behind the same old, same old, status quo budget which is what is reflected here.”

The budget launch Monday is just the first step in a process that begins anew each year. After making its way through debates at committee and being subject to comments from the public, the budget will be finalized by council in March.

Because last year was an election year, council has not yet provided staff with direction on the budget.

However, as in previous years, Murray asked all city divisions and agencies to try to keep their budgets at 2018 levels.

Murray said they looked at past direction from council to assume an inflationary-only increase in property taxes.

As he did in 2014, Tory promised to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation this term.

Councillors like Gord Perks say once again that plan is not good enough. He plans to propose an above-inflation tax increase.

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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This is Toronto’s most-ticketed parking spot

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It’s a small part of big-city living that nobody loves: getting a parking ticket.

But parking enforcement is essential to keeping the city running, yielding anywhere from $95 to $100 million in annual revenue.

Sunnybrook hospital at 2075 Bayview Ave. hires its own parking enforcement officers — perhaps accounting for the fact that it tops of list of most-likely place to get a parking ticket.
Sunnybrook hospital at 2075 Bayview Ave. hires its own parking enforcement officers — perhaps accounting for the fact that it tops of list of most-likely place to get a parking ticket.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

In 2017, the most recent year for which complete data is available, more than 2.1 million tickets for parking-related offences were issued across the city, the vast majority of them by about 300 parking enforcement officers who are technically civilian employees of the Toronto Police Service.

Uniformed police officers, including traffic unit officers, issued a mere 10,723 tickets, just 0.5 per cent, according to a police spokesperson.

There’s also a veritable army of municipal law enforcement officers, numbering around 2,500, who are hired by private-property owners and public institutions such as hospitals and universities. This little-known group is empowered to provide security and issue parking tickets at an estimated 12,000 properties across the city.

While all revenue from parking tickets goes directly to city coffers, property owners benefit by ensuring their lots are secure and function smoothly and by sending the message to potential scofflaws that there’s a penalty for not following the rules.

These municipal law enforcement officers — trained and certified by the Toronto Police Service in a program that has been around for two decades — issued about 10 per cent of all parking tickets in 2017.

Here is a list of Toronto’s Top 10 spots for tickets issued in 2017. The numbers, based on an analysis of City of Toronto data, show that hospital visitors, students and even those already facing legal troubles often bear the brunt of parking enforcement.

1. 2075 Bayview Ave. — 8,232 tickets issued

A perennial chart topper, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre has 4,500 parking spaces, which it oversees using its own staff parking officers — certified municipal law enforcement officers — rather than a private company. A statement from the hospital to the Star notes most tickets are issued to people parking in drop-off areas as well as fire and ambulance lanes and spots for people with disabilities. Parking at the hospital is not cheap: $4.75 a half hour or less on weekdays with daily maximums of $26. Evening maximum rates are $10 and weekend/ holiday rates are $15. City coffers were potentially enriched to the tune of $247,205.

20 Edward St.
20 Edward St.  (Rene Johnston)

2. 20 Edward St. — 6,302 tickets issued

There’s a hole in the ground where the World’s Biggest Bookstore operated for 34 years before closing in 2014. But there’s no parking allowed on the north side of the street, a short walk to Yonge St., Yonge-Dundas Square, the Eaton Centre and the 14-storey Atrium on Bay on the south side of Edward St., which houses an Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation prize office.

199 Richmond St. W.
199 Richmond St. W.  (Rene Johnston)

3. 199 Richmond St. W. — 4,060 tickets issued

This 31-storey, 337-unit highrise condominium is located in the heart of the Entertainment District, near the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and venues such as Roy Thomson Hall and the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Parking on private property accounted for 2,292 offences — more than half the total — although not feeding the Green P machines on the south of side of Richmond St. W. resulted in 703 tickets while 324 cars were ticketed for parking during rush hour.

1265 Military Trail.
1265 Military Trail.  (Rene Johnston)

4. 1265 Military Trail — 3,713 tickets issued

Set on 303 acres in the city’s east end and with more than 13,000 undergraduate students attending, the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus has 10 parking lots with daytime rates of $3 an hour, although a main lot has a four-hour maximum stay. The lots are patrolled by city parking enforcement staff and campus police special constables. Parking on private property tickets were issued in all but 29 cases. Tickets may (or may not) be cancelled by campus police. The campus website notes “infractions will not affect your academic record.”

3401 Dufferin Ave.
3401 Dufferin Ave.  (Rene Johnston)

5. 3401 Dufferin St. — 3,468 tickets issued

Yorkdale Shopping Centre bills itself as “Canada’s most profitable shopping centre,” with more than 18 million visitors annually, more than the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the CN Tower and Canada’s Wonderland combined, the company notes in a statement to the Star. “Ensuring that our shoppers have convenient access to parking is a priority,” the company said, noting commuters hoping to save a few bucks on parking is a major issue despite a nearby TTC parking lot. And who knew? Parking at the mall for more than five hours can net you a ticket.

