› Ontario doctors ?distressed? over wave of bullying, infighting
A damaging wave of cyberbullying and intimidation is sweeping through the ranks of Ontario doctors, complete with obscene emails, threats against each other’s medical careers and refusals to take patient referrals from adversaries.
Although experts say bullying has always been a problem in medicine, in Ontario it has escalated since last summer’s failed ratification vote over a proposed deal between the government and Ontario Medical Association, which represents the province’s 34,000 doctors and medical students.
The problem has grown even harsher since the sudden decision by the OMA executive to resign en masse following a vote of non-confidence by the group’s 260-member elected council last month.
“I have not heard anything like this before to this degree,” said Dr. Sharon Straus, vice-chair of the department of medicine at the University of Toronto and a researcher in the area of bullying within the profession. “It makes me sad, ashamed and distressed.”
She said the perpetrators of unprofessional behaviour are a minority among physicians.
The targets are mainly doctors who opposed the move last month to oust the OMA executive team and who voiced support for last summer’s tentative deal between the province and OMA. They range from the youngest in the profession — students seeking training positions in hospitals and universities — to those at the top, including past OMA president Dr. Virginia Walley.
Walley served at the helm of the organization during one of the most tumultuous periods in its 136-year history until her resignation this month. She and the rest of the six-member executive resigned a week after the OMA’s council passed a non-confidence motion against them. (Votes on motions to force each member of the executive to step down failed.)
The Star has learned that dozens of disturbing emails were sent to Walley via the OMA. They include this misogynistic one from a southwestern Ontario anesthesiologist sent shortly before last August’s ratification vote:
“You are a c---. Crash and burn as you deserve to do!! This will be a NO vote and the end of the OMA. Sincerely, F--- YOU and the OMA!!!”
Walley has registered concerns about a handful of the emails with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the regulatory body.
Another physician involved with the OMA, someone who has participated on a negotiations committee for the association, has been a target through abusive phone calls, the Star has learned.
“I hope none of your patients need to come here to have any kind of investigative radiology done,” a radiologist yelled at this doctor.
This doctor also received a threat over the phone from a Toronto family physician: “You don’t know what you are doing and you are going to pay for this. You hate doctors and must have it out for doctors. You will never work in leadership again.”
(Many of the doctors targeted for the abuse and cyberbullying provided evidence and talked with the Star only on the condition they not be identified publicly for fear of further abuse.)
Straus says the body of literature about unprofessionalism in medicine is substantial. A 2014 analysis of 60 international studies led by a medical student working with her research team found more than half of physicians have experienced bullying, mostly through verbal harassment and mostly directed at junior doctors or medical students by senior doctors.
Social media exacerbates the problem, Straus says.
Patients can be affected if doctors are bullied to the extent they become stressed, suffer PTSD, quit their jobs or even abandon the profession, she warns.
Some of the ugliest attacks have been directed at St. Michael’s Hospital family physician Dr. Philip Berger over the past month on the members-only Facebook group, Ontario Doctors Discussion Forum.
In response to an opinion piece and letter to the editor that Berger wrote for the Star in which he offered his take of what’s behind all the feuding, other physicians have diagnosed him with mental health problems and suggested drug treatments.
Toronto family doctor Geoffrey Forbes wrote that Berger needed a sedative: “Whew. lorazepam 0.5 s/l stat over here please.”
Forbes did not respond to interview requests left with his practice or at Humber River Hospital, where he also works.
Dr. Ira Bernstein, also in Toronto family medicine, wrote Berger needed a stronger drug, an antipsychotic: “Ativan won’t be enough. Clopixol needed. This is clearly Psychosis.”
Bernstein did not respond to interview requests left with his practice or with Humber River Hospital and the University Health Network, where he also works.
Alliston family physician Dr. Oswaldo Ramirez piled on in Spanish: “Coño hijo de puta anda a chupar Berger. (Translation: P---y, you son of a whore. Why don’t you go and suck Berger.) Sorry. Couldn’t hold that rant back. I revert to my native tongue when mad.”
Forbes also wrote this about Berger on the Facebook page: “RT = gathering the wolf pack to go hunting. Berger is the target here.” (“RT” refers to “retweet,” which is how messages spread on Twitter.)
A reporter tried to reach Ramirez through the media relations department at Stevenson Memorial Hospital where he is a staff physician, but heard back instead from his boss.
“Stevenson Memorial does have a policy that prohibits this very kind of activity on social media,” said the chief of staff, Dr. Barry Nathanson, adding that a senior team would be taking up the issue with Ramirez.
“Dr. Berger is entitled to express his views, as we all are, without vulgar responses, public or private, from anyone. As a physician myself, I am embarrassed that any colleague would conduct themselves in a manner which lacks the dignity and professionalism that medicine is based upon,” Nathanson added.
Berger said he is astounded such conversations are allowed to happen on the Facebook forum and charged that a vocal minority is trying to silence anyone who opposes them:
“The doctors’ language is far worse than the profanities I heard when I worked as third cook for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1969. That was a rough place to work and the workers never swore at each other or name-called.”
Former deputy health minister Michael Decter says medical politics aren’t for the faint of heart. He took his share of slings and arrows after the 1991 agreement was reached between the province and OMA.
“Medical politics doesn’t bring out the best in people,” said Decter, currently chair of Patients Canada.
“There are huge, internal battles within the association among the various sections and some of those involved feel very entitled and are willing to make extreme threats and use unpleasant and foul language,” he explained.
Medical politics in Ontario have become so dirty that a police report was filed about false email accounts being set up last summer in the name of an OMA board member who was in favour of the proposed agreement with the province, Toronto police confirmed. Emails were sent out from the accounts to physicians around the province, saying the board member was opposed to the deal and urging them to vote against it.
Dr. Cathy Faulds, a former president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians and a professor at Western’s medical school, said bullying deters many doctors from getting involved in the OMA and medical politics.
“The intimidation and bullying discourages people from becoming leaders in the province,” she said.
There are currently elections underway within Ontario’s medical profession to fill vacant seats of the OMA’s governing council and board of directors.
Faulds says that most family physicians choose to “ignore the ugliness” and focus instead on patients:
“There is a group of physicians who are silently disengaging from the politics. There is some less-than-professional behaviour going on by a segment of physicians, but the vast majority are trying to deliver high quality care despite the health system issues.”
The infighting within the profession has become so intense recently that OMA dissenters are forming factions and battling among themselves.
This was evident last month when a whistleblower involved with a group of doctors that forced the non-confidence vote leaked screen-captured images of a conversation from their “secret Facebook group.”
The Facebook conversation was widely circulated in an email with the subject line “When Transparency Isn’t Transparent.” It’s unclear who wrote the email, which came from an address dubbed “Engaged OMA Members.”
The whistleblower went on to allege that the group had been aided in the “planning of this coup” by Kingston consultant Tim Bates who had been promised a job at the OMA as a reward for his work.
