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TORONTO STAR

WSIB staffers decry chaos caused by ‘broken’ system that’s putting injured workers at risk (lun., 10 déc. 2018)
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.” Subscribe to the Star to support reporting and analysis from award-winning reporters like Sara Mojtehedzadeh 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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A 51-storey condo tower proposed for densely populated St. James Town has residents concerned (Mon, 10 Dec 2018)
Hassan Awadh says the last thing St. James Town needs is a 50-storey condo tower. “I look out from my balcony and all I can see are highrises,” says Awadh, 50, who has lived in the area with his wife and four sons since 2008. There are huge lineups for TTC buses in the area, particularly on Wellesley St. just west of Parliament St., and the local Food Basics and FreshCo supermarkets are overflowing in the evenings — signs of how tightly packed the community is, Awadh says. In fact, St. James Town is considered one of the most, if not the most, densely populated neighbourhoods in Canada. That’s a key reason a new development application by Greatwise Developments Corp., calling for a 51-storey condo highrise, four townhouse blocks and two midrise buildings including a 10-storey rental building — 890 new units in all — has local residents, service providers and city planners nervous. A total of 2,230 units already exist in the neighbourhood. Read more: Class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of St. James Town residents displaced by fire St. James Town fire evacuees grateful for public’s generosity but fearful of their future St. James Town residents displaced by fire must be out of hotels as early as Friday “I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. There’s not enough services in the area for the people who are already here,” says Vickie Rennie, 61, who has lived for 48 years near the 4.3-hectare parcel of land at the northwest corner of Wellesley and Parliament Sts. where the proposed development would unfold if approved by the city. There are four rental highrises there already — 240, 260 and 280 Wellesley St. E. and 650 Parliament St., all dating from the late 1960s. An Aug. 21 fire at 650 Parliament displaced more than 1,500 residents, forcing them to local community centres, hotels, relatives’ homes and other Greatwise buildings in St. James Town. The blaze caused “catastrophic” damage to the building’s electrical and mechanical system and the building owners recently said it will take at least six months to complete the repairs. Corporate records indicate the proponent behind the development application, Greatwise Developments Corp., located at 333 Wilson Ave., is administered by Samuel Grosz. Records show the buildings on the property are owned by a variety of entities including Parwell Investments Inc. and Lilsam Inc., all listed at the same Wilson Ave. address. The application doesn’t call for the demolition of the four aging buildings. The project is similar to the “reurbanization” of Parkway Forest, a subdivision near Sheppard Ave. E and Don Mills Rd. in North York. There, hundreds of new rentals and thousands of new condo units spurred by the Sheppard subway line are springing up alongside 1960s-era towers. Toronto’s planning department has sought input from local residents and community groups on the Wellesley-Parliament project, and the height and scale of the 51-storey condo tower has been mentioned as a key thorn. Planning staff have suggested to the landowner that the height should come down. “Our comment was fairly preliminary in the context of the existing buildings on site. They are in the range of 20s up to 32 storeys,” says Thomas Rees, a city planner on the file, who notes 51 storeys is almost double the existing buildings on site. “That one is really going to stick out,” he adds. But in a statement from Greatwise on Friday, spokesperson Danny Roth said the company believes the height will have a “minimal” impact on the pedestrian experience. “Its height will fit into the range of heights that have recently been approved in the neighbourhood, particularly along Sherbourne St. and Bloor St.,” Roth said. There will be other challenges for the landowner. Prompted by the recent blaze at 650 Parliament, the planning department is demanding that before the new application can be approved, Greatwise do a health and safety audit of the existing towers on the parcel, including 650 Parliament. The audit would cover items including the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems in the buildings, Rees says. “We’re asking the developer to provide a building safety audit … to identify what needs to be fixed, and then we want that to be subject to a peer review to ensure it’s accurate and not missing anything,” he says. The city wants to find ways to secure necessary improvements to the buildings as a condition of development, Rees adds. Density issues raised by the application are also on the city’s radar, the planner said. On behalf of the ownership group, Greatwise said it’s proceeding with an application “we believe meets existing