15 Marine Parade Dr.
15 Marine Parade Dr.  (Rene Johnston)

6. 15 Marine Parade Dr. — 3,045 tickets issued

Humber Bay Shores Park has a mere 14 spaces in its parkade, a minuscule amount to handle visitors to the scenic Etobicoke waterfront, which includes Humber Bay Park to the west and the majestic Humber Bay Arch Bridge to the east, which leads to the Martin Goodman Trail along the Toronto waterfront. Not paying the parking machine accounted for two-thirds of total offences while parking along the street resulted in more than 500 tickets. Oddly, 196 vehicles were ticketed at the site for failing to have a valid Ontario licence plate.

LaPlante Ave.
LaPlante Ave.  (Rene Johnston)

7. Laplante Ave. — 2,862 tickets issued

There are no street numbers on Laplante Ave., an innocuous two-block street running between Gerrard St. W. and College St. That’s because everything backs on to Laplante, including the Ministry of the Attorney General at 720 Bay St. and a multi-storey parkade and ground-level parking lot on Elizabeth Street, which faces the east side of the Toronto General Hospital. Not feeding the Green P machine accounted for nearly half of total offences, while parking at prohibited times led to 1,079 tickets being issued.

103 The Queensway
103 The Queensway  (Rene Johnston)

8. 103 The Queensway — 2,747 tickets issued

Two condo towers at 103 and 105 The Queensway, 31 and 28 storeys respectively, are nestled in a private road adjacent to a townhouse development. As a result, the narrow roadway is a fire route, meaning virtually no street parking at all. As a result, the NXT and NXT II have a lot of people parking on their private lots (possibly Airbnb guests, a city official surmised). Of the total, issued, only six tickets were issued for offences other than parking on private property.

150 Gerrard St. W.
150 Gerrard St. W.  (Rene Johnston)

9. 150 Gerrard St. W. — 2,565 tickets issued

With one of the city’s busiest emergency departments with than 28,000 patients annually, the largest organ transplant centre in North America and the number one research hospital in Canada, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people are coming and going at Toronto General Hospital. Ample parking abounds at 201 Elizabeth St. at $4.50 a half hour with $25 daily rates. That’s incentive enough for many to take their chances on illegal street parking. Parking at a signed transit stop resulted in 100 tickets while 120 vehicles were tagged for not having a valid Ontario licence plate.

1000 Finch Ave. W.
1000 Finch Ave. W.  (Rene Johnston)

10. 1000 Finch Avenue West — 2,536 tickets issued

It’s not the Mr. Greek or the GoodLife Fitness in the two 10-storey towers at this location that draws an audience. It’s the Metro North criminal court that has defendants, witnesses, family members and court officers coming and going in such high numbers. The property owner pays the private firm Parksmart to monitor the lot. Only five tickets of the 2,538 total issued in 2017 were for offences unrelated to parking on private property.

David Weisz is a Toronto-based journalist specializing in data-driven reporting. He currently works as the in-house data journalist at Zolo.

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Toronto’s third homicide victim of the year remembered as ‘nice kid’ with potential

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Ross Murray says he will remember his former student Aseel Yehya as a promising, talented musician who was well-liked by his peers.

On Sunday the 18-year-old Yehya was identified by Toronto police as the city’s third homicide victim of 2019.

Known by the nickname “Twix,” Yehya was a “nice kid” who was developing a reputation as a gifted singer and writer of rap lyrics, Murray said.

“He definitely had potential there.”

Murray, now a vice principal at Lakeshore Collegiate Institute, said he met Yehya when the teenager became one of his students in the TDSB School Within A College (SWAC) program at Humber College last year.

“Everyone loved him in the class,” said Murray, who taught Yehya from February to June 2018 at Humber College’s north campus. “He was always laughing, always smiling. I mean, he could have been a little more focused with his school work, but … he was always so respectful, polite. He liked to have a good time, got along with everyone.”

Murray said he was in “disbelief and shock” when he learned of his former student’s death through a message from another student on Friday night.

“I was wondering, what happened and why someone would do this? Was it targeted?” said Murray, who said he also thought of the pain his former student must have suffered.

According to police, Yehya was walking on Elmhurst Dr. near Redwater Dr. in Etobicoke around 9:20 p.m. on Wednesday when he was approached by a dark-coloured vehicle. Gunshots were heard. Yehya attempted to run away but was shot. The vehicle drove off.

Police said bystanders provided medical assistance to the teen as he lay on the ground before he was taken to hospital suffering from “severe trauma.” He died a short time later.

In an interview with Global News last week, Saleh Ali, a man identifying himself as Yehya’s father, said his son had gone out that night to give a friend a T-shirt, and was waiting for a bus when shots rang out.