Reached by phone, Bates acknowledged that he “helped out with some advocacy” but has “no interest in working for the OMA.”
After the Star wrote about the whistleblower email, Ali Damji, chair of the Ontario Medical Students Association, was wrongly accused of leaking it to this reporter, according to sources.
Damji’s denials were apparently not believed and two days later he received a threatening Facebook message from Bates, a copy of which was obtained by the Star:
“I’m just speaking with some of the physicians involved and they tell me you have not apologized. This is why we will be sending all the deans letters as soon as possible because quite frankly there are many who feel you should not be a family medicine resident at UofT or anywhere else for that matter.”
Damji declined to be interviewed for this story, but was rattled by the threat, fearing it could derail his career, according to friend Dr. Dan Raza, a family physician at St. Michael’s.
“He is quite distraught and shaken by this,” Raza said.
When first asked about the threat, Bates denied making it. When pressed, he admitted to it:
“I may have been a little bit upset with Ali because I was shown an email that said that he had sent a piece of cyberbullying to you,” he said. “I was upset with him because I had mistakenly believed that he had done that . . . It was something that I shouldn’t have said.”
The incident has attracted a lot of attention — and anger — in Ontario medical circles, with many physician leaders rallying around Damji.
“I am aware that it has been reported that one of our student leaders has been threatened inappropriately. Collectively, the Ontario deans are very concerned about this situation and are investigating appropriate actions,” said Dr. Richard Reznick, co-chair of the Council of Ontario Faculties of Medicine.
“We very much want our students to be involved in leadership activities, and understand that on occasion this may include involvement with politically charged issues. I am confident that any outsider’s comments about one of our student’s activities would in no way jeopardize that student’s career aspirations. That said, we very much are outraged if the purported allegations of a threat to a resident’s career are validated,” continued Reznick, dean of the faculty of health sciences at Queen’s.
Medical students have also been attacked on the Facebook forum. A quote attributed to Dr. Daniele Wiseman, a radiologist at the London Health Sciences Centre, says this about University of Ottawa student Jonathan Gravel, who last summer voiced his support of the tentative agreement:
“That kid should be shot with a ball of his own s---.”
Reached at her office over the phone by this reporter who identified herself and inquired about the remark, Wiseman responded: “I don’t really recall this . . . I don’t know who you are or what you are talking about . . . I am going to hang up now.”
Gravel declined to comment.
Georgetown family physician Dr. Nadia Alam, another doctor behind the non-confidence vote, alerted physicians on the Facebook forum a week ago that the Star was working on this story and advised them to watch their words:
“Have care in what you say, what you write, what you tweet.”
Dr. Rocco Gerace, registrar for the College of Physicians and Surgeons, says he is dismayed to hear of allegations of bullying:
“I am particularly disturbed to hear allegations that medical trainees have been subjected to threats and intimidation. Physicians are expected to model appropriate behaviour for trainees and foster a culture of respect within the professional environment, and abusive conduct will not be tolerated.”
The college has a policy, titled Physician Behaviour in the Professional Environment, which sets out expectations. It offers examples of unacceptable conduct, such as using “rude, profane, disrespectful, insulting, demeaning, threatening, bullying, or abusive language, tone, innuendos, and behaviour.”
In addition, the provincial government has issued a regulation that stipulates that engaging in “conduct unbecoming a physician” may be considered an act of professional misconduct and subject to discipline. Under the Professional Misconduct Regulation, “conduct unbecoming” is intended to capture conduct outside the practice of the profession that is inappropriate and reflects poorly on the physician or profession.
After three years without a contract and seven months of no negotiations, the OMA and province are about to go back to the bargaining table. In the last week, both sides have announced their respective negotiating teams.
The stakes are high. So are emotions and tensions.
Even so, doctors are expected to take the high road, Gerace said.
“At all times, the college expects that physicians will act respectfully toward their patients, colleagues and other members of the health-care team.”
If they don’t, there will be consequences, he warned.
“Physicians who engage in threatening or bullying behaviour, or use profane or abusive language are advised that the college can and will investigate their conduct. Allegations of abusive conduct are taken very seriously, and investigations will be decided in accordance with our public interest mandate, and may include disciplinary action.”
Reach Theresa Boyle at email@example.com or (416)869-4915
› Oscars? shock ending to a politically charged night: Howell
They’ll be talking about this Hollywood ending for many years — Moonlight took Best Picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards after Oscar leader La La Land had already been declared, on stage, the winner.
In an apparent flub involving Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway reading from the wrong envelope, Damien Chazelle’s ode to Tinseltown was crowned Oscar king — and then had the crown snatched away moments later, when the embarrassing gaffe was realized.
Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age drama Moonlight, which had already won for Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Jenkins with playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney), was then named Best Picture, to the shock and joy of many in L.A.’s Dolby Theatre.
La La Land was the night’s overall winner, taking six Oscars: best director (Chazelle, the category’s youngest-ever winner at age 32), actress (Emma Stone), cinematography (Linus Sandgren), production design (David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco), original score (Justin Hurwitz) and original song (“City of Stars,” Hurwitz plus two collaborators).
Best Actor went in another direction: Casey Affleck, for the tragic drama Manchester by the Sea, which also won Best Adapted Screenplay for writer/director Kenneth Lonergan.
The unprecedented Best Picture screw-up added a final blast of adrenalin that had already seen Hollywood venting its anger against U.S. President Donald Trump and his controversial politics and pronouncements.
Starring Emma Stone and Canada’s Ryan Gosling as a starry-eyed L.A. couple, La La Land had a record-tying 14 nominations going in, far more than the eight apiece for its nearest rivals: Moonlight and sci-fi drama Arrival.
Jokes and protests about Trump made for the strongest constant theme of the Oscars broadcast, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.
La La Land’s two main rivals scored first. Montreal soundman Sylvain Bellemare won the Oscar for Best Sound Editing for fellow Quebecer Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, something of a surprise win over the favourite La La Land.
Another Canadian winner was Ontario’s Alan Barillaro, co-director of Piper, which took the Best Animated Short Film trophy for a charming Pixar story about a baby sandpiper bird and its mother.
Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor, as expected for his portrayal of a drug dealer who befriends a fatherless child. It was Ali’s second big moment in a week: he and his wife welcomed their first child, a daughter, four days previously. He thanked his wife for standing by him during many months of Oscar campaigning.
Ali also thanked his acting teachers for instructing him about what it means to be an actor: “It’s not about you, it’s about these characters. You’re in service to these stories and these characters.”
Moonlight also won Best Adapted Screenplay, a prize shared by writer/director Barry Jenkins and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney.
There was no delay to Kimmel’s barbs about Trump, which started right off the top and continued throughout the evening. He even tied in a reference to #OscarsSoWhite, the protest that dominated last year’s show.
