Yabsta News

Parents take centre stage as teachers, government continue on collision course

As Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives made the case that growing labour unrest in the province is not their fault, some parents joined teachers on the picket lines Monday to show they disagreed.The PC party created and posted a political video showing that governments of all political stripes have faced labour disruptions from teachers unions over the past 30 years. “This needs to stop,” the video urges. “Tell the union leaders to stop playing with your kids’ education.”But that messaging was absent as thousands of members from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario began a one-day walkout hitting four large urban boards, including Toronto. Parents in some areas joined them on the picket lines, bringing hot coffee, homemade muffins and even hand warmers as morning temperatures dipped to -15 C.The walkout by the union, which represents 83,000 members, shut down all public elementary schools in the Toronto, York Region and Ottawa-Carleton boards. And it left the Toronto Catholic board without early childhood educators in full-day kindergarten classrooms, prompting them to picket outside board headquarters. Monday’s ETFO walkout was the first in a week of planned labour disruption by various teacher unions, the magnitude of which has not been seen in more than two decades.Outside Toronto’s Carleton Village Junior and Senior Sports and Wellness Academy, parents and their children outnumbered teachers picketing. “We’re all together in this,” said Logan Wilson, who has a daughter in kindergarten and a one-year-old. Because she lives nearby, she was among the parents who opened up their homes for teachers to use washrooms and warm up.“If I trust them to look after my daughter all day long, why wouldn’t I let them come and use my bathroom?”Teachers also walked down the street to the Toronto Police Service’s 11 Division to use their facilities. That’s because striking teachers are not allowed on school property. But that didn’t prevent the principal and vice-principal from coming outside with an armful of blankets and hand warmers, and the office assistant from heating up the cinnamon rolls a teacher had brought in.At the school, located near St. Clair Avenue West and Old Weston Road, parents appear unwavering in their support. On Sunday they gathered to make signs, with slogans such as “Education Isn’t Paper — Don’t Cut It,” “This Is Getting Ridiculous” and “I’ve Seen Smarter Cabinets at Ikea.” And on Monday morning, they spent about an hour with teachers on the picket line— some before heading off to work — cheerfully waving signs as passersby in cars honked to show support. Rachel Huot, whose children are in grades 3 and 6, spearheaded the initiative there, which attracted about 20 other parents. She said many parents in the province are “really angry” and committed to supporting teachers.“We feel like (teachers) are standing up for our kids and standing up for our education system,” said Huot, who is part of the Ontario Parent Action Network, a grassroots movement of parents taking action in their school communities. The province hasn’t seen this level of labour unrest in education for more than two decades. On Monday, protesters showed up at Premier Doug Ford’s constituency office and are expected to do so again this week as strikes continue. On Tuesday, all Catholic elementary and secondary teachers across the province, as well as public elementary and secondary teachers in a handful of boards, will walk out. (The elementary teachers say they will continue with rotating strikes until a deal is reached.) All four teacher unions are also engaged in ongoing work-to-rule job action. Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters the province will return to talks with teachers when mediators call all sides back to the bargaining table.“All parties have an obligation to work very hard to get deals,” he said, noting there are upcoming negotiations scheduled with the union representing teachers in French-language boards.However, there are no talks scheduled with the other three teacher unions — the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.The teachers are opposed to larger class sizes — meaning the loss of thousands of teaching positions, as well as tens of thousands of classes and course options for teens — as well as the addition of mandatory online learning in high school. Salary is also an issue, with the government legislating a one per cent wage increase and the unions seeking cost of living rises, or about two per cent.NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the current unrest “completely unnecessary” and blamed the government.“I think that the minister knows very well that if all of the other issues are taken off the table, in terms of cuts, then bargaining on some other issues can go forward.”Lecce, she added, “can turn this around in a moment.”Several polls have shown the government’s education policy is widely unpopular, especially among students.But Lecce said the strike action unfairly targets students, and that parents “are rather displeased with the impacts of (Monday’s) one-day strikes and the upcoming withdrawal of service that’s impacting students. “We owe it to the students of this province not to withdraw services from them,” Lecce said.He said he “hopes the mediator brings the parties together … We stand ready to negotiate when the mediator … brings the parties together. We continue to make the case that these strikes hurt kids, with the hope that it will cease this escalation, which has had an adverse impact on learning.”Lecce also continues to call on the teacher unions to accept private mediation, saying that helped land a recent three-year deal with support staff represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said “strike action is always frustrating because it’s not what is good for kids. We prefer them to be in classrooms, we prefer them to be learning.”The school boards, which sit at the bargaining table with the province and teachers, also oppose larger class sizes and e-learning for all students.On Monday, the strike action meant some kids attended daylong camps — there were pop-up camps including one in a Buddhist temple — and parents who stayed home took in extra kids. Other children joined their moms and dads on the picket line.Sarah Donnelly, who joined the teachers outside Carleton Village school with her two young sons, said, “we know the job action they’re taking today is to make sure that our children have the best education …They deserve fair compensation, they deserve a living-wage increase in a city that is very expensive — but they’re not just fighting for that … Our children don’t need to be in larger classes than they already are. And they are fighting for support for special needs students.”Sipping on hot coffee, French teacher Paul Grewal said parent support has been remarkable. This, despite the province’s offer — described by one union leader as a “bribe” — to reimburse parents for up to $60 for child care each day that schools are closed. Grewal said he’s heard that some parents are considering taking the money and donating it to the schools. “Giving parents their own money to placate them for a walkout that they essentially caused really doesn’t make any sense to us.” Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