“He’s a good boy. He’s a young boy. He’s a educated boy. He’s a working boy at the airport. I was very shocked. Never ever seen anything like this happen in all my life. It’s not easy,” Ali told Global News.

A heartbroken Murray took to Twitter on the weekend, posting several photos of Yehya, and calling for an end to gun violence in Toronto. Murray said Yehya was the third student under the age of 18 he has known who lost their life to gun violence in the last nine years.

“I just want people to know that he was a good kid. A nice kid with a whole future ahead of him.”

With files from Jack Hauen

Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: kwallace@thestar.ca

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A third of Toronto’s young adults live with their parents. Here’s how Bloor West compares to the Bridle Path, and more

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Twenty-six-year-old Ian Sinclair has found the perfect basement apartment in the west end.

It’s close to transit, with its own entrance. He even gets along well with his landlords, who happen to be his parents.

“Essentially I’m their basement tenant but not paying rent,” says Sinclair, who works full-time in the public sector. He moved back into the house he grew up in near Runnymede Station after graduating university in 2017.

“I definitely feel fortunate and privileged,” he says of his situation. “I have many friends from school whose parents aren’t from the city so they didn’t have a choice.”

As Toronto’s housing crisis continues, experts are seeing a new divide taking hold among the younger generation: those who can live with their parents — and save for a down payment — and those who can’t.

The highest percentage is found in one of the city’s wealthiest communities, Bridle Path-Sunnybrook-York Mills, where a whopping 75 per cent of young adults are sticking with mom and dad.

“I see living with parents as a form of privilege,” says University of Waterloo assistant professor Nancy Worth, who studied the issue in a 2017 report called GenY at Home.

Worth said living at home is also increasingly being seen as a smart financial move that sets younger people up for success, rather than the old stereotype of the “lazy millennial” trapped in their parent’s basement delaying adulthood.

“It’s sort of introducing a kind of inequality within a generation, rather than just across a generation.”

The trend is not only about money, Worth says, as many boomer parents and millennial kids have a closer relationship than previous generations. Precarious work also pushes people back home, as it’s hard to lock into a 30-year mortgage or even a yearlong lease on a six month contract.

But without affordable housing options for younger people, it’s the family who steps up, and that impacts who is able to then save and buy future real estate, she says.

“If you can’t give your kids $50,000 but you can give them their room back, especially in your large single family home, you’re essentially giving them a savings of rent which can be quite significant in a place like Toronto.”

In the Bridle Path, notoriously one of Toronto’s toniest addresses, adult children living with their parents just makes sense in terms of “pure square footage,” says Barry Cohen, owner of ReMax Barry Cohen Homes Inc., who sells homes in the area.

“It’s quite common through the Bridle Path because the homes are so large and extravagant,” he said, noting there are even a few multi-generational homes in the neighbourhood, with features such as separate entrances, designed for grandma and grandpa as well as mom and dad and adult kids, Cohen notes.

“Why not live in the lap of luxury?”

The lowest rates of young adults living at home are in neighbourhoods along the waterfront and financial district, like Niagara (4 per cent), and the Bay Street corridor (7 per cent), where smaller, newer, condo units make multi-generational living crowded.

“You’re in 450, 500 square feet, you don’t have room for parents, you don’t have room for a cat,” says Nora Spinks, chief executive officer at the Vanier Institute of the Family, with a laugh.

In a city where the average detached home costs about $1.3 million, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board, and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now more than $2,000, say figures from market research firm Urbanation, cost is the biggest factor for many.

It certainly was for Sinclair, who’s saving the “tens of thousands of dollars a year on rent, at least,” for a future down payment, by living with his parents in the west end.

But there are other reasons for living with mom and dad, such as taking care of a sick parent, or coming from a culture where it’s more accepted, says Spinks.

Amani Tarud, 24, who grew up in Chile and has Middle Eastern heritage, says it’s normal and even encouraged for young single people to live with their parents there.

“It’s a very North American ideal that you have to leave once you turn 18,” she says.

Tarud lives in a two-bedroom apartment near Yonge and Eglinton with her mom, twin teenage sisters and the family dog. She graduated from the University of Toronto last June but is sticking around as long as she can to save a nest egg for rent and work on paying off her student loan. Even though it means sharing a bedroom with her mom.

“Does it get in the way of social and romantic life a little bit? Yeah sure, but it’s not terrible by any means at all.”

Tarud, who is working in child and respite care, says a place of her own would be way out of reach financially. And there are perks such as being able to take care of each other when they get sick.

“If I have to live with a roommate it might as well be here, because at least it’s someone that I get along with,” she says.

Urban planner Cheryll Case lived with her parents in the Etobicoke neighbourhood of Kingsview Village The Westway (where 49 per cent of single adults aged 20 to 34 do the same) for a year after graduating from Ryerson University.

She too feels lucky she was able to save up “a good cushion” for rent before moving into a townhouse with her boyfriend and a roommate.