“I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?” Kimmel said, to big applause.
In reference to Trump’s Muslim travel ban, he added: “This broadcast is being watched live by millions of Americans and around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us.” Many of the people in the audience sported blue ribbons as a sign of protest against Trump’s travel ban.
Kimmel even used Trump to honour Meryl Streep, a 20-time Oscar nominee and multiple winner whom the president described as “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” after she criticized him in her speech at last month’s Golden Globes.
At Kimmel’s urging, the Dolby Theatre audience stood to give a beaming Streep what Kimmel called “a totally undeserved round of applause” — although it was clear all in attendance felt she deserved it.
Later in the show, Kimmel trolled Trump by tweeting at him: “U up?” and “Meryl says hi.” The messages to @realDonaldTrump were displayed on the big screen on the Dolby stage, to much audience laughter.
Trump was also on the mind of one of even the evening’s first prize winners: makeup artist Alessandro Bertolazzi, co-winner of the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for the supervillain adventure Suicide Squad.
“I’m an immigrant,” he said. “I’m from Italy, but I work around the world. This is for all the immigrants.”
The most pointedly political award of the night was Best Foreign Language Film Oscar to Iran’s Asghar Farhadi, for his moral drama The Salesman. There had been speculation Academy voters would use this category to hit back at Trump’s travel ban, and it appears they did just that.
A previous Oscar winner and attendee, for A Separation in 2012, Farhadi declined to travel to L.A. this time to protest Trump’s travel ban against seven Muslim countries, Iran among them. A statement from him was read out from the stage:
“My absence is out of respect for the people of my country, and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans the entry of immigrants to the U.S.,” Farhadi said.
“Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war.”
He added that movies help fight the xenophobia and stereotyping displayed by Trump: “They create empathy between us and others — an empathy which we need today more than ever.”
A more political Oscars broadcast seemed to appeal to viewers. An online poll by The Hollywood Reporter found more than 70 per cent of respondents responding “yes” or “maybe, but keep it short” to the question, “Do you want tonight’s Oscar winners to get political in their speeches?”
The show didn’t start with anything like commentary, however; rather, it opened with Justin Timberlake leading the Dolby Theatre audience in a sing- and dance-along to his performance of “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” his nominated song from Trolls.
There was an emotional moment when 98-year-old Katherine Johnson, the former NASA math whiz who inspired the story of Hidden Figures (nominated for Best Picture and two other prizes) was welcomed onto the Oscar stage to bask in applause.
A tearful Viola Davis, winner of Best Supporting Actress for playing Denzel Washington’s stoic spouse in the family drama Fences, also reflected on what it means to be an actor.
“I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
The night’s strangest stunt? It had to be Kimmel inviting in members of the general public to tour the Dolby midshow and meet celebrities in the front rows. An engaged couple from Chicago was “married” by Denzel Washington in an impromptu ceremony after Kimmel asked him to be best man at their planned summer wedding. Washington chose to officiate right then and there instead. “It’s official because it’s Denzel Washington,” Kimmel said.
The night’s best special effect? It was the little bags of Red Vines licorice and Junior Mints candy which dropped into the Dolby Theatre in hundreds of tiny parachutes to a delighted audience, after Kimmel noted that you can’t watch a movie without enjoying candy. Much later, he delivered cookies and doughnuts the same way.
› NDP Leader Horwath says she can cut hydro bills up to 30 per cent
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says she can cut hydro bills up to 30 per cent under a plan that lets consumers opt out of time-of-use pricing, caps profits for private producers and returns Hydro One to full public ownership.
New Democrats would also ask the federal government to scrap its 5 per-cent HST on electricity bills under the 13-page proposal unveiled Monday, ahead of the government’s promised rate-relief package expected soon.
“It would be fantastic if the Liberals took this plan and implemented it,” she told reporters, accusing Premier Kathleen Wynne of ignoring skyrocketing hydro prices until they became a “political problem” for her.
“Electricity isn’t a luxury. It shouldn’t be priced like one,” Horwath said.
“We’re at a tipping point in Ontario and we’ve got to take bold action.”
Horwath said high delivery charges for customers in rural and northern areas would be “equalized” in the form of lower urban distribution charges by reducing the fees Ontario Power Generation pays for water flowing over its dams. The savings would be used to subsidize the rural delivery costs.
Under her plan, customers would be able to opt out of time-of-use pricing, which charges higher rates for power during the day and has a lower, off-peak rate from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and on weekends and holidays.
That would allow them to pay 10.3 cents per kilowatt hour, the same off-peak rate under time-of-use pricing, a system brought in several years ago to encourage people to avoid using electricity during peak daytime hours.
But that doesn’t work for seniors and many shift workers who are at home during the day, said Horwath. She called time-of-use pricing “a completely failed experiment.”
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault has hinted that people may soon be able to abandon time-of-use pricing, and that pilot projects are about to get under way.
According to the NDP plan, buying back Hydro One could be done using dividends the province still collects from the portion of the utility it still owns (70 per cent).
Horwath said an NDP government would attempt to renegotiate expensive private power contracts (as the Liberal administration did with deal with Samsung), but did not build any assumptions about that into its plan.
In the legislature’s daily question period, Wynne said she is “very concerned” about problems, such as the high rural delivery charges, and urged Horwath to stay tuned for changes the Liberals will soon reveal.
“She should be very pleased with the plan that we’re going to bring forward,” said Wynne, whose government began waiving the 8-per-cent provincial portion of the HST on hydro starting Jan. 1.
Hydro rates have doubled in the last 10 years.
› George Smitherman is making a comeback
Almost seven years after failing to become mayor of Toronto, George Smitherman is planning a return to politics with a run for city council in the 2018 municipal election.
In an interview, the former Ontario cabinet minister and deputy premier said the time is right to return to city hall, where he served as chief of staff to then-mayor Barbara Hall in the pre-amalgamation 1990s.
The “solo father” of two young children — his husband, Christopher Peloso, died in 2014 after a struggle with depression — says he has no mayoral ambitions. He hopes to represent an east downtown ward on a council that is set to expand to 47 seats from 44.
“I serve on public company boards, I manage a couple of key investments, I’ve moved into a couple of investment properties, I have a couple of consulting clients and I have a couple of kids,” he said of a life run from a multi-unit house near Old Weston Rd. and St. Clair Ave.
“I just came to recognize over time that, for all of the professional things that I’ve had a chance to do, and for all the benefits associated with that, none of them offers me the motivation, excitement and reward of being able to do community politics.”
In 2010, Smitherman quit provincial politics to enter the mayoral race as the “candidate of the broad centre” only to be steamrolled by conservative political juggernaut Rob Ford.
Smitherman did, however, crush suburban-based Ford in the downtown wards he had represented provincially.
In a decade at Queen’s Park, the Etobicoke-raised Smitherman served as opposition MPP, health minister and minister of energy and infrastructure.