policy frameworks, including the city’s official plan and the Growth Plan for the (Greater) Golden Horseshoe.” The statement added that “more than just from a policy perspective, the applicant’s proposal brings reinvestment to a community that has seen little to no change since it was built in the 1960s.” St. James Town is actually a larger neighbourhood bounded by Wellesley, Sherbourne, Bloor and Parliament Sts. The four buildings in question are part of a cluster of crumbling highrises in the area — 19 in all — that are home to about 17,000 people, many of them new arrivals in Canada. When first built, the ’60s-era towers became a magnet for hip young men and women who enjoyed the amenities, including an outdoor pool. But the buildings have since fallen into disrepair. In April, Greatwise submitted a joint official plan amendment and zoning bylaw amendment application for the Wellesley-Parliament project. “The proposed development will allow us with hindsight to correct many of the site’s existing challenges including the current lack of public road connections through the site, undefined open spaces, an abundance of surface parking and outdoor garbage storage areas, and the monotony of the prevailing architectural forms, among other issues,” Roth said in his statement. Proposed features include a new supermarket, a network of new streets and a new 0.1-hectare public park, though the city says the applicant’s park allotment needs to be bigger. The developer also plans to take out the Food Basics discount grocery store on Wellesley and replace it with another unspecified supermarket. The fear among local residents is that the new one will be a “high-scale” store, which is not appropriate for a low-income community, said Hanna Ahmed, who has lived in the neighbourhood for eight years, in an interview while shopping at Food Basics. Rees, the city planner, notes the Wellesley-Parliament application comes at a time when St. James Town faces enormous density challenges. For example, a school in the catchment area, Rose Avenue Junior Public, is already over capacity. Subscribe to the Star to support deep local reporting in your community The Wellesley-Parliament project and other residential developments approved or close to being approved along Sherbourne, Howard and Bloor Sts. mean the school will have to contend with many more students. “We’re working with the school board to see how we’re going to deal with this. I don’t know what the answer is, but to me it’s a big concern. We don’t want to force kids to be bused when there’s a school right behind them,” Rees says. Housing developments in the school’s catchment area since 2016 — within or near St. James Town — include a 32-storey tower already built at 28 Linden St.; another at 555 Sherbourne St. that is 43 storeys; two highrises — 38 and 46 storeys — under construction at the north end of Parliament St.; and two others on Sherbourne above 50 storeys each, at various stages of the city’s approval process. Construction is nearly complete on the Selby, a 50-storey residential rental building also on Sherbourne. Niv Balachandran, an executive member of the St. James Town Service Providers Network, a coalition of organizations serving the community, says residents feel their voices are being drowned out by a powerful landowner. “Resident feedback has been that the process has been disenfranchising for people who want to be engaged, but do not feel they are on an equal footing to have their voices and concerns heard,” Balachandran says. Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent
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Mayor Tory’s office directed provincial transit agency on SmartTrack messaging (Mon, 10 Dec 2018)
Mayor John Tory’s office directed what is meant to be an arm’s-length provincial transit agency about its messaging surrounding the mayor’s signature “SmartTrack” plan, emails obtained by the Star show. As that plan was being significantly revised — reduced to just six new stations along existing GO train lines — the changes requested by Tory’s staff appeared aimed at putting what remained of the promised improvements in a better light. The SmartTrack plan includes the controversial Lawrence East station, which the province’s auditor general found last week was inappropriately approved by the provincial transit agency, Metrolinx, under pressure from the city. The decision to approve the station came in spite of analysis recommending the station not be built. The auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, has now recommended an independent review of the selection of that station. That follows earlier reporting by the Star that showed city staff boosted the case for Lawrence East, which the mayor has said is a key part of expanding the transit network in Scarborough. A separate set of emails recently obtained by the Star from the TTC also show ongoing discord about transit planning and concerns from a senior official that the city’s planning process on SmartTrack was “insanity.” The correspondence involving the mayor’s office began in February 2018, when then CEO of Metrolinx Bruce McCuaig wrote to then city manager Peter Wallace and the