20th, January 2020, 09:00pm

Doug Ford government waiting for mediator to restart talks, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the province will return to talks with teachers when mediators call all sides back to the bargaining table.Lecce told reporters on Monday — the first day of a string of daylong strikes by teachers across the province — that “all parties have an obligation to work very hard to get deals” and noted there are upcoming negotiations scheduled with the union representing teachers in French language boards.However, there are no talks scheduled with the other three teacher unions — the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.All three are staging one-day strikes this week, and the elementary teacher union has said it will continue with rotating walkouts until a deal is reached.NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the current unrest “completely unnecessary” and blamed the government. “I think that the minister knows very well that if all of the other issues are taken off the table, in terms of cuts, then bargaining on some other issues can go forward,” she said, referring to government moves such as larger class sizes and mandatory, online courses.Lecce, she added, “can turn this around in a moment.”The Ford government “is stubbornly ignoring the message that is being sent to them by parents — which is we want a good quality education system for our kids.”Lecce, however, said parents “are rather displeased with the impacts of (Monday’s) one-day strikes and the upcoming withdrawal of service that’s impacting students. We owe it to the students of this province not to withdraw services from them.”He said he “hopes the mediator brings the parties together …We stand ready to negotiate when the mediator…brings the parties together. We continue to make the case that these strikes hurt kids, with the hope that it will seize this escalation, which has had an adverse impact on learning.”Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said “strike action is always frustrating because it’s not what is good for kids. We prefer them to be in classrooms, we prefer them to be learning.”The school boards, which sit at the bargaining table with the province and teachers, also oppose larger class sizes and e-learning for all students.“We are pleased (the government) has gone from 28 to 25” in terms of average secondary school class size, Abraham said, “but it’s still not good enough. We know our parents …most people don’t agree that larger class sizes are a good choice.”Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

20th, January 2020, 06:04pm

Toronto’s economic boom is not being felt in every neighbourhood

As Regent Park residents and others urged city councillors to bridge the growing gap between rich and poor, newly released figures revealed Toronto’s overall economy continues to boom.People crowded a city hall room Monday morning to make their cases to the budget committee on this year’s proposed $13.53-billion spending plan. That included pleas to help Torontonians struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, where a TTC fare hike of as little as 10 cents can be a disaster.“My (government) pension doesn’t include a 10-cent increase,” Toronto Community Housing resident Patricia Reid, 79, told budget committee members, adding the planned fare hike will reduce her already meagre ability to use transit and mean more walking and more bursitis pain.“Last week, I had an eye appointment and walked three hours back and forth to Toronto Western” hospital, Reid said.Several blocks away, Mayor John Tory released a rosy annual employment report at a news conference.Toronto added 46,920 jobs to its economy in 2019, up 3.1 per cent over the previous year. The economy’s shining star was the burgeoning tech sector, where total employment surged 16.6 per cent.“The report did not include data on the value of the jobs being created — for example, whether they are permanent jobs with benefits — but Tory told reporters the growth in well-paying sectors like tech suggests a positive trend. “I can’t cite you the numbers, but I am very confident that the jobs being created by and large are quality jobs,” Tory said.Office work remained the city’s biggest employer, with 48 per cent of all jobs, followed by institutional (17.4 per cent), service (12.6 per cent), retail (9.8 per cent), manufacturing (8.7 per cent), and community and entertainment (3.6 per cent).Back at city hall, a big delegation from Regent Park that included many teens begged councillors to fund a long-standing but unfunded social development plan to help fund sports leagues and other activities in the low-income neighbourhood, where teens are periodically shot dead.“A football team would help us support each other and bring our community together,” said Toccari Taylor-Kenton, 10. “Having a football team will keep me focused and away from gangs. I want to grow up and prove my teachers wrong that I can make it and go to university and play football.”His neighbour Mary Ann Scott, who brought family members to reinforce calls for the social spending first discussed in 2007 amid plans to physically redevelop Regent Park, said the investments in young people have to catch up to the shiny new buildings. “We have this beautiful infrastructure the children are grateful for, I know they are, but the underlying disparity of gangs and gun violence still exists,” Scott said.Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes Regent Park, said she will urge her colleagues to boost the operating budget by $635,000 per year to fund the social development plan.David Rider is the Star's City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmriderFrancine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