He was credited with implementing massive reforms to the province’s health care system but also tarred by the eHealth Ontario spending scandal, which Ford used as a club against him during 2010 mayoral debates.
Although a combative style earned him the nickname “Furious George,” Smitherman, 53, is relaxed and quick to laugh at past battles, including those with Mayor John Tory when Tory was leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and later a current affairs radio host.
“We have a complicated relationship,” he said of Tory, who plans to run for a second term.
“We like each other, but on some issues there is a lot of wariness; we’ve shadowboxed over time. I think he might have mixed views about me, but it’s immaterial — I won’t be running against him, I’ll be running in a local community.
“I’m George Smitherman, I’m an independent. At heart I’m a Liberal, I support Justin Trudeau, but I’m not some patsy for the province. I’m not a surefire left-wing or right-wing voter. If elected I’m going to take a look at issues (with) a consistently progressive point of view” — and a focus on low-income residents.
Spending much of his time as dad to adopted children Michael, 8, and Kayla, 6, might have mellowed Smitherman, but he doesn’t hesitate to throw a punch.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s denying Toronto power to impose highway tolls was “a terrible, terrible decision for Toronto,” he said.
And Tory’s decision to champion a rail deck park above the tracks west of Union Station seemed “impulsive” given Toronto’s unfunded capital priorities, Smitherman said.
He also questions budget hits to school pools and shelter staff and the mayor’s loyalty to controversial conservative strategist Nick Kouvalis.
Smitherman says the flexibility of political life would allow him to be a good parent and work more than full time, vowing if elected to quit the boards of medical marijuana producer THC Meds Ontario Inc., fledgling drone maker Alta Vista Ventures and mining venture Ceylon Graphite.
He is planning to move back to east downtown and put a deposit on a condo in Ward 28 Toronto Centre-Rosedale long represented by Councillor Pam McConnell. Ward 27 to the north is represented by two-term Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.
Smitherman says he’d rather not challenge an incumbent, hoping to run for a seat vacated through retirement from politics or created by boundary changes city staff are trying to implement for 2018.
McConnell, first elected councillor in 1994, said in an interview she is busy with projects in her ward and has not decided if she will seek re-election next year.
She praised Smitherman’s past help with the Regent Park redevelopment, including getting provincial funding for a much-admired aquatic centre, and is “delighted that experienced people would put their names forward.”
Wong-Tam said she plans to run in 2018, adding that Smitherman “has much to offer the city … and I know that things at City Hall will certainly get a shakeup if he is elected.”
In an interview, Tory agreed he and Smitherman have a “complicated” relationship but added “there’s no doubt about his caring for the city and a lot of the people that are living in the city and ... I would look forward to working with him if he gets elected and I get re-elected.”
› Quebec MP Guy Caron joins NDP leadership race
OTTAWA—Quebec MP Guy Caron jumped into the New Democratic Party leadership race on Monday with a campaign he says will focus on the “two major challenges of the 21st century” — climate change and inequality.
In prepared remarks, he attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and said that despite his promise to bring “real change” to Ottawa, the Liberals are no different than their Conservative predecessors. It is time to give the NDP a shot, and Caron said he’s running to be the social democratic party’s first prime minister.
Read more: Charlie Angus joins NDP leadership race, says party must counter Trump-style populism
New Democrat MP Peter Julian launches leadership bid as race kicks off
“The political and economic class has relegated the needs of people to the bottom of their list of priorities, throwing crumbs from time to time to appease them,” Caron said, who announced his leadership bid at a log cabin in Gatineau, Que.
“Progressives have a duty to propose a credible plan to bring meaningful change to an economic system that leaves most Canadians behind.”
Caron also unveiled the first element of his platform: the creation of a basic minimum income. He said the payout would bring all Canadians to the low-income cut-off level so that they won’t “worry anymore about meeting their basic needs.”
The 48-year-old MP for Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, which he has held since 2011, emphasized his training as an economist, and said in his speech that the left can no longer cede credibility on financial matters to more conservative parties.
He outlined a litany of perceived economic inequities that the Liberals, in creating a $30 billion spending deficit, have failed to address. These included increasing economic inequality, loss of good-paying and stable jobs and rising household debt.
“Contrary to popular belief, economics is not a politically conservative discipline,” he said.
“I decided to study economics because I was convinced that progressive forces cannot simply cede this crucially important ground to Bay St. and international financiers.”
Caron also described how he joined the NDP in 2002 and ran several times before he was finally elected in 2011. When he first came to the party, he said they were less popular in eastern Quebec than the Natural Law Party, “whose platform advocated transcendental meditation as a political option.
“In other words, we started from the very bottom of the political ladder,” he said.
Caron has served as the NDP’s finance, natural resource and industry critics.
He joins fellow MPs Peter Julian and Charlie Angus in the race to replace Tom Mulcair, who has led the NDP since he was chosen as party chief after Jack Layton’s death in 2011.
The party’s first leadership debate is scheduled for March 12 in Ottawa.
› Pierre Gregoire was source of joy, but later pain, as he struggled with addiction
It was a mild winter when Pierre Gregoire, just 3 ½ years old, and his infant sister came to the two-storey house that would become one of his many homes.
The boy with the infectious smile and gentle heart immediately won over Joe and Gloria Curotte, the foster parents who loved and bonded with the child they would come to consider a son.
“He had the biggest grin,” his mother, Gloria, said, remembering that first day.
“This little boy is not going to give us a hard time, look how happy he is.”
For the next 25 years, Gregoire was a source of enormous joy and pride, as well as pain, as his struggle with addiction and his desire to wander took him away from that house, to Labrador and Montreal and finally to Toronto.
“Pierre never left us. In my mind, at least, he thought of us every night,” Gloria said, speaking to the Star from their home on the Kahnawake reserve south of Montreal.
“Pierre was our boy. Pierre belonged here with us.”
Gregoire died on Feb. 15, in a bathroom at a KFC in Toronto, shortly after injecting heroin police suspect contained fentanyl. The powerful drug is linked to a rising number of deaths among intravenous drug users across the country.
He was 28.
His story, but not his name, was published amid what activists and allies have identified as an ongoing crisis of shelter capacity and addiction services in Toronto. He was said to have walked away from a downtown drop-in centre, where he was fed by welcoming staff, but told it was too full to allow him to lie down and sleep.
On Wednesday morning, a memorial service was held at West Neighbourhood House, a drop-in centre and community hub at the corner of Queen and Bathurst Sts. Nearly 50 people gathered in a circle of burgundy-cushioned chairs under large feathered dream catchers hanging overhead.
A worker handed out printed programs with Gregoire’s beaming face. One man, who arrived early, pressed it to his lips.
Elder Vern Harper asked everyone to come forward as he explained the importance of the circle, a place where they were all invited to step in, to heal and to honour Gregoire.