mayor’s then chief of staff Chris Eby to provide them a copy of a presentation to be given at an upcoming board meeting. The emails were obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request. Within hours, Eby replied with concerns. “Why not take the opportunity to reset the communications on this a bit?” he said, noting there seemed to be “consensus between our teams about how this is going to unfold.” He suggested the mayor come to make the presentation with Metrolinx officials as a “collaborative effort.” “Would send a strong signal that we're all on the same page when it comes to the options and moving towards the same goals,” he wrote. He went on to raise issues with slides in the presentation. That included a concern that Metrolinx was not showcasing SmartTrack in conjunction with existing GO stations and a light rail extension in the western part of the city. “The options should include existing, LRT and SmartTrack stations so it doesn’t miscommunicate the impact these lines would have. Wouldn’t want journalists to see low number of stations and misunderstand the slide,” Eby wrote to McCuaig. Though Tory promised a 22-stop “London-style surface rail subway” during his 2014 mayoral campaign, the resulting plan when these emails were sent was six new stations within Toronto, added to existing GO lines that were already slated for increased, electrified service. A heavy rail spur Tory had promised to Mississauga became a western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line — meaning anyone travelling by GO train would need to transfer to that line and potentially pay an extra fare to take it. Several of the new station stops promised by Tory were eliminated as was the concept there would be any kind of separate service from GO. Still Tory’s office was trying to make SmartTrack appear more than it was. One of the slides was eventually changed at Eby’s request to say: “All options include an LRT on the Eglinton West corridor, with the number of stations to be determined” and also, “All options include the 11 existing stations in the City of Toronto and Markham on the Kitchener and Stouffville corridors.” Eby’s request that the second point say “as part of the SmartTrack/RER service concept” was not included. When contacted by the Star, Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat did not specifically address the email exchange involving Eby. “We are getting on with building transit — that’s what Mayor Tory was elected and re-elected to do by Toronto voters,” Peat wrote in a statement. “City council has voted to move ahead with SmartTrack and the province has endorsed this plan.” McCuaig, who is no longer CEO of Metrolinx, declined to comment, referring questions to Metrolinx. A spokesperson for Metrolinx also declined to comment. There have been ongoing concerns with at least one of the stations approved by council and the province, Lawrence East. After the Star revealed secret analysis concluding the stop was not good value for money and should not proceed as part of the approved plan, city staff, at the direction of then deputy city manager John Livey, set about to provide a different, more favourable analysis of the potential station to convince Metrolinx to approve it. In her annual report, the auditor general said “repeatedly adding further ‘strategic considerations’ to the decision-making process makes it possible to justify any decision.” She described a June 2016 email to the chair of the Metrolinx board from McCuaig where he says the Lawrence East site still performed “relatively poorly” even after receiving a technical evaluation from the city. In an October 2017 letter, the city forwarded further “strategic considerations” to Metrolinx, emphasizing the station’s importance in an “optimized” Scarborough transit network, as the provincial agency weighed whether to approve the station. “Putting so much priority on these vague strategic considerations — and less weight on net economic costs — makes the decision-making process seem arbitrary,” the auditor general wrote. In the same period, TTC officials were discussing concerns about the planning for SmartTrack. In a January 2016 email to colleagues, Mitch Stambler, then head of strategy and planning for the TTC, noted he had come from a meeting with city staff, including then deputy city manager Livey. “Just came from a Livey SmartTrack meeting, and it’s the closest thing to insanity that I’ve ever seen,” wrote Stambler, who has since retired. “Truly turns my stomach.” He went on to say that city staff at that meeting were explaining “where they think we should build this line and that line and those stations, etc.” He concluded: “Just like on the old game show ‘Family Feud,’ everyone in the room would cheer them on and shout, ‘good answer’. It’s a different and very sad world.” Subscribe to the Star to support deep local reporting in your community TTC spokesperson Brad Ross told the Star they do not share Stambler’s characterization of the transit planning process. “Of course, robust discussions can and do occur on a range of issues in any organization. The TTC’s expectation of its staff is that those discussions, and subsequent correspondence, remain