20th, January 2020, 06:02pm

‘We’re all together in this.’ Parents and kids join teachers on the picket line in show of support

By the time teachers arrived on the picket line Monday morning — bundled up in hats, mitts and multiple layers of clothing — parents had set a table with hot coffee, homemade muffins, hand warmers and blankets.That was the scene outside Toronto’s Carleton Village Junior and Senior Sports and Wellness Academy, as bitter temperatures ushered in a week that will consist of massive labour disruptions across Ontario with teachers engaged in one-day strikes. Rachel Huot, whose children are in Grades 3 and 6, spearheaded the initiative that attracted about 20 other parents, many with young children in tow.“I’m working with many parents in Toronto and Ontario who feel really angry about what the government is doing and really committed to supporting teachers,” said Huot, who is part of the Ontario Parent Action Network, a grassroots movement of parents taking action in their school communities. “We feel like (teachers) are standing up for our kids and standing up for our education system.”All four of Ontario’s teacher unions are in contract negotiations with Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives. They have all launched work-to rule campaigns and three have scheduled one-day strikes for this week. Key issues for the unions include protecting all-day kindergarten, ensuring they get fair compensation and their opposition to larger class size averages and mandatory online courses for high school students. But Minister of Education Stephen Lecce says the sticking point is salary, with the province offering a 1 per cent increase yearly — in keeping with recent legislation for public sector worker wage increases — while unions want about 2 per cent.At Carleton Village school, located near St. Clair Avenue West and Old Weston Road, the parents appear unwavering in their support. On Sunday, they gathered to make signs, such as Education Isn’t Paper — Don’t Cut It, This Is Getting Ridiculous and I’ve Seen Smarter Cabinets at Ikea. And on Monday morning, they spent about an hour with teachers on the picket line— some before heading off to work — cheerfully waving signs as passersby in cars honked to show support. Because about 20 teachers showed up for the morning picket shift, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., most of those gathered early on were parents and children. Among them was Sarah Donnelly, along with her son in senior kindergarten and another who will start school next year.“We know the job action they’re taking today is to make sure that our children have the best education,” said Donnelly, a stay-at-home parent. “They deserve fair compensation, they deserve a living wage increase in a city that is very expensive — but they’re not just fighting for that ... Our children don’t need to be in larger classes than they already are. And they are fighting for support for special needs students.”A few parents who live nearby opened their homes, providing teachers with a respite from the cold — it was -15 Celsius, but felt like -22 C with the wind chill — and a chance to use a washroom. Teachers also walked down the street to the Toronto Police Service’s 11 Division to use their facilities. That’s because striking teachers are not allowed on school property. Still, that didn’t prevent the principal and vice-principal from coming outside with an armful of blankets and hand warmers, and the office assistant from heating up the cinnamon rolls a teacher had brought in.Logan Wilson, who lives around the corner, made muffins for the teachers and allowed them to use the washroom in her home.“We’re all together in this,” explained Wilson, who has a daughter in kindergarten and a 1-year-old. “It seemed natural to offer that because I’m home anyways … If I trust them to look after my daughter all day long, why wouldn’t I let them come and use my bathroom?”Parent Mia Macdonald, a realtor, rescheduled appointments for the evening so she could spend the day with her son, who is in Grade 2. She was also going to care for her son’s friend, whose parents couldn’t find child care.“What the Ford government is doing has just gotten ridiculous,” she said. “We can’t sustain these cuts. The teachers are not asking the world. This isn’t really for them about the minor pay raise. It’s really about our kids’ future.”Sipping on hot coffee, teacher Paul Grewal said parent support has been remarkable. He questioned the province’s move to reimburse parents financially — up to $60 per student for every day that schools are closed — to help pay for child care.“Giving parents their own money to placate them for a walkout that they essentially caused really doesn’t make any sense to us,” said Grewal, who teaches French. He said he didn’t think parental support would wane if the labour dispute drags on, or intensifies, noting, “We have a lot of solidarity.”“I can’t predict how things might look many weeks from now, but I hope it doesn’t go that far,” he said.Parent Melanie Medeiros-Sims fully supports the teachers. That’s because she doesn’t want her two kids in elementary school to end up in high schools with large classes or have to take e-courses — the province wants to boost high school class averages to 25 and make it mandatory for those students take two online courses. That’s down from an earlier government proposal of class size averages of 28, and four mandatory e-courses.Medeiros-Sims said her daughter in Grade 12 complains that classes are already so big it’s hard to get a teacher’s attention and that students in her high school were asked to drop classes, if they had enough credits, because other kids needed certain courses to graduate.“If we don’t stand up to Lecce and Ford, then what’s going to happen to our education system?” she asked.Medeiros-Sims, who works part time with a real estate agent, had to take the day off to care for her kids. And she was caring for two other children, whose parents agreed to watch her kids in the event of another strike.“It’s a good arrangement that we have, but if this does become (a full-blown strike) it is going to become quite difficult,” she said. Even so, she’ll continue to support the teachers, saying, “It’ll be hard, we will be scrambling ... We have a great community here and I know we will come together.”The school was also visited by NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles, who noted that “parents and parent councils have really come together to speak up and stand up with education workers. And that solidarity is so important.”Stiles said she understands the strike can be inconvenient for many parents who have to to find child care.“People understand that there’s some inconvenience now, but the reason we’re doing it is so that down the road our kids get the supports they need.”Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