Harper started with a prayer, everyone rising to their feet, the final words echoing around the circle in murmured response.
By his father’s account, Gregoire’s time with them was filled with love and support, games of hacky sack and summers in a pool Joe put in the backyard.
“We had anywhere from 10 to 12 kids in the yard constantly,” Joe told the Star, on the phone from the house he built. “To me, he was a typical boy growing up, he had a good life, he had lots of friends and, like I said, as a parent it is hard to see this.”
At the memorial, Joe was the first to stand. “I raised him,” he said, then described a boy who could “run like the wind,” loved hockey, baseball and excelled at lacrosse.
He also loved riding dirt bikes, often breaking them and bringing them home for his father to fix. He snuck alcohol as a teen, as many kids do, but didn’t really begin to struggle until a few years later, they said.
Gregoire was one of nine children the Curotte family, who are Mohawk, fostered over a decade, some of whom they adopted.
“God knew there were children out there that needed a mother, and I was Pierre’s mother. He gave him to me,” Gloria said. “I got my wish. I had my children and I am proud of them.”
Reuniting Gregoire with his birth mother, Angela Gregoire, whom he loved deeply, was always the goal, Gloria said.
About four years after he arrived at their house he did go back to live with Angela, but they were separated again. He was then placed with a second foster family, close to Joe and Gloria’s house, and then back with the Curotte family.
Gregoire was part of the Innu Nation and many members of his large family live on the Sheshatshiu reserve, in Labrador, including Angela, who spoke with the Star on Saturday, the day of her son’s funeral.
“We love him very much and will miss him very much. I have never forgotten him. We are lighting a candle for him since he passed,” she said.
Angela spoke of a deep bond with her eldest son, whom she named after her father and who carried a Bible she gave him. She thanked Joe and Gloria and his Toronto friends for caring for him.
As a young man, Gregoire did return to Labrador and during that time, they “got back that connection,” Angela said. Still, he decided to move to Toronto to go to school and pursue his dream of becoming a chef.
Gregoire’s life in the city did not turn out as he had wanted, but he hadn’t given up hope.
In a video about life on the street posted last fall by an independent filmmaker, Gregoire said he tried to seek help for his addictions but there was “too much Jesus.”
He said firmly he had never been driven from home and blamed himself for “doing wrong.” He described what it means to be homeless and survive and that he saw the cup as “always half full.”
“Even when you meet the bad people, there’s always that good person that’s like right behind them that’s willing to talk to you.”
He dreamed of being heard one day as a musician.
“You’re going to see me in like three years, maybe two if I work really hard. But yeah, you’re going to see me,” he said.
“I’ll push forward to do it because I already feel it.”
When asked to recount his childhood and the people who raised him, Gregoire talked about Joe and Gloria.
“They’re my foster parents, but yeah, they’re my parents,” he said.
They were good to him, he said. “Amazing.” And he knew they loved him “with all their hearts.”
“You loved them?” the interviewer asked.
“Yes,” he replied without hesitation.
Several years after Gregoire left, Gloria planted a red maple for him in her yard. It grew perfectly straight.
During one of his visits, it was clear he had been drinking. She walked him over and placed his hand on the trunk.
“This is your tree,” she told him. “I planted it for you. I want you to go straight like this tree.”
They tried many times to reach him, she said.
Gregoire wrote his family three letters that his mother calls a “true confession” and in which he shared his deep love for them and apologized for taking money, or drinking, and pledged to make good.
“He did have a good home,” Gloria said. “He never wanted for anything. He was given it, because he deserved it.”
That included guitar lessons to encourage a musical talent she described as a true gift.
One Christmas, Gregoire arrived with nothing, just a bag of small gifts.
“Those are the moments that stand out. What he was about. That was his quality,” she said.
During the memorial, Gloria looked around the room at friends her son had made. Her son, Iohahi:io, and daughter Lisa (Watshennon:ni) were next to her. There were front-line workers there too in the crowd from St. Felix, the drop-in centre that provided soup and shelter on many occasions. Maybe you knew about us, she said, that he had a family.
Heads around the circle nodded.
When those friends shared emotional memories, Gloria encouraged them if they struggled to speak, guided them through their stories or offered comfort if they became overwhelmed.
“He is with you in spirit. Ask him to help you,” she said to one young man.
In turn, they shared how Gregoire had become part of their family on the street, sharing conversation, laughs and a “brotherhood” with two young men.
“A beautiful kid,” one friend said, raising his voice so that Gloria could hear him.
“He’s no different than me,” he said. “It could have been me.”
Gloria said she at first had been scared to speak to the crowd.
“I wanted to say the right things,” she said. “I didn’t want to offend anybody in that room because I am looking at faces I don’t know, but I was looking at Pierre in that room.”
Throughout that day, independent of one another, three women — one black, one white, one indigenous — approached to tell her their names.
“She told me that she was Pierre’s street mom,” Gloria said of one encounter. “Then another, she did the same.”
So, says the woman who raised the little boy with the wide smile: “Pierre had a lot of mothers. Pierre had a mother of every colour, of every nation. They took care of him, too, however which way they did.”
At the end of the service, Elder Harper tried to articulate the pain of losing a son, speaking of his own losses, and of the devastating legacy of residential schools and government actions meant to “de-feather” them.
“Our children should not go ahead of us,” he said. “But we don’t have a say on that.”
When it was over, those gathered helped dismantle the circle of chairs and set up long tables to share a meal.
On Sunday, his family in Kahnawake will hold a feast to mark the 10 days after his death — the time, they said, Gregoire had to visit his loved ones and finish his business on Earth.
They will set a place at the head of the family table, serve his favourite foods and fill a plate for him.
Gregoire would be there in spirit, his father said.
Then they will tell him it is okay now to leave.
› Councillor said problems with flight home from vacation kept her from budget meeting
When council spent 15 hours debating and finally finalizing the budget on Feb. 15 there was just one councillor missing.
There are 33 council meetings scheduled this four-year term where all 45 members are expected to show up and vote. With illness, travel and other conflicting work obligations, the average councillor does miss all or some of a meeting on occasion.
But council also has few legislated obligations. One is to pass a balanced budget. Historically, absences are rare at the final council budget meeting.
This time, Councillor Michelle Holland missed it.
Though there was buzz on the council floor she was trying to get a plane back to Toronto, the reason for her absence was, at the time, unclear.
Councillors are allowed to miss only three consecutive meetings or risk losing their seat. However, their absence can be excused by their colleagues. When Holland's absence came up at the very end of a meeting that spilled over into 12:30 a.m. the next day, Councillors Janet Davis, Mary-Margaret McMahon and Gord Perks voted to not excuse it (the vote passed regardless, as it typically does in these instances).