cordial and professional at all times,” he wrote. In a statement, city spokesperson Tammy Robinson said staff are following council direction to negotiate with Metrolinx to implement SmartTrack project objectives. “The city is committed to working with our partners at the TTC and Metrolinx to provide improved transit access to Toronto residents through transit expansion.” Councillor Josh Matlow, who has challenged the mayor’s Scarborough transit plan, arguing an LRT network would serve more people for less money, said he would welcome the review of Lawrence East recommended by the auditor general and a value-for-money analysis of all transit projects. “I think it’s disgraceful that so much time and money has been wasted rather than achieving fact-based transit plans to really help people,” he said. “Numbers have been torqued, facts have been embellished and far too many people in the political world have put their own interests before those of the people.” Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags
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Tories’ Bill 66 would undermine clean-water protections that followed Walkerton tragedy, victims and advocates warn (Mon, 10 Dec 2018)
“Do not drink this water,” warned the signs taped to fountains and bathroom sinks in a small Ontario town. For thousands of people in the rural community 150 kilometres northwest of Toronto, the water they once used to brush their teeth, bathe their children and prepare their meals had become a hostile enemy. Jugs of clean water had to be delivered to a depot. Hospitals were overrun with new patients. Children were pulled out of school. Businesses closed. The tainted-water scandal in Walkerton in the spring of 2000 devastated the community, with thousands falling ill and seven people dying. It was one of the worst health epidemics in the province’s history. Nearly 19 years later, environmental advocates say Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is posing one of the greatest risks both the environment and public health have faced in decades. Last week, the government tabled a new piece of legislation, Bill 66, that, if passed, would allow commercial development to bypass several long-standing laws meant to protect the natural environment and the health of residents, including the Clean Water Act that was put in place following the Walkerton tragedy. Read more: New bill aims to reduce red tape for business, says Ford government Environmentalists fear provincial changes mean Greenbelt is open for development Opinion | Keenan: That ‘red tape’ Ford is cutting? It was meant to protect the environment, workers, lives The stated purpose of the proposed bill, called the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, is to cut “red tape” around planning approvals for businesses looking to invest in local communities. Under the proposed legislation, if a development has the support of both the municipal government and the province and can demonstrate it would create 50 new jobs in areas with populations under 250,000, or 100 jobs for bigger cities, it could get the green light despite possibly being detrimental to the environment. Bruce Davidson knows what’s at stake. It’s been many years since he became a spokesperson for himself, his family and his concerned neighbours. Reached by phone at his home in Walkerton, he said many couldn’t have found his town on a map before the outbreak. He continues to educate others on clean drinking water. But he worries that as time passes and the Walkerton tragedy becomes a part of history, a distant memory, it’s easy to forget why the hard-won protections were put in place. “I think as Walkerton sort of moves more into the rear-view mirror … the tendency is sort of to say, ‘Well, is that really necessary?’” Davidson said. “I think it sends the wrong message to industry and to everyone that if we have enough dollars in our pocket, the economic impact will win over the environmental impact.” He called the Ford government’s plan “ill-considered,” noting that the protections in place since 2006 are being studied as best practices as far away as China. The bill, which would also circumvent legislation protecting the Greenbelt, Great Lakes and other environmentally sensitive areas, is set to be debated next year. It was introduced without any public consultation or warning. According to the conclusions of an inquiry into the Walkerton tragedy, in May 2000, some 2,321 people became ill from two types of bacteria, including a type of dangerous E. coli, after heavy rainfall caused flooding that flushed the bacteria from cow manure near a farm into one of three groundwater wells that was the source of water for Walkerton. The number of people who fell ill represented about half the town’s population. It was concluded after much investigation that the water coming out of the taps in Walkerton had not been properly treated so as to kill off the deadly bacteria, and the tragedy could have been prevented if proper monitoring, protections and oversight had existed. The E. coli subgroup that affected local residents, typically carried by cattle, causes intestinal disease with multiple symptoms, including