20th, January 2020, 05:14pm

Mike Sloan, Ontario man who shared his final months with terminal cancer on Twitter, dies

Mike Sloan, the London, Ont., man who documented the final months of his life with terminal cancer on Twitter, died Monday. Sloan, who had been living with Stage 4 anaplastic thyroid cancer, “passed peacefully” Monday afternoon, according to a tweet made on Sloan’s account by a friend. “I was with him at the end, holding his hand,” Bob Smith tweeted. “He thanks you all for your support on this journey. His last words were, ‘Tell Chub I love him.’ ” Chub is the name of Sloan’s cat.Sloan died “via MAID” (medical assistance in dying), the tweet reads.Sloan had taken to Twitter to illuminate his personal experience with cancer. He inspired and delighted his 13,000 Twitter followers with his wit, wisdom and resilience, and many mourned his loss on Monday. “RIP Mike” trended on Twitter as the tributes poured in. Ted Fraser is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star's radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @ted_fraser

20th, January 2020, 04:58pm

A Toronto couple bought this shed for $50,000. Now it’s a five-storey tower home listed for $2.25 million

Fifteen years ago, before laneway and infill housing were common in the urban vernacular, Julie Dyck, 48, and Michael Humphries, 49, saw the potential in a tiny overlooked lot that was sitting on the market around the corner from their former Queen Street East home.Even though it wasn’t entirely clear what they could build on the site, the couple bought the 25-square-foot lot with a ramshackle garage for $50,000. It was a risk likely fuelled by reading a lot of Dwell Magazine, says a joking Humphries.But with the help of an architect friend, Drew Hauser, they transformed the site into a local landmark — a five-storey live-work tower on tiny Trefann Street near Parliament Street that has been their home and the headquarters of their jewelry design business for the last decade.On Monday, the 2,200-square-foot house went on the market, listed for $2.25 million.Its owners have succumbed to what Humphries calls “land fever,” making the difficult decision to move to the country.Because the property is zoned residential-commercial, it has been built to the lot line with no setback. Its steel framing is visible through a tall glass atrium that wraps around the northeast corner and spans most of the north wall of the tower. The stairs follow the atrium up each separate floor of living space, flooding the home with light. Each level has a balcony or opening to the outdoors — “The fire department insisted,” Dyck said.“Even on the greyest day you still feel that winter is just a little bit further away,” Humphries said.Dyck said the couple worked to build a useful house, with nothing “too precious” to enjoy. The ground floor serves as a studio and garage. But they haven’t had a car for five years. They get around by bike and car sharing.There is a small basement too for storage.Upstairs there is a warm, modern kitchen diner with an entire wall of built-in storage and a built-in banquette surrounding the kitchen table from Dyck’s childhood home.It’s not the only piece of history. The counters and wall tiles were fashioned from Carrara marble that was being removed from First Canadian Place at about the same time the couple were building. The bank tower’s marble facade had begun falling off the side of the building creating a danger below and the pieces were being piled in a field in Markham, said Dyck, who had them cleaned and honed.“They really were a mess. A lot of the pieces had a bow in them because it didn’t matter when they were mounting them on the building if they were flat,” she said.Dyck worked hard to get to know the contractors and source materials. The stair treads, for example, are made of hardwood logs salvaged from the floor of Georgian Bay, she said.The couple started building the tower house in 2005 but difficulty with trades early on prompted them to hit pause.Eventually Dyck took over herself as contractor on site and they moved in around 2010.They budgeted about $400,000 for the shell of the house. By the time they installed the fixtures and fittings, the pair say it cost between $800,000 and $900,000 to build.The floors throughout are heated concrete. They have not done any renovations since the initial build.“We chose materials we knew would last. If you do it once you don’t want to do it again,” she said.Upstairs from the kitchen is a living area, laundry and another washroom. A Murphy bed easily drops down for guest accommodation.The master bedroom, another floor up, has an ensuite also lined in Carrara marble with a walk-in shower and stand-alone tub.The couple’s favourite space is at the tower’s summit — a showstopper rooftop terrace with hot tub and a gas line for the barbecue. It offers a European view of a church, Queen Street rooftops and towers rising to the southeast. The deck opens off a small seating area behind glass doors. Sitting there in the winter is like sitting in a snow globe, say the couple.Despite its height, the house lives like a traditional townhome. Stairs are not an issue, Dyck said.“You rarely do zero to five (floors) in one go. You really live on two and three and four like a normal townhouse,” she said.Because the house is built to commercial standards, there’s a two-inch intake for the water so the water pressure is “unbelievable,” Dyck said.“You could flush all the toilets and have a shower at the same time,” she said. “I’m going to miss that a lot.”Erica Reddy-Choquette, broker of record at Royal LePage Signature Realty Erica Reddy Brokerage, specializes in selling lofts. She says the tower house is special because “it’s like loft living in a freehold.” “It’s one of those properties that can appeal to various lifestyles and family configurations. It could be a couple with children or a child, a downsizer,” she said.“It was a dream to build it and we’re going to hopefully do it again soon,” said Humphries about their country home. “We would repeat a lot of things we did but just in a different shape,” he said.Next time, Humphries said, they will probably look at a low, modern design.Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