But, she notes, there are many neighbourhoods where if you want to remain in the area the only real choice is to stay in the house you grew up in, because of a lack of affordable housing.

Building more “missing middle” units across the city, lowrise apartments and townhomes that are a more affordable alternative to the two extremes of highrises and single detached homes, would help with supply issues, she says.

“It’s a great privilege to live with your parents and you save money, but it’s a great privilege to be able to live on your own if you so choose,” she says.

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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LCBO thefts have spiralled and now make up nearly half of all shoplifting from Toronto’s most-hit retailers

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The looting of Toronto’s vulnerable LCBO outlets has spiralled to epidemic proportions — undergoing more than a threefold increase over the past five years — and the latest figures show it accounts for nearly half of all shoplifting incidents at the most frequently hit retail outlets in the city.

The issue of brazen, broad-daylight liquor theft, quantified for the first time two weeks ago in a Toronto Star investigation showing the city’s LCBO shops have been targeted more than 9,000 times since 2014, was sobering enough.

An LCBO outlet at 3111 Danforth Ave. has been particulaly hard-hit, staff say. The store had 316 incidents of shoplifting reported to Toronto police from 2014 to June 26, 2018, ranking it the eighth-highest LCBO location in the city for thefts.
An LCBO outlet at 3111 Danforth Ave. has been particulaly hard-hit, staff say. The store had 316 incidents of shoplifting reported to Toronto police from 2014 to June 26, 2018, ranking it the eighth-highest LCBO location in the city for thefts.  (Toronto Star Staff)

But a deeper dive into raw shoplifting data obtained from the Toronto Police Service, isolating the year-over-year increases — together with corroborating accounts from more than 20 LCBO whistleblowers who have approached the Star since the first story was published — now provides a far more detailed understanding of the scope and acceleration of the problem.

Among the revelations:

  • In 2014, police data shows, LCBO outlets accounted for just over a tenth of the shoplifting incidents at the top 100 most frequently targeted addresses of shoplifting incidents in Toronto. By 2017, it was a third. And halfway through 2018, the most recent data in the Star’s possession shows LCBOs accounted for nearly half of shoplifting incidents, with liquor heists happening more than three times as often as they did in 2014.
  • The summer of 2018, where the police data ends, saw a rash of a new and ever more brazen heists at several Toronto LCBOs, involving groups of thieves bypassing the display shelves altogether and instead plundering employee-only warehouse areas, where they helped themselves to entire sealed cases of premium liquors. The repeated raids on LCBO backrooms came as a shock to many anxiety-ridden frontline workers, five of whom told the Star they now fear what they may encounter as they go about what once was the simple, safe task of restocking shelves.
  • As those heists unfolded, in July 2018, an outraged downtown Toronto school principal sounded alarms with LCBO management and the newly elected Ford government, relaying information that children as young as 13 were stealing liquor “with impunity” and calling for an increase in store security. Mark Lasso, principal of Church Street Junior Public School, told the Star he received no response from Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, whose writ includes the LCBO.

The initial response from LCBO management to Lasso came via email from spokesperson Ryan McCann, who said, “Theft, and in this case, underage theft, is extremely concerning, especially since we make every effort to ensure alcohol stays out of the hands of minors.” But despite a follow-up discussion with a senior Toronto-area retail manager, Lasso told the Star he has seen no evidence of enhanced security at the LCBO locations that concern him most.

“It’s disappointing, sad and greatly concerning that this is continuing when measures could be put into place to prevent it,” said Lasso. “The cost of extra security seems to be the only hurdle — a cost that the LCBO could easily afford. As a public trust, I believe they can and need to do better. I think our kids are worth the cost.”

  • Though the police data obtained by the Star speaks strictly to theft at LCBOs in Toronto, a score of frontline LCBO workers from cities throughout Ontario contacted us in response to the initial investigation to say that theft often goes unreported when stores are busy, despite LCBO rules requiring staff to report every incident, both internally and to local police. “It’s both frightening and depressing,” said one. “But in the absence of security and with long lineups at the till, you have to tend to customers before you can get to the paperwork. And sometimes it just doesn’t get done.”

(The Star analyzed data supplied by the Toronto police through a freedom-of-information request for the 100 addresses with the most shoplifting occurrences from 2014 to 2018 by year. An initial request for the top 500 per year was denied because the police service said it couldn’t weed out private residences from an address list that long.)

Read more:

LCBO thefts surge in Toronto

Readers share accounts: ‘Discouraging. Dumbfounded.’

Leaked memo says LCBO ramping up anti-theft efforts

While LCBO management, in its initial response to the Star, acknowledged a general rise in shop theft at liquor stores in urban areas of Ontario, it did not address questions relating to the high-volume thefts described in the story. The Star went back to the LCBO for this follow-up, but the company said it had no comment.