the possibility of kidney failure and other life-threatening issues. For Walkerton residents, it caused debilitating sickness — including for a two-year-old boy who was nearly lifeless, suffering from bloody diarrhea, and who experienced heart failure as he underwent dialysis, according to an account given by his mother at the time. Following the outbreak, the Ontario government called a judicial inquiry, led by Justice Dennis O’Connor, which made conclusions in 2002 about the lasting impact, source of contamination and recommended next steps for both local and provincial governments. It specifically recommended the provincial government “develop a comprehensive, source-to-tap, government-wide drinking water policy” and noted: “It is reasonable for all those in Ontario to expect that the government will do all it reasonably can to support a safe drinking water system.” In 2006, under then-premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, the Clean Water Act was passed. It followed directly from a dozen of the inquiry’s recommendations and was meant to be a science-based approach to protect the sources of clean drinking water — lakes, rivers and aquifers. “Keeping source water free of contamination is smarter, safer and more effective than cleaning up problems after the fact,” said a release at the time from then-environment minister Laurel Broten. The act required the creation of protection plans that would identify and then mitigate contamination risks to sources of drinking water: For example, preventing manure or harmful pesticides from leaching into a drinking water system from a nearby farm. On Friday, Theresa McClenaghan and Richard Lindgren, respectively the executive director and counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), posted on the organization’s website that Bill 66, together with other recent moves by the Ford government — including the decision to abolish the office of the province’s environmental watchdog — “constitutes the biggest and most significant environmental rollback to occur in a generation in Ontario.” In particular, they said the attempt to prevent a particular section of the Clean Water Act from applying to certain types of new development is both “objectionable and risk-laden.” The particular section of the act that would not apply to new developments approved under the “open for business” rules is not some “obscure” provision in the law, but the key part of the act that requires land-use planning decisions in the province to protect safe drinking water, they said. “In our view, this important provision must remain applicable to all municipal planning and zoning decisions in order to protect public health and safety,” their post reads. “CELA is extremely disappointed to see that the lessons from the Walkerton tragedy are being discounted or ignored by the current Ontario government.” Municipal politicians have also come out against the new bill. Toronto councillors Josh Matlow, Gord Perks, Mike Layton and Mike Colle — who have all individually campaigned for stronger environmental protections, both as activists and in office — have written to Ford saying the exemptions should be reconsidered. “Eroding environmental protections like the Clean Water Act, legislated in the wake of the Walkerton tragedy, will put the health of the people you serve at risk and make our province less attractive to prospective companies looking to create new jobs,” the letter said, referring to another town that has seen a crisis of contaminated drinking water. “Businesses from around the world are lining up to invest in places like Toronto and Ottawa, not Flint, Michigan.” The human cost of Walkerton has been long-lasting. Those who were affected continue to face health challenges, including lasting kidney damage. The Star’s Paul Hunter recently reported on the life and assisted death of Robbie Schnurr, a long-suffering victim of Walkerton’s tainted water who died with the help of a physician earlier this year after becoming confined to his bed following complications that caused debilitating pain. The economic costs have also been great. What was saved by not properly treating and monitoring the water before the epidemic has been grossly overshadowed by what was spent on the resulting cleanup and payments to victims, Davidson said. He estimates it cost as much as $200 million. Davidson said the protections now in place were the result of scientific planning involving public consultation. They were not designed to stall development and cover very little total land mass. He’d like to see evidence of where there are onerous restrictions or significant roadblocks and a discussion of how to address those instead of boycotting the rules long in place. Protection is often confused with treatment, he said — a situation he likened to putting five forwards on during a hockey game but leaving the net without a goalie or proper defence. Eventually a puck or two gets through. “I think its really sort of a false narrative to suggest it’s an either-or,” he said of creating new investment and protecting the environment. Davidson and his neighbours have seen what happens when there isn’t a strong defence in place.