20th, January 2020, 03:58pm

What you need to know about the new coronavirus in China

A new respiratory illness identified in central China is emerging as a growing international concern after it killed at least three people and infected more than 200 others, with cases spreading in Asia.In Wuhan — one of the country’s largest cities and a hub for industry and technology — the yet-to-be-officially-named coronavirus caused an outbreak of severe pneumonia among people who frequented a seafood market there late last month.Authorities announced Monday that human-to-human transmission has been confirmed in the outbreak, raising fears that the illness could spread more quickly and widely.The announcement came after a sharp uptick was announced in the number of confirmed cases in Wuhan — with health authorities reporting an additional 136 cases confirmed in the city, raising the total to 198.Although the market has since been closed and disinfected, according to the New York Times, “the illness had also appeared in people who had not been exposed to the market, raising the possibility that the virus could be present elsewhere in the city.”The Times reported that a local authority said the virus could be present in particles of saliva, and in one case, a patient appeared to have infected 14 medical workers.As of Monday morning, there have been 217 confirmed cases of people infected with the disease, which has now spread to other parts of China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. It has also reached South Korea, Thailand and Japan.Authorities are on high alert this week as millions of people are expected to travel for Chinese New Year.Canadian public health officials are currently downplaying fears that it could spread to North America. The risk to Canadians visiting Wuhan is assessed as low, according to the latest federal travel notice.Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said earlier this month that the municipal agency is “actively monitoring” the situation, and said there are no cases in Canada. The agency is now deferring calls to the Public Health Agency of Canada Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital and a professor of public health at the University of Toronto, is no stranger to confronting quick-spreading, deadly global diseases.She navigated the 2003 SARS crisis in Canada as a renowned health worker and travelled to Liberia in 2015 to help fight the Ebola virus with the World Health Organization. McGeer is currently working on vaccine research and dealing with organisms that cause severe infections in hospitals.The Star spoke to McGeer on Monday about what’s going on in Wuhan. Here’s six things we learned:What are the symptoms of the illness?Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, and generally feeling unwell. If the infection travels to your lungs, you could have trouble breathing.What do we know about the new coronavirus?Not much. According to McGeer, it’s a new virus that cause infections in different animals, including in humans. “We still don’t know where it’s coming from or how easily it’s transmitted from human to human,” she said.Previous severe outbreaks of human coronaviruses include SARS back in 2002-03, and MERS in 2012-17. “Coronaviruses are known for their ability to change and evolve,” she said.McGeer said you can only tell what virus it is by doing lab tests. She added that “the infections that people get from coronaviruses are indistinguishable from the kind of infections you get from other viruses.”What’s the risk to Canadians?According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there is a low risk that Canadians will be affected by the disease — but it is still too early to tell what potential challenges the new virus may pose.“(If) this virus has an ongoing source that is not human beings in Wuhan and it’s not that transmissible from human to human — if that’s true, then we really don’t need to worry that much in Canada,” McGeer said.“If it spreads easily enough from person to person to maintain itself in human populations — and we do not know that yet at all — then it doesn’t matter probably who you are or where you are in the world, it’s going to be a problem and it will be unstoppable.”How alarming is the latest report out of China?Although at least two cases of human-to-human disease transmission have been confirmed by Chinese officials, McGeer said the world has to now wait and see if there are more.“The key issue now is not whether there’s human-to-human spread, but whether the human spread is enough to sustain this virus and populations,” McGeer said.McGeer noted that the recommendations that the government has made, referencing public health agencies, “have been very sensible. . . . However scary this might be for people, there is a limit to what people can or should do. And I think people have been perfectly reasonable about it so far.”Has Canada learned any lessons from the 2003 SARS outbreak?SARS caused a crisis in Toronto back in the early 2000s due to the sheer number of people infected with the disease (in Canada, there were 438 probable or suspect cases, resulting in 44 deaths mostly in the GTA). McGeer noted that the “primary problem with the SARS virus was that it was mostly transmitted when people were very ill in hospitals,” and thus if people weren’t diagnosed as having SARS, then human-to-human transmission was more common.Since then, she noted that a lot of work has been done to prevent transmission in hospitals. “Has that made a difference to how, how prepared we are for emerging infectious disease and new outbreaks? Yes, absolutely,” McGeer said.However, she added that it is “a general truth in Canada that we have underfunded and under resourced public health departments. So are we well prepared to deal with public health crises? No. How will we manage it? Bit hard to tell.”What else can Canada do to prevent the virus from spreading here?The Associated Press reported on Friday that the U.S. would start taking temperatures and asking about symptoms of passengers from Wuhan at New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco airports. Canada won’t take the temperature of Wuhan passengers, but will only remind them to inform officials of their symptoms through messaging on arrival screens at Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver international airports. An additional health screening question will also be added to the electronic kiosks at those terminals.If the coronavirus does spread and become a global threat, McGeer wants to emphasize one major point to government officials: do not close the borders.“If this is transmissible from person to person, we know that closing our borders does not work,” she said. “It causes a substantial amount of harm and it is not effective.” She added that “if this turns out to be a virus that causes relatively severe disease and is transmitted from person to person, that’s very bad news. But attempting to close our borders is not going to protect us.”With files from Star wire servicesIlya Bañares is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @ilyaoverseas