On Feb. 12, three days ahead of the meeting, Holland - who represents Ward 35 (Scarborough Southwest) - posted photos on her public Instagram account of a glossy blue pool under the shadow of palm trees, a sprawling spa in Scottsdale, Arizona and what appears to be a shot of her lounging by a pool eating what appears to be, according to the menu, a "citrus grilled shrimp salad" ($23) at luxury The Sanctuary spa just outside of Phoenix.
"#1 chef #scottsdale Elements @ #TheSanctuary #Arizona #spa #healthyliving #peace #meditation #yoga #hike #camelbackmountain #soulretreat," Holland posted as the photo's caption.
The Star emailed the councillor Thursday to ask why she had missed the meeting.
A staff member responded to say Holland had been "out of town for several days that week and had intended to fly back on the afternoon of February 14th (the day before the meeting). However, due to issues with the airline all the flights to Toronto were full and she was only able to return late on February 15th."
The Star pointed out the public posts and asked if she had a return flight booked before the meeting was scheduled to begin.
Holland herself wrote back to say it had been a personal vacation and she had four nights booked at a hotel "and then had to book an additional night when I could not get any flight on the 14th return flight. This was booked prior to the meeting. I tried several times to get a flight back on the 14th but was unable due to fully booked and would have been back had I been able."
The Star asked if she wanted to offer any details of the airline and what she did to get back in time given the concern at city hall and the suggestion she had skipped the meeting to confirm a billions-dollar budget to be at a spa.
Holland reiterated that she made "every effort with the airline to return on February 14th and as early as I could on February 15."
"To suggest that I 'skipped the meeting to be at a spa' is completely incorrect factually," she wrote. "I would assume that accuracy with respect to reporting would be more important than relying on 'talk in this building.'"
She noted the spa was just a one-day experience during her trip and that she did not stay at the spa "nor did I 'skip the meeting to be at a spa."
Holland did not respond to additional questions about whether she had a return flight booked in advance and if that flight had been overbooked. She also did not answer a question about why she was not able to make any part of the meeting on Feb. 15, which spilled into the earlier hours of the following morning.
According to FlightStats.com's historical flight tracker, seven flights left Phoenix's international airport to Toronto on both Feb. 14 and 15 from five major airlines. The last flight operated by Delta landed at 7:35 p.m. on Feb. 15 - five hours before the council meeting ended.
When asked why he voted not to excuse her absence, Perks responded to bureau chief David Rider saying: "The decisions we make at the budget meeting are the most important decisions we make all year."
McMahon said: "It behooves us as councillors to attend meetings of standing committees we belong to and city council meetings, especially an important one where we vote on the annual budget." McMahon said she would not change her vote not to excuse her colleague's absence based on the explanation provided by Holland to the Star.
Holland did not respond to that criticism.
The budget meeting saw several close calls, including a couple of ties, which by council rules always lose.
That included a late-night fiasco just before midnight that saw council accidentally punch a $2-million hole in the operating budget.
A request to re-open the vote to resolve the issue lost on a tie. After much hand-wringing, council eventually agreed to pull $2 million out of a rainy-day reserve to plug the gap.
› Why hate crimes are hard to prosecute
Anti-Semitic vandalism inside a North York condo. Protests against Islam outside a downtown mosque. And the emergence of a video — reportedly filmed in that same mosque — capturing a prayer that was “offensive to those of Jewish faith.”
It’s been a bigoted few weeks for Toronto, where a spate of high-profile incidents have catapulted hate crime allegations into newspaper headlines and Facebook feeds.
The three incidents are being investigated by Toronto police, but whether criminal charges will be laid remains to be seen.
The road ahead for investigators is a bumpy one. Hate crimes occupy a murky corner of the justice system: The burden of proof is high, conviction rates are low and what actually constitutes a “hate crime” isn’t explicitly defined by the Criminal Code.
“When we get to the criminal law, there is no such thing as a ‘hate crime’ in and of itself,” said Mark Freiman, a lawyer with Lerners LLP and former deputy attorney general of Ontario.
“I think the public expects that there is a separate category called a ‘hate crime,’ with its separate definition, and that people can be charged with a hate crime.
“In reality, that seldom happens.”
Canadian lawmakers have recognized hate crimes as serious matters that require legal remedies. According to a memorandum that provides guidance to Ontario prosecutors, hate crimes “eat away at the social fabric of our communities” and “can be seen as a form of terrorism of the targeted group.”
“Hate crimes are very serious because their impact can be devastating,” the memorandum states. “Because hate crimes divide, disenfranchise and potentially destabilize society, the public interest in their prosecution is significant.”
There is no specific offence under the Criminal Code called “hate crime.”
Police have a number of different legal avenues they can pursue when investigating hateful activity and each has its own road-bumps and potential dead-ends.
Any crime can qualify as a hate crime if prosecutors prove that hatred was a driving force.
Motivation is the dividing line between a regular crime (a Jewish-owned business vandalized by drunk teens on prom night, say) and a hate crime (a Jewish-owned business vandalized by neo-Nazis on International Holocaust Remembrance Day).
But in these cases, the hateful aspects of the crime are recognized during sentencing, not on the charge sheet.
Take the case of 233 Beecroft Rd., where several condo residents recently discovered notes on their doors, at least one of which had a swastika and the message “No Jews.” A number of mezuzahs, parchments with religious verses affixed to the doorposts of Jewish households, were also vandalized.
If the culprits are caught, police will probably lay mischief-related charges, Freiman says. But during sentencing, prosecutors can argue that hate was an aggravating factor. This enables a judge to hand down a harsher sentence.
The key is to prove motivation: What was the person thinking when they decided to commit the crime?
For prosecutors, this is a slippery task.
“Frankly, that’s one of the reasons I think why ‘hate crimes’ aren’t free-standing criminal code offences,” Freiman said. “The prosecutor would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the motivation, which would be very difficult.”
Prosecuting hate becomes even thornier when the alleged crimes take the form of speech or another form of expression.
Toronto police are investigating two incidents that could fall under this category.
On Feb. 17, a downtown mosque, Masjid Toronto, was briefly swarmed by a small group of people protesting M-103, a parliamentary motion to condemn and combat Islamophobia.
Some protesters held signs with statements such as “Muslims are Terrorists” and “Say no to Islam.”
The mosque filed a report with the police Tuesday.
The next day, another complaint was made, this time against Masjid Toronto by the Jewish Defence League of Canada. The JDL is affiliated with a U.S. organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as “a radical organization that preaches a violent form of anti-Arab, Jewish nationalism.”
The JDL’s complaint is based on video taken inside the mosque, which the group alleges showed someone making anti-Jewish statements during prayers. The video was posted to YouTube and has since been removed.
According to a statement provided by the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), which is affiliated with the mosque, a junior employee made “unauthorized” supplications in Arabic last summer that were “offensive to those of the Jewish faith.” The mosque has now suspended the employee pending an internal investigation and apologized to the Jewish community, stating the language used was “unacceptable and against the values and practices of MAC.”