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Toronto police took one of Zack Noureddine’s killers to a strip club, earned his trust and then a confession. But the jury didn’t hear any of that (Sun, 09 Dec 2018)
A trip to a casino, a poker game, drinks and lap dances at a strip club were part of an undercover Mr. Big operation that led Toronto police to arrest two of three suspects wanted for the beating death of a 25-year-old man almost three years ago. Details of the elaborate sting — and the unusual legal challenges it created — were kept from a jury that this week convicted two men accused in the midtown attack that killed Zaher (Zack) Noureddine, 26, on Dec. 30, 2015. Jurors were not told the Mr. Big operation resulted in a confession by one of the accused, nor that a judge last month declared a mistrial after prosecutors played an earlier jury a video she ruled had not been properly introduced into evidence. They also didn’t hear about all the entries on the trio’s rap sheets, nor details of an outstanding robbery charge that the Crown argues has similar facts to the Noureddine killing. On Thursday, Patrick Smith, 28, was acquitted of first-degree murder but found guilty of second-degree murder. His co-accused, Matthew Moreira, 34, was convicted of manslaughter. Smith was also convicted of assaulting Mitchell Conery, Noureddine’s co-worker, while Moreira was found guilty of robbing Conery. William Cummins, 32, still faces a first-degree murder charge and robbery charge. He and Moreira are also charged with committing a violent robbery weeks before about 100 metres from where Noureddine was killed. Read more: Two men found guilty in midtown beating death of Zack Noureddine, a complete stranger Judge declares mistrial in Toronto murder case, ruling Crown should not have played videos to jury Father convicted in girls’ deaths to go free after Supreme Court ruling On Dec. 30, 2015, Noureddine and Conery were in business attire and had just left a restaurant near Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. when they were confronted by three strangers who had spent the evening boozing and doing drugs. Conery testified he was knocked to the ground and held there by a man who demanded his wallet as he saw two assailants attacking Noureddine, who died as a result of blunt-impact head trauma. The suspects came on the police radar a few days after Noureddine’s death, when two witnesses reported seeing a suspicious car and three occupants close to the crime scene. That led police to obtain video surveillance from a nearby apartment building, at 100 Merton St., that showed the three men together at various points before and after the attack. In one video, taken hours after Noureddine was killed, the three men were recorded in an elevator laughing and recreating the attack. Within a week, police had the three under surveillance and were building their case. In March 2016, investigators decided to undertake a Mr. Big operation — which involved using undercover officers to establish a friendship with Smith to create sufficient trust so that he would cop to the brutal crime. Details of the elaborate Mr. Big sting were outlined in an 18-page pretrial ruling on the admissibility of statements made by Smith to undercover officers. Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestell’s ruling meant the jury heard nothing about what was done or said during the sting. (Forestell was the judge on the first trial, which ended in mistrial, but her ruling carried over to the retrial.) Mr. Big operations are a costly and controversial police tactic originally designed to yield a confession from a suspect tricked into thinking he’s joined some kind of criminal organization. A 2014 Supreme Court decision ruled such a confession based on that approach was “presumptively inadmissible.” As a result, police have changed how Mr. Big ploys unfold. Instead of convincing a suspect he’s joined a Mafia-type criminal enterprise — undercover officers, in this case, befriended Smith and made out like they were legitimate businessmen who operated as “fixers” who dabbled in criminality. “There was to be no overt criminality (from the officers) and no violence or threats of violence,” Forestell wrote in her ruling. The sting began when two undercover officers were inserted in a jail cell with Smith after he was arrested for stealing gas on March 7, 2016. One of the officers, whom the ruling calls K, was successful in striking up a conversation with Smith about women, drinking and playing poker. K also told Smith he had an older friend who gave him money to play poker, bought drinks and paid for lap dances at a nearby club. Smith gave K his phone number and they agreed to go to Casino Niagara with