20th, January 2020, 03:15pm

Virginia’s capital braces for violence but gun-rights protest ends peacefully

RICHMOND, Va.—Virginia’s state capital was braced for violence on Monday as thousands of gun-rights activists crowded the grounds of the legislature building and the streets around it. But though many protesters outside the metal detectors and fences of the State House lawn wore body armour and carried assault weapons, no shots were fired, no arrests were made, and no violence of any kind had erupted as the protest dispersed in the early afternoon. The event was expected to draw white supremacists and militia groups, leading many to fear a repeat of the racist Charlottesville rally in 2017 that ended in a woman’s death, but if they were present, none made themselves evident. Instead, some protesters accused gun-control advocate Gov. Ralph Northam of racism, invoking a blackface photo of him that surfaced last year. The protest Monday, planned to oppose the gun-control plans of the newly elected Democratic majority in Virginia, took place on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that commemorates the life of the Black civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. In the run up to Monday, Northam declared a state of emergency, banning the carrying of guns and other weapons on capital grounds, citing what he called credible threats of violence by white nationalist and out-of-state militia groups. In the week leading up to the event, six alleged white nationalist terrorists were arrested — including one Canadian who was being ushered out of the armed forces after his ties to racist groups became known — after reports said they planned to attend and possibly cause violence at the event.President Donald Trump did not allow the threats of violence to stop him from offering support to the rally, tweeting on Friday night, “Your 2nd amendment is under very serious attack in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!”Virginia Republicans, briefed on the apparent threats to public safety, took a different approach, bluntly condemning anyone planning violence at the event. State Republican leader Todd Gilbert issued a statement on the weekend saying, in part, “Any group that comes to Richmond to spread white supremacist garbage, or any other form of hate, violence, or civil unrest isn’t welcome here. Thousands of law-abiding Virginians simply want to have their voices heard at the seat of government.”Speeches at the event promised to defend the second amendment and vote for Trump and against Democrats, and invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s denied application for a gun permit to insist gun ownership rights are civil rights. Protesters wearing bright orange “Guns save lives” stickers chanted “We will not comply” throughout the day. Rather than violent, the event seemed quiet, almost placid, despite the heavily armed crowds on the perimeter and a large police presence that included helicopters hovering above the crowds throughout the day.Protester Dan Helm from Fauquier County, Virginia, says in his experience there are few crowds more orderly than second amendment activists. “We’re here to let the legislative body know that the laws they’re trying to pass are not what the Virginia commonwealth is interested in. We need less going after gun rights and more enforcing the laws we already have and going after the criminal element.”In elections held in November, Democrats took control of all three branches of Virginia’s government, partly on the promise of stricter gun-control laws after a mass shooting in May 2019. In response, gun advocates sounded the alarm, and more than 100 cities in the state have declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuary” cities.Though organizers of the rally have said they planned for a peaceful protest, there were reports in advance it was being seen as a rallying point for racists.Late last week, the district attorney’s office in the neighbouring State of Maryland announced that the FBI had arrested three men, including Canadian Patrik Jordan Mathews, on weapons and drug charges, alleging they are members and recruiters for the white supremacist group The Base. Mathews disappeared in August amid accusations he is a neo-Nazi. At the time, according to The Canadian Press, Mathews was a combat engineer with the 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg, though the military said then it was investigating his alleged links to The Base and fast-tracking his request to be released from the Canadian Armed Forces.Three more alleged members of The Base were also arrested last week in Georgia on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and participating in a criminal street gang.Gov. Northam said last week that hate groups and militias from across the country were coming with violence in mind. “They are not coming to peacefully protest. They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.”With files from Canadian Press.Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: ekeenan@thestar.ca