Under the Criminal Code, there are three sections that deal with hate propaganda, all created in 1970 following a surge of anti-Semitic activity in Canada.
One bans the public incitement of hatred toward an identifiable group.
But incitement isn’t enough to justify a charge; the activity must also be “likely to lead to a breach of the peace,” according to the Criminal Code.
“That’s going to be the crux,” Freiman said. “It’s easy enough to show you’re inciting violence or hatred against an identifiable group.
“The question is: Is that incitement likely to lead to a breach of the peace?”
The bar is even higher for the other two hate propaganda crimes: advocating or promoting genocide, and making public statements that “wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group.”
For both crimes, police need permission from the Attorney General of Ontario before they can lay charges.
This is an extraordinary provision required for only a handful of crimes, according to Richard Moon, a hate speech expert and law professor with the University of Windsor.
The law recognizes several acceptable defences for the “wilful promotion” offence; for example, if the statements are true, or if they are “relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit.”
The threshold for charging someone with hate propaganda is extremely high.
Legal experts say it is meant to be.
“It reflects an awareness that free speech is at stake here,” Moon said.
“The drawing of lines between what should be protected speech, and what really is viewed as harmful speech, is a difficult one. There’s always going to be controversy and disagreement.”
The result is very few people have been charged under hate propaganda laws.
Convictions are even rarer.
According to Statistics Canada, there were only 26 court cases between 2010 and 2015 involving hate propaganda offences or mischief relating to religious property.
Of those, only 14 resulted in a guilty verdict.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims would like to see more resources devoted to policing and prosecuting hate crimes.
While Toronto police say they haven’t noticed an increase in hate crime reports, the NCCM, which tracks anti-Muslim incidents across the country, says it has definitely seen a recent surge, according to spokesperson Amira Elghawaby.
In the face of growing hate rhetoric worldwide, and in the wake of the recent mosque attack in Quebec City, the need for effective hate crime policing is more urgent than ever, says Bernie Farber, a hate crime expert and executive director with the Mosaic Institute.
“It’s a unit that really needs expertise,” Farber said.
“My real urging would be the re-establishment of active anti-hate units in police forces across the country.
“This matter is not going to get better; it’s only going to get worse.”
› Sunrise Records to move into 70 closing HMV locations
Sunrise Records is placing a major bet on Canadian music sales with plans to move into 70 retail spaces being vacated by HMV Canada.
The Ontario-based music retail chain has negotiated new leases with mall landlords across the country.
Sunrise’s expansion gives the company a quick foothold in the Canadian music scene just as the industry’s largest retailer closes shop. Stores will begin to open this spring after HMV liquidates and removes its signs.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to get a lot more stores open,” Sunrise Records president Doug Putman told The Canadian Press in an interview.
“We think there needs to be a great outlet across Canada to buy music.”
Read more:HMV in receivership, stores to close by Apr. 30
The 32-year-old executive’s investment comes at a time when many are dismissing physical music sales as more listeners shift to streaming options.
Compact disc sales fell 19 per cent to 12.3 million units last year, according to data compiled by Nielsen Music Canada. Meanwhile, on-demand audio streams experienced dramatic growth, rising 203 per cent to 22 billion streams, helped by services like Apple Music and Spotify.
Putman isn’t convinced the data signals the end of physical media.
“A lot of the younger consumers still love having something tangible,” he argued.
Putman has long believed in buying merchandise you can hold in your hands. He grew up working at the family business, Everest Toys, a manufacturer and distributor based in Ancaster, Ont.
He bought the Sunrise chain from Malcolm Perlman in October 2014 just as streaming was going mainstream. Perlman had spent the previous few years shutting down most of the Sunrise stores in the Toronto area, often blaming higher rent.
When Putman gained control of the company, there were five Sunrise Records stores left. He’s since doubled the number by opening in Ontario cities like Ottawa and North Bay. He said all of those stores are profitable.
His approach is a departure from the financials at HMV Canada.
In court documents filed last month, HMV painted the image of a hemorrhaging business where sales were projected to slide to $190 million in 2016, after gradually weakening over the previous couple of years.
Overall, HMV said it was losing $100,000 a day.
“It’s an absolutely huge number,” Putman said.
“But we’ve been able to find a way, working with landlords and our suppliers very closely, to mitigate that.”
Putman said his company won’t lose $100,000 a day when the mall locations open, and he has set a goal of making all stores profitable in 2018.
Former HMV locations factored into the deal represent roughly $100 million in sales, Putman said.
Locations included among the new lease agreements are the two-level store in West Edmonton Mall, as well as other malls in Burnaby, B.C., Winnipeg, Hamilton, Mississauga, Ont., and Saint Bruno, Que.
The company will outline a more extensive list of stores as the full leases are signed, Putman added.
Sunrise Records will invite 1,340 former HMV employees to apply for 700 positions as it prepares to move into the new locations.
The company was unable to reach new terms for about 30 of the closing HMV stores, Putman said, including the company’s flagship location at Yonge and Dundas streets in Toronto. Some landlords weren’t interested in a “pop culture” chain, he said.
Staying ahead of trends will be one of the biggest challenges Sunrise faces as it defines itself as a hybrid music retailer and cultural merchandiser.
Aside from CDs and DVDs, Sunrise will hedge its bets with board games, themed toys and a wide selection of music, film and TV apparel.
HMV tried that strategy too, but Putman believes he can do it better with a broader selection. He’s also putting a major focus on growing interest in vinyl records, which will be placed at the front of stores.
Vinyl sales grew 29 per cent last year to over 650,000 units, and Nielsen figures show growth this year remains steady.
Sunrise will also tap into other popular slices of nostalgia, like audio cassettes. Sales of tapes jumped 79 per cent to about 7,000 copies last year.
Putman said the company won’t invest much in tapes, which he considers as a “niche market,” but said Sunrise already stocks a number of cassettes and tape players.
Yet not every factor will be within the new owner’s control.
Record labels are making seismic shifts in their priorities with a stronger focus on how digital sales drive music charts.
Some of last year’s biggest hits, including Beyonce’s Lemonade and Drake’s Views, were released under a digital-first strategy. Streaming and download services had the album weeks before record stores.
Other albums, like Grammy winner Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Kanye West’s Life of Pablo, went without a physical release at all.
Putman hopes those examples remain anomalies, though he said those hurdles are just part of navigating an evolving industry.
“Is the business the same today as it was five years ago? Of course not,” he said.
“And it’s going to be very different in three years. It’s up to us to adapt and change.”
› Here?s how Toronto said farewell to Honest Ed?s
There’s no place like Honest Ed’s, so of course its goodbye party had to be something special.
Though the belovedly garish department store closed its doors in December after 68 years of bargains, Toronto had the chance to say one final farewell to Honest Ed’s this weekend before the building gets demolished.