another man, G, also an undercover officer. The officers — whose identities are protected under a publication ban — secretly recorded their interactions with Smith. On March 8, 2016, G picked up the tab for the trio to drink and have lap dances at the Sundowner, a Niagara Falls, Ont. strip club. They also hit the casino. During that meeting, Smith spoke of selling drugs and said when he is disrespected “there’s no stopping me, like, I lose my mind.” The officers later ensured Smith, who was subject to a curfew under bail conditions, was home in time, the ruling says. After that evening, the undercover officers continued to communicate by telephone and text message with Smith, and met up with him again in at a pub where they spoke of “work, women, partying and fighting.” Smith told K that he loved to fight and had martial arts experience. At another pub meeting, Smith told K “his boy,” referring to Cummins, had been arrested for an unrelated robbery and he was concerned his car would be connected back to him. In response, K told Smith G was “a bit of a magician” and said he’d seen the other officer “pull rabbits out of a hat.” Over a number of weeks, the deception deepened. The officers spun bogus tales all designed to suck Smith into believing he was keeping company with men who could do things for him, as long as he showed them honesty, loyalty and respect. By mid-April, Smith was anxious to connect with Cummins, who had warned him not to talk by phone. Smith told his new friends he needed “clean” phones — ones the cops weren’t bugging — for himself and Cummins. One day, while driving past the scene of Noureddine’s beating, Smith told K “that’s the place where the thing happened” — but the officers determined he wasn’t sober enough to give a usable confession. They held off until their next meeting, in a Mississauga lounge. After weeks of wining and dining, Smith opened up to the two undercover officers — even taking them on a “walk-through” of how the evening unfolded. He pointed out surveillance cameras after one of the officers gave “the impression” he “could take care of evidence on surveillance cameras,” according to Forestell’s ruling. On April 12, 2016, Smith told the officers Cummins’ had “dropped one guy” — Noureddine — then turned to fight the other while Smith said he “smoke(d) buddy that died.” He described hitting one of the victims a couple of times and, as Cummins was “taking care of him,” Smith said he saw that the “guy that died” was getting up and kicked him in the face. He said he learned a day later that Noureddine had died. Toronto police arrested Smith and Cummins on April 13, 2016, the day after Smith confessed to the undercover officers, and charged them with murder. But this Mr. Big operation had a twist. Normally, the Crown wants Mr. Big confessions admitted into evidence and must, therefore, prove the statements are reliable. In this case, they needed to demonstrate they were not. That’s because in his Mr. Big confession Smith told the officers Moreira — whom he called B.K. — was not really in on the beating. Smith said he was there, but “never made any kind of moves,” according to Forestell’s ruling. Smith also claimed Cummins had been “jumped by two guys.” The Crown said both were lies. Rather than ask to admit Smith’s entire confession, prosecutors Bev Richards and Mihael Cole sought permission to use Smith’s statements during cross-examination — to demonstrate he lied to his “new criminal friends.” Subscribe to the Star to support deep local reporting in your community The crown attorneys also wanted admitted into evidence Smith’s boasts to the undercover officers about his experience in martial arts and his love of fighting, Forestell wrote in her ruling. But the judge concluded it would be an abuse of process for the Crown to use the undercover statements for the purpose of cross-examining Smith. “The use of deceit and trickery to elicit a reliable and true confession to a crime will, in some circumstances, be acceptable but the use of deceit and trickery to elicit bad behaviour and lies for the purpose of a future attack on credibility and character cannot be acceptable,” she wrote, adding she was not suggesting police sought to elicit bad behaviour and lies, nor that they engaged in any misconduct. Moreira’s lawyers Chris Hicks and Jessica Zita, meanwhile, wanted the jury to hear Smith’s very favourable evidence — that their client “wasn’t involved” in the attack on Noureddine. Forestell said that would be OK, as long as Smith didn’t testify. But he did. So, in the end, jurors never heard anything about the confession or the Mr. Big operation. Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy
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