20th, January 2020, 01:34pm

Fearing a repeat of Charlottesville, Virginia braces for violence as thousands of gun-rights advocates rally

RICHMOND, Va.—Virginia’s state capital was bracing itself for violence on Monday as thousands of gun-rights activists crowded the grounds of the legislature building and draw white supremacists and militia groups with them, as well as anti-Fascist counterprotesters, in what many fear would prove a repeat of the racist Charlottesville rally in 2017 that ended in a woman’s death. The protest Monday, planned to oppose the gun-control plans of the newly elected Democratic majority in Virginia, is taking place on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that commemorates the life of the Black civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. In the run up to Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, banning the carrying of guns and other weapons on capital grounds, citing credible threats of violence by white nationalist and out-of-state militia groups. In the week leading up to the event, six alleged white nationalist terrorists were arrested — including one Canadian who was being ushered out of the armed forces after his ties to racist groups became known — after reports said had planned to attend and possibly cause violence at the event. President Donald Trump did not allow the threats of violence to stop him from offering support to the rally, tweeting on Friday night, “Your 2nd amendment is under very serious attack in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!” Virginia Republicans, briefed on the apparent threats to public safety, took a different approach, bluntly condemning anyone planning violence at the event. State Republican leader Todd Gilbert issued a statement on the weekend saying, in part, “Any group that comes to Richmond to spread white supremacist garbage, or any other form of hate, violence, or civil unrest isn’t welcome here. Thousands of law-abiding Virginians simply want to have their voices heard at the seat of government.”Protester Dan Helm from Fauquier County, Virginia, says in his experience there are few crowds more orderly than second amendment activists. “We’re here to let the legislative body know that the laws they’re trying to pass are not what the Virginia commonwealth is interested in. We need less going after gun rights and more enforcing the laws we already have and going after the criminal element.”In elections held in November, Democrats took control of all three branches of Virginia’s government, partly on the promise of stricter gun-control laws after a mass shooting in May 2019. In response, gun advocates sounded the alarm, and more than 100 cities in the state have declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuary” cities.Though organizers of the rally have said they planned for a peaceful protest, there were reports it was seen as a rallying point for racists. Late last week, the district attorney’s office in the neighbouring state of Maryland announced that the FBI had arrested three men, including Canadian Patrik Jordan Mathews, on weapons and drug charges, alleging they are members and recruiters for the white supremacist group The Base. Mathews disappeared in August amid accusations he is a neo-Nazi. At the time, according to The Canadian Press, Mathews was a combat engineer with the 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg, though the military said then it was investigating his alleged links to The Base and fast-tracking his request to be released from the Canadian Armed Forces. Three more alleged members of The Base were also arrested last week in Georgia on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and participating in a criminal street gang. Gov. Northam said last week that hate groups and militias from across the country were coming with violence in mind. “They are not coming to peacefully protest. They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.” With files from Canadian Press.Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: ekeenan@thestar.ca