Other frontline LCBO workers describe a morale-crushing reality in which many dread reporting for work. Several told of being threatened with thieves brandishing syringes as they filled loot bags. Another described a thief who “threw human feces” during a heist.

One broad theme among LCBO workers in contact with the Star: fear that the crisis is escalating toward the likelihood that someone, whether staff or even a customer, will pay a fatal price in the absence of more robust security or police response.

“I have been witness to multiple incidents where brave, if foolhardy, customers have chased thieves out of the store and come back to us with large bags full of product,” one frontliner said.

“By policy, and not exactly unjustly, we have our hands tied. And some of us aren’t necessarily into the idea of playing vigilante. Yet we feel the heat from customers for our perceived apathy and inaction.

“We are grateful for public support. I don’t think I need remind anybody that when a shoplifter walks out with something like $800 worth of 12-year-old Glenfiddich stuffed into a bag slung over his back like some miscreant Santa Claus, that is taxpayer money walking out the door with him. If the police won’t respond to these incidents and with the LCBO so seldom wont to prevent them, a store-level employee can’t do a lot.”

Indeed, a “no touch/no chase” policy on shoplifters is the prevailing norm not just at the LCBO but throughout modern-day retail — and few can reasonably expect otherwise from regular shop-floor workers, who never signed up as security. Without exception, every LCBO worker in contact with the Star points to more and better security as the primary solution.

Many frontline LCBO workers from cities throughout Ontario say LCBO theft often goes unreported when stores are busy.
Many frontline LCBO workers from cities throughout Ontario say LCBO theft often goes unreported when stores are busy.  (Toronto Star Staff)

The problem in Toronto also coincides with a police directive early in 2018 that informed LCBO management police would no longer respond in person to liquor theft unless the perpetrators were still inside the store. The theft data the Star is revealing today indicates LCBO theft in the city was at an all-time high as that decision was made.

Police officials in the city have emphasized the need to prioritize violent crime. And, as detailed in the Star’s Dec. 29 investigation, the service is rebounding with a new pilot program at 14 Division dedicated to solving LCBO theft. Though still in its early days, the team at 14 Division landed a major bust just before Christmas, arresting two individuals allegedly involved in a liquor theft ring of as many as 12 people.

Yet within LCBO circles, in the wake of the Star’s first report, insiders have sent distressing signals suggesting LCBO management are currently preoccupied with locating the author of an anonymous plea for help mailed to the Star, which triggered our initial investigation.

“Please keep me anonymous as they already have started a witch hunt in our district looking for your first source,” wrote one Toronto-area frontline worker. “This story is so deep and again thanks for your reporting. We are all stressed and anxious every damn shift.”

All current LCBO workers providing information to the Star are running the risk of instant dismissal. But the gag does not extend to former LCBO employees, some of whom have reached out to say on the record what active staff cannot.

“One thing I want to say is I really want to commend the person who sent that letter because whoever it was, they had a lot of courage,” said Karen Pound, who retired three years ago after a 35-year career with the LCBO, first as a cashier and later as an assistant manager.

“He or she put their job in jeopardy. Because that’s how bad it is. Everybody is afraid.”

Pound, who worked at several Hamilton-area LCBOs, said that “theft was brutal” as much as a decade ago — but largely confined to “small-time thefts” of one or two bottles. But the modern-day reality is that such minor theft is increasingly interspersed with brazen, big-bag heists that can involve duffel bags filled with premium liquors.

“The problem is all stores are kind of set up the same,” said Pound. “So when you come through that turnstile, you have all that high-end stuff all on one wall — easy access. The people come in, they know when there’s a shift change, they know peak times and when not to come in. They watch, they scan. And if there’s nobody on the floor, they know exactly when to come in. They have that whole wall that they can scoop and go.”

And the way stores are laid out, she said, leaves cashiers, and customer service staff, with their backs to the door.

“As an assistant manager, I would be in the office,” where there is one-way glass, said Pound. “So I could see everything.” She said she witnessed many people stealing even when her colleagues could not. “I could see the cashier couldn’t see it, because they had their back to it.”

Stores often have a single security guard, who Pound said is “just a deterrence.” If a store has enough reported incidents of theft, as well as video evidence, the LCBO will send in plainclothes security guards to catch thieves, according to another longtime LCBO employee.

Much of the LCBO’s guard work falls to an outside company — G4S Canada — which commands one of the country’s largest security services. But frontline LCBO workers, many of whom are employed as casual part-timers, tell the Star the security help routinely shifts from store to store, “almost like putting fingers in a dike that has too many holes and too few fingers,” in the words of one LCBO source.

A few months ago, an LCBO employee witnessed seven people filling shopping carts full of liquor and bolting out the door in single file. Staff who went outside to record licence plate information were verbally reprimanded, according to an email sent by the employee.