Thousands were expected to turn out for the four-day bash, organized by volunteers and artists from the Centre for Social Innovation. Ending Sunday, the festivities featured dance performances, music, installations and an art maze.
Organizers aimed not only to say goodbye to the physical space, but also to apply the inclusive spirit of Honest Ed’s founder, philanthropist Ed Mirvish, to Toronto’s future.
The art maze in particular was meant to give fresh meaning to Ed’s old slogan of “come in and get lost.”
Part of the building became a performance space and dance floor. Some said they enjoyed it so much, they wished it’d been part of Honest Ed’s from the beginning.
The celebration was also an opportunity for many to say goodbye to an integral part of Toronto’s history. Partygoers shared stories of bargains and finds — many emblematic of the city’s growth and change.
Now, the lights of Honest Ed’s have finally blinked off for good. The building will soon be demolished to make way for new development project, while the infamous sign will be saved and moved to the Ed Mirvish Theatre near Yonge and Dundas.
But as the city moves forward, it seems unlikely that Honest Ed’s will ever be forgotten.
Here’s what the store’s last hurrah looked like, and how Torontonians said their last goodbyes to an iconic piece of the city’s past.
› York Catholic School Board to vote on Vaughan school closure
Jasmine Mousseau has spent months trying to understand why her children’s school is on the chopping block.
She’s read reports prepared by the York Catholic School Board, crunched the numbers and talked to anyone willing to listen to her case for why Our Lady of Peace in Vaughan should stay open.
In her view, the facts speak for themselves; the school has 97 per cent enrollment, offers the only French immersion program in the area and has had among the highest EQAO scores in the city, says Mousseau.
But, more importantly, she says, closing down the school will divide the close-knit community in the heart of old Maple into two.
“We are one community,” said Mousseau, who moved into the area five years ago just so her kids could go to the school. She has one child in English and another in French.
“We assemble together, we pray together and, after school, all the kids play together,” she said. “It’s sad, because we are being carved up along linguistic lines.”
On Tuesday, Mousseau’s family and hundreds of others will learn the fate of their school, when York Catholic trustees vote to endorse a staff recommendation to shutter the school.
The 272 students in the English stream would be sent to Father John Kelly, which sits on busy Keele St., and the 191 French students would merge with Blessed Trinity, a school some two kilometres west.
Our Lady of Peace would close in June.
The real reason for closing the school is balancing the books, the board says.
Under pressure to deal with schools the provincial government considers “under-utilized,” school boards across Ontario have been ordered to conduct “pupil-accommodation reviews” to reduce half-empty schools.
York Catholic Board’s need to do so has been even more necessary, due to a “non-compliant budget,” in which the board’s deficit is more than one per cent of its operating revenue, according to the board.
“YCDSB has seen an increase in the number of surplus (unfunded) pupil places over the last decade as enrolment has declined,” said Sonia Gallo, a spokeswoman for the board. She added that there are 6,000 surplus spots in the board.
“As of October 2015, the shortfall in funding to heat, clean and maintain classrooms in York Catholic is just over $5.5 million. If surplus capacity is not addressed by 2020, this shortfall is estimated to grow to over $7 million,” said Gallo, who added that the ministry of education is helping the board create a plan to curb the trend.
As a result, the YCDSB has been conducting its accommodation reviews across York region.
The one in Maple, has sparked the most discord so far.
Parents say it’s because the process has been biased from the start.
“The last time a school, at full capacity, has been closed was never,” said parent Joe De Matteis.
“We feel their minds were clearly made up to close Our Lady of Peace right from the start,” he said.
He says the process was never consultative as it was meant to be and that the board chose to study only three schools in Maple, not all nine.
Parents say they are shocked why the board would choose to close a school nestled in a community and keep Father John Kelly Catholic Elementary School open, even though it’s on a main arterial road, right next to a gas station.
Parents said they’re concerned that the principal of Blessed Trinity sent an email to staff weeks before the board voted to initiate the Maple review, that accurately described the outcome of the report before it was made public.
The board issued an apology for the email “miscommunication” last week.
Carol Cotton, chair of the board, says the ministry guidelines suggest a “preferred recommendation” be made for the “community and trustees to react to,” she said.
“What we found is that there is quite a successful French program that is growing and going to need more space. They are two declining English programs that are reaching the level that there are challenges delivering the program, such as split grades,” she said.
She says it’s inaccurate to say the school is almost at capacity, adding that the English and French streams are separate. “The French program is growing, and it will get more space to grow at Blessed Trinity,” she said.
“It’s wonderful that they forged a great community, but you have an English program being offered in the school that is not equitable to others in the board . . . , because they are too small.
“Our goal is to make that better, to have an optimal number of students. And, on a financial side, by putting them all together, we have a greater utilization of the facility,” she said.
“And we close a school, which is what this whole process is driving, to eliminate unfunded pupil places throughout the board,” she said. Cotton added that this choice reduces capacity by 478 places.
The parents say they the board’s numbers don’t add up.
They say they have hired their own experts to evaluate the numbers, which show that the board would save more money in the long run by keeping Our Lady of Peace open and consolidating the other two schools.
They have also retained legal counsel to file a cease-and-desist order to stop the process.
More than 900 people have signed an online petition urging the board consider other options.
The moves are having an impact. Vaughan-Woodbridge Trustee Dino Giuliani says, given the conflicting information he has in hand, he doesn’t feel comfortable making a decision Tuesday night.
“These parents are asking (for) reasonable answers to reasonable questions, and so am I. And we haven’t gotten those answers . . . . I hope the board does the right thing to clear the air and be transparent,” said Giuliani, adding that trustees need more clarity before they “can make a decision to close either school.
Giuliani said he will be asking for a deferral of the vote. “Given what’s going on here . . . the integrity of the board is being challenged, and we, as trustees, have to restore that.”
In the meantime, Mousseau says she and many other families have already started to look for other options if their school is closed — which includes taking their children out of the Catholic board altogether.
“We will likely pull our children out of the board, if they move the French program,” she said.
“And it’s sad, because the Catholic board is struggling with how to keep enrollment up . . . , but they are making decisions that are really pushing people out.”
› Woman dead after being hit by a bus near Union Station
A woman in her thirties has died after being struck by a bus in downtown Toronto on Sunday evening.
Emergency crews received a call around 6:32 p.m. that a woman was struck by a bus near Union Station, on Bay and Front Sts.
The woman was rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries, where she later died.
No one was able to initially confirm if the woman was with without vital signs.
The extent of the woman’s injuries was severe enough that when emergency crews arrived, they opted to do an emergency run to hospital and a firefighter was required to accompany paramedics, to have a second person on hand to help.
The entire Union GO bus terminal has been shut down. Passengers are being moved to the Yonge St. entrance, according to Toronto Police.
The station will remain closed while police investigate.
More to come.