20th, January 2020, 01:34pm

Virginia’s gun-rights protest ends peacefully, despite fears of another Charlottesville

RICHMOND, Va.—Virginia’s state capital was braced for violence on Monday as thousands of gun-rights activists crowded the grounds of the legislature building and the streets around it. But though many protesters outside the metal detectors and fences of the State House lawn wore body armour and carried assault weapons, no shots were fired, no arrests were made, and no violence of any kind had erupted as the protest dispersed in the early afternoon. The event was expected to draw white supremacists and militia groups, leading many to fear a repeat of the racist Charlottesville rally in 2017 that ended in a woman’s death, but if they were present, none made themselves evident. Instead, some protesters accused gun-control advocate Gov. Ralph Northam of racism, invoking a blackface photo of him that surfaced last year. The protest Monday, planned to oppose the gun-control plans of the newly elected Democratic majority in Virginia, took place on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that commemorates the life of the Black civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. In the run up to Monday, Northam declared a state of emergency, banning the carrying of guns and other weapons on capital grounds, citing what he called credible threats of violence by white nationalist and out-of-state militia groups. In the week leading up to the event, six alleged white nationalist terrorists were arrested — including one Canadian who was being ushered out of the armed forces after his ties to racist groups became known — after reports said they planned to attend and possibly cause violence at the event.President Donald Trump did not allow the threats of violence to stop him from offering support to the rally, tweeting on Friday night, “Your 2nd amendment is under very serious attack in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!”Virginia Republicans, briefed on the apparent threats to public safety, took a different approach, bluntly condemning anyone planning violence at the event. State Republican leader Todd Gilbert issued a statement on the weekend saying, in part, “Any group that comes to Richmond to spread white supremacist garbage, or any other form of hate, violence, or civil unrest isn’t welcome here. Thousands of law-abiding Virginians simply want to have their voices heard at the seat of government.”Speeches at the event promised to defend the second amendment and vote for Trump and against Democrats, and invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s denied application for a gun permit to insist gun ownership rights are civil rights. Protesters wearing bright orange “Guns save lives” stickers chanted “We will not comply” throughout the day. Rather than violent, the event seemed quiet, almost placid, despite the heavily armed crowds on the perimeter and a large police presence that included helicopters hovering above the crowds throughout the day.Protester Dan Helm from Fauquier County, Virginia, says in his experience there are few crowds more orderly than second amendment activists. “We’re here to let the legislative body know that the laws they’re trying to pass are not what the Virginia commonwealth is interested in. We need less going after gun rights and more enforcing the laws we already have and going after the criminal element.”In elections held in November, Democrats took control of all three branches of Virginia’s government, partly on the promise of stricter gun-control laws after a mass shooting in May 2019. In response, gun advocates sounded the alarm, and more than 100 cities in the state have declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuary” cities.Though organizers of the rally have said they planned for a peaceful protest, there were reports in advance it was being seen as a rallying point for racists.Late last week, the district attorney’s office in the neighbouring State of Maryland announced that the FBI had arrested three men, including Canadian Patrik Jordan Mathews, on weapons and drug charges, alleging they are members and recruiters for the white supremacist group The Base. Mathews disappeared in August amid accusations he is a neo-Nazi. At the time, according to The Canadian Press, Mathews was a combat engineer with the 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg, though the military said then it was investigating his alleged links to The Base and fast-tracking his request to be released from the Canadian Armed Forces.Three more alleged members of The Base were also arrested last week in Georgia on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and participating in a criminal street gang.Gov. Northam said last week that hate groups and militias from across the country were coming with violence in mind. “They are not coming to peacefully protest. They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.”With files from Canadian Press.Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: ekeenan@thestar.ca

20th, January 2020, 01:34pm

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