Workers who try to stop thefts at the stores can be subject to suspensions, said another veteran. “The employees care too much. People who try and stop it get disciplined,” he said. Videos of the thefts are used to punish the employees who interfere. “The wrong people are getting punished,” said the employee.

“We shouldn’t go too easy on the police — they have a role in this,” another frontline Toronto-area LCBO told the Star. “But it’s important to understand that the theft is becoming more sophisticated.

“In one recent theft, the cashier could see that a kind of bait-and-switch operation was underway. The G4 security went for the bait — going after the one guy — and as soon as they did, three big thieves hit us hard. They went for the bait and they missed the freaking muskellunge.”

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

Patty Winsa is a Toronto-based data reporter. Reach her via email: pwinsa@thestar.ca

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Fatal stabbing in Scarborough marks Toronto’s first homicide of 2019

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Police have confirmed Toronto’s first homicide of the year after a man was fatally stabbed in a Scarborough residence early Sunday morning.

Police said they received a call at 12:24 a.m. about an individual with a stab wound in a residential building near Gordonridge Pl. and Danforth Rd.

The caller, an acquaintance of the victim, described the man as seriously injured, police said. When police arrived on scene with paramedics, they found the man with obvious signs of trauma and a life-threatening stab wound to his upper body.

Police said resuscitation efforts were made but the man, described to be in his 30s, was pronounced dead on scene. His death is Toronto’s first homicide of 2019.

The area surrounding the building has been closed off for an investigation but there are no road closures, police said. They have not yet released any information on possible suspects.

Premila D’Sa is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @premila_dsa

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Toronto’s snow divide: Why the city might plow your neighbour’s sidewalks, but not yours

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In a new occasional series, the Star delves into 311 data to see what our concerns say about the city. In this third instalment, we look at an issue that’s top of mind as the temperature drops: snow clearing.

In the heart of winter, Gina Stoneham’s sidewalk does not get plowed by the city.

Gina Stoneham lives in Rockcliffe-Smythe, the Toronto neighbourhood with the most 311 complaints about snow and ice removal. The city does not clear Stoneham’s sidewalk — but it does plow the same street a short distance to the east.
Gina Stoneham lives in Rockcliffe-Smythe, the Toronto neighbourhood with the most 311 complaints about snow and ice removal. The city does not clear Stoneham’s sidewalk — but it does plow the same street a short distance to the east.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

Less than a five-minute walk away, Abigail Manzano’s does.

Both women live on Pritchard Ave., a quiet mostly residential stretch of the West Toronto neighbourhood Rockcliffe-Smythe, dissected by Jane St.

But when it comes to snow and ice, theirs is a tale of two sidewalks. Only the eastern stretch of Pritchard, where Manzano lives, makes the cut for city sidewalk snow clearing.

Manzano says the city usually shows up to clear the sidewalk in front of her home “within 24 hours.”

Meanwhile, the west side, Stoneham finds, often turns into a treacherous icy pass.

“I am so paranoid that my husband bought me a pair of boots last year for Christmas that, with a special key, flip out these spikes,” says the 64-year-old. “Those things saved my life a few times.”

The neighbourhood’s winter partition hints at a deeper divide in the city.

Across Toronto, the city plows the majority of sidewalks, especially major routes. But in a vast and complicated Toronto “no plow zone” — which includes stretches of sidewalks in the old city of Toronto, York and East York — residents are responsible for clearing the sidewalk in front of their own properties.

The city says it’s because of those sidewalks don’t meet criteria for clearing — that they’re too narrow, or there are other obstacles such as utility poles. Critics says it’s the legacy of a pre-amalgamation inequity that’s been carried on.

The no-plow areas are an issue pedestrian and seniors’ advocates say puts people of all ages at risk.

Stoneham, 64, shows off her winter boots with built-in studs for walking on icy sidewalks.
Stoneham, 64, shows off her winter boots with built-in studs for walking on icy sidewalks.  (Andrew Francis Wallace)

A Star analysis of 2018 snow and ice-related calls to 311, the city’s non-emergency hotline, broken down by the first three postal code digits, found the most (165) came from the west Toronto area that includes Rockcliffe-Smythe. Those stats cover complaints in 19 categories, including general snow removal, icy sidewalks, road plowing and sidewalk snow clearing.

Nestled between Weston Rd. and Lambton Woods, just north of the Junction and south of Mount Dennis, Rockcliffe-Smythe is part of zone where some, but not all, sidewalks are plowed. In between the downtown core (where most sidewalks can’t be plowed) and suburban Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York (where most sidewalks can be plowed), according to the city.

Dylan Reid spokesperson for pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto calls this approach “perverse.”

“The places where we have the most people using sidewalks and where we have the greatest density of people, are the places where we don’t actually clear snow and ice from the sidewalk.”

The snow divide, Reid says, is a legacy from before amalgamation.

“The old city of Toronto didn’t plow its sidewalks and the suburbs did, and when they amalgamated they didn’t want to spend the extra money to actually expand sidewalk clearing through the old city of Toronto,” he says.

The city’s 311 complaints show fewer calls about snow removal in the downtown core closer to the waterfront.

There’s a concentration of snow complaints in the west-end neighbourhoods around Rockcliffe-Smythe that would fall into the some-sidewalks-cleared-some-not area, as well as the East Beaches/western edge of Scarborough.

Per capita, the western chunk of the old ward of Scarborough Southwest — which also had the most overall noise complaints — topped the list for snow and ice related grumbles.

Stoneham, 64, shows off her winter boots with built-in studs for walking on icy sidewalks.
Stoneham, 64, shows off her winter boots with built-in studs for walking on icy sidewalks.  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star)

Out of the roughly 7,000 kilometres of sidewalk in the city of Toronto, about 5,900 are plowed mechanically by the city, according to city spokesperson Eric Holmes.

“There are some sidewalks that, unfortunately, equipment cannot safely clear using mechanical means due to encroachments and existing structures (e.g. retaining walls, utility poles, on-street parking, narrow sidewalk etc.),” wrote Holmes in an email. The city offers free sidewalk clearance for seniors and people with disabilities who live in these areas.

The western side of Prichard Ave. does not meet the criteria for sidewalk snow removal, he said, but could not point to which, specifically. The eastern side of Prichard Ave. is cleared because it’s considered a school route, he added.

So far in this relatively mild winter, the city has issued just four notices of inspection in response to complaints across Toronto and they were resolved without fines to homeowners, according to Holmes.

Last winter, the city issued eight fines.

This logic of plowing some areas but not others leaves “a critical piece” of snow clearance missing, says Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT), who calls on the city to clear all sidewalks, like Ottawa does.

Residents don’t always shovel, even though they can be fined for not clearing their stretches of sidewalk within 12 hours of snowfall. And even one icy patch can be dangerous.

“For many people this is the way that they move around the city,” she said, calling it an equity issue.

“The people who are held prisoner in their homes tend to be the elderly or people with disabilities, people who don’t have cars.”

A 2016 Toronto Public Health report found there were almost 30,000 emergency department visits and 2,800 hospitalizations among Toronto residents due to falls on snow or ice from 2006 to 2015.

This cost the provincial health-care system almost $4 million per year and the city $6.7 million a year in insurance liability claims.

And most falls happen in the areas that the city does not clear, according to the report.

Back in Rockcliffe-Smythe, it’s something Stoneham worries about.

“I can’t afford to fall down and break my hip because I work for myself,” she says, adding it’s unfair there’s sidewalk clearing in some areas and not others.

Aside from sidewalks, she thinks the whole neighbourhood is “neglected,” and often seems to be last on the list when it comes to road plowing.

Rockcliffe-Smythe Community Association co-chair Miriam Hawkins notes it has “wide streets and sidewalks,” sitting up against the western edge of Etobicoke. So there’d “be no issue” with them being too narrow to plow — if that’s why the city isn’t doing it.

“It almost sounds like they’re not committed anywhere in Toronto but if you’re lucky they might do it,” she says.

But as the dual global “mega-trends” of an aging population and climate change intersect, cities need to start paying more attention to snow clearing, said Laura Tamblyn Watts, chief public policy officer at CARP, formerly known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

“It’s not going to go away, it’s going to get much more complicated,” she said, with more older adults and more extreme storms.

Even in an average winter, a fall can result in a broken bone or hip and send older adults into a downward spiral, Tamblyn Watts says.

“A safe and clear sidewalk is quite literally the difference between life and death for many older people,” she adds.

“The human cost is real.”

The Star’s 311 Toronto series

Part 1: Toronto is known for dead raccoons and potholes. The city’s 311 nerve centre knows this reputation is well-earned

Part 2: Is this the noisiest neighbourhood in Toronto?

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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Toronto’s rising violence can’t be blamed on the decline of carding

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The new year had barely been rung in —12:35 a.m. — when there was a fight on Queen St. W., the victim taken to hospital in critical condition.

By the time this column is published, that man might be Toronto’s first homicide of 2019, blood splatter on a fresh page as the calendar flips. If not him, some other poor soul.

Across the city, violence struck here, there and everywhere on Jan. 1: A shooting, a stabbing, a broken bottle ground into a male’s face, a hit-and-run collision, several vicious kicks to the head.

Doubtless, as right-wing editorial writers sharpen their pencils, as tabloid columnists crank out vilifying copy, somebody will blame the chronic mayhem on law enforcement stripped of their investigative tools. To wit: the curtailment — not necessarily the end — of “carding,” as mandated by Regulation 58/16, introduced by the previous Liberal provincial government in 2016.

The correlation is dubious.

That is one of the findings contained in a 310-page doorstopper of a report by Justice Michael Tulloch, the Ontario Court of Appeal judge tasked with reviewing how the regulation has been applied throughout Ontario and its effectiveness.

Read more:

Will Toronto see fewer killings in 2019? A violent year ends with record totals — and questions

Carding — a subset of street checks — is a bust, the regulation unevenly implemented, with cops largely uncertain of when they can legally stop and query, leading some jurisdictions to completely abandon face-to-face encounters with the public even when they might have reasonable cause to question, as long as it’s not random or arbitrary but based on intelligence-led “articulable cause,” a “constellation of objectively discernible facts.”

The language is lawyerly dense, which is an intrinsic fault of the regulation, writes Tulloch; perceived as “being too complicated and hard to follow,” written for lawyers, not police officers or civilians. “Even lawyers who I have consulted with agree.”

Example: The regulation sets out information that a police officer must record in a “regulated interaction” — those encounters which fall under 58/16. Yet the required information does not include the location of the stop or the age or the race of the person stopped. “Only by inference later in the Regulation — when such information is required to be analyzed — does it become apparent that such information must be recorded in every stop encounter.”

I’ve spent hours poring over the report and am still not altogether certain I understand all its contents. Whose brilliant idea was it to release the thing at 3 p.m. on Dec. 31, the day before a statutory holiday, to be speed-read by reporters, by which time it was well nigh impossible to reach experts in the field who might provide illumination.

Somebody in the government decided to pull that trick. A Tory government which did not set Tulloch upon this year-long review and which could, if it chooses, ignore its numerous recommendations completely.

Tulloch’s core recommendation is blunt: Random carding has minuscule value as a law enforcement tool and should be sharply curbed where it’s still being practised, specifically because its iffy value is not worth the damage caused to individuals — particularly those in disproportionately scrutinized minority communities, Black, brown and Indigenous — to say nothing of heightening distrust between those segments and police.

“It is recommended that the practice of randomly stopping individuals to gather their identifying information for the creation of a database for intelligence purposes be discontinued.”

Purely random stops, absent any discernible subjective and objective reason for doing so, based on some vague “spidey sense”: Never.

“A widespread program of random street checks involves considerable time and effort for a police service,” Tulloch writes, “with little to no verifiable results on the level of crime or even arrests.”

Many cops will disagree. It is precisely the “spidey sense” that informs their policing instincts as front-line officers with intimate knowledge of a place, a neighbourhood, a scene that feels wrong. But that can’t be enough, Tulloch argues, because of either tacit or overt biases. Under the regulation, race is absolutely prohibited in forming any part of a police officer’s reason for attempting to collect someone’s identifying information — information which no individual is compelled to provide unless police are making inquiries into suspicious activities, investigating an offence that has been or may be about to be committed, or gathering information for intelligence purposes, circumstances wherein a suspect can be detained or arrested.

Simply creating a database containing information on tens of thousands of people who’ve committed no crime — the crux of random carding — is a misuse of resources, an invasion of civil rights and indefensible.

It has become to too easy and knee-jerk malevolent to draw a straight line between carding reduced and gun/gang activity increased in Toronto in 2018. In fact, the Toronto Police Service had voluntarily curtailed street checks since 2014. There was nevertheless a significant decrease in gun deaths between 2016 and 2017 before last year’s surge. Between 2016 and 2018, Tulloch points out, the number of shootings declined by a combined 40 per cent in some designated high-priority neighbourhoods with historically high incidences of poverty and crime. Nor did a steep decline in street checks prevent Toronto police from a 65 per cent increase in gun seizures from 2017 to 2018.

More broadly, Ontario experienced the greatest reductions in homicides, along with Saskatchewan, in 2017, the year that the regulation came into effect.

“Overall, it is difficult to see anything contained in the wording of the regulation or in its proper application that would cause a spike in gun crime or violent crime,” writes Tulloch.

It may be true, however — and I wish that Tulloch had undertaken a deeper exploration of this area — that abandoning street checks has contributed to more flagrant gang activity in Toronto.

The argument pro random carding has become circular, says Tulloch. “Some police street checks were proper. The improper practice of random carding led to the Regulation. The Regulation led many police officers to not conduct any street checks, whether proper or not. The lack of any street checks at all might have encouraged some types of crime to increase. This increase in some crimes has led some people to argue that we should return to random carding. This assumes that it was the reduction of random street checks that caused the increase in some crimes, as opposed to the reduction of all street checks.

“The solution to these issues is not for police officers to fail to conduct street checks when it is prudent and appropriate to do so.”

Which means better understanding of the regulation, improved training and “supporting police officers who conduct proper street checks when there is a subsequent public complaint.”

Tulloch emphasizes that the regulation did not, does not, eliminate street checks. “Without any restriction, police officers can stop, question and ask people to identify themselves — if the officer reasonably suspects criminal activity.”

All that’s changed is that there has to be a good, justifiable or “articulable” reason for asking them to provide their identity.

“That is not an onerous requirement.”

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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