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After serving 30 years of a 160 year sentence, Derek Twyman is ‘clicking along’ in Toronto

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Looking around the tidy bachelor apartment in the Junction Triangle in east Toronto, you’d never know it’s the first time Derek Twyman has lived on his own. 

He’s hung up dozens of picture frames on his living room walls.

As he sips a glass of ginger ale, Twyman adjusts the autographed head shots of celebrities, like Al Pacino and Robert de Niro. 

He wrote to them, and dozens more, to anyone who would listen, who he thought could help him get out of prison. They’re also a reminder, he says, of how all those years behind bars in North Carolina have shaped him, though it’s clear they don’t define him. 

“Everything seems to be clicking along pretty good,” he said, with a gentle southern drawl. “This is actually a walk in the park.” 

160 year sentence

Life was anything but when Twyman was younger. At 15, his family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In his late teens, Twyman fell in with the wrong crowd, trying to fit in after moving from Oakville, Ontario, where he was brought up. 

He and another young man would go on to burglarize homes in an affluent area. They targeted precious metals that could be melted down and sold anonymously to local pawn shops. Police instructed the stores to buy it all, and take down licence plate of whoever sold it. The vehicle registered back to Twyman’s family. His partner in crime implicated Twyman as the mastermind behind all the crimes. 

At age 26, he was sentenced to 160 years—​four consecutive life sentences—​for that spate of non-violent robberies. 

From the time Twyman started his life behind bars, he was tireless in his efforts to raise awareness about his case. 
He wrote thousands of letters, to family and strangers alike. When one of those letters reached a young law student by the name of Shane Martinez, it started a decade-long intervention that featured legal help from Toronto, to Halifax, to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Their efforts finally paid off last year. Twyman flew back to Toronto in November 2017 nearly 30 years after he was first locked up. 

Life after prison 

In the year since, Twyman has been doggedly working to get back on his feet, starting with an apartment and a job. During that time, he lived with the friend of one of the lawyers who helped get him released.

“I was looking everywhere,” he said. 

For six months, he found no success. House hunting proved to be difficult. They were either all too expensive.  In one instance, he found a place by Lake Ontario and had the rental application filled out, but the landlord told him he wouldn’t be comfortable with Twyman living there. “It was ironic because, underneath the unit was a cannabis store,” he said. 

‘I never give up.”– Derek Twyman

Having a 30-year gap in his work experience didn’t lead to success on the job front, either, as he sent out dozens of applications, often never hearing back.

“You have to do it,” he said. “So, I never give up. I’ve been in worse situations before and haven’t given up.” 

Eventually, in March, he found a job in retail, but is reluctant to share any more publicly for fear his past will hinder the present once again. 

He also found the modest apartment that he’s made his own. The only personal photograph displayed is a framed photo of him and a blonde woman he proudly calls his girlfriend who he met at work. He hasn’t yet been able to reunite with his brother, whose bad health doesn’t allow him to travel to Canada just yet. His father recently moved to British Columbia from the States and hasn’t had a chance to visit. Mom died while Twyman was still in prison.

Losing track of time

At age 55, Twyman views his adjustment to life as a free man in mostly practical terms. At first, he got lost on public transit, but quickly learned most buses eventually landed him at a subway stop. He also had to learn how to upload an attachment in emails, and use smartphones.

His biggest challenge has been the cost of living. 

“I could buy a huge house in North Carolina for the rent I pay here,” he said. “You got rent, you have to buy food.” 

When talking about the change from a rigid prison schedule to managing it all on his own, it’s the only time he gets reflective. 

“[In prison] everything is the same, over and over. One day you wake up and 10 years has passed and nothing’s changed,” he said. “Here, it’s the same situation, except you’re in a different situation. You end up losing track of time.” 

Derek Twyman thought he might die in a U.S. prison. Then a N.B. law student took an interest in his bizarre case. 8:46

Still, Twyman keep pushing on. For him, it means saving enough money to pay for a paralegal program at a career college in Toronto.

“It’s an accomplishment, helping someone,” he said. “In the end if you’re making a difference, you’re doing pretty good.” 

The college has already saved him a spot in the new year, but Twyman doesn’t know if he’ll be able to save up enough money to pay for it just yet. He’s not worried, though. 

“I always try to look at the good side of things,” he said. 

“If you look at things that way, life’s just a whole lot smoother. I guess you could say I’m the happiest man in Toronto.”

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Dreessen: Ottawa has to shed its image as a town that doesn’t like fun

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Ottawa has long held a reputation as a place that fun forgot. People who live here know that there is a lot to love about the city: its history, the Rideau Canal, proximity to parks and rivers, excellent clubs, museums and galleries all make Ottawa a great place.

More spontaneous fun things are harder to come by. We’ve created a process that makes it hard for small businesses to thrive and where the process is more important than the outcome.

In 2016, a local artist planned to give away free T-shirts celebrating Ottawa 2017 on Sparks Street, until the local Business Improvement Association (BIA) asked him to move, squashing a fun event to bring people together.

In 2017, business proposals to the NCC executive committee made a business case to open cafés at Remic Rapids, Confederation Park and Patterson Creek. In the summer of 2020, two opened; the Patterson Creek location, opposed by neighbours, has yet to see the light of day, though the NCC website indicates it may happen in 2021.

In each case, the cafés are only open for a few brief summer months. Despite the fact that Ottawa celebrates itself as a winter city, we can’t, somehow, imagine how people might want to enjoy a café in the spring or fall, or during winter months while skiing along the river or skating along the canal. Keeping public washrooms open, serving takeout and, yes, using patio heaters, could make these cafés fun additions to our city for most of the year.

More recently, Jerk on Wheels, a food truck with excellent Caribbean chicken and two locations, has run intro trouble. The one on Merivale Road continues, but the Bank Street location in Old Ottawa South has to close. According to social media posts from the owners, despite the business having all permissions in place, local restaurant franchises of Dairy Queen and Tim Hortons have objected to its presence.

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Ottawa businesses frustrated with slower pace of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen plan compared to other provinces

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OTTAWA — As Canada plots its roadmap to reopening, each province is choosing their own path to reopen the economy and lift the COVID-19 restrictions.

Some are moving towards loosened restrictions at a faster pace than Ontario, which is frustrating for business owners who say they are ready to receive customers safely.

Patio season is upon the city, and at Banditos Restaurant on Bank Street, owner Matt Loudon is staging the large outdoor dining area to prepare for the summer rush. But the patio will have to remain closed until at least June 14, when it is expected Ontario will move into Step One of the three-step Roadmap to Reopen plan

“I hope they push it up a little bit,” says Loudon. “It’s beyond frustrating all the other provinces are opening up before us, we’ve been locked down longer than anybody else.”

Loudon, who owns two restaurants, says their outdoor seating has always been safe and that they have invested in added measures like sanitization stations and personal protective equipment for the staff. Indoor dining will continue to remain off limits in Ontario until Step Three. When patios do open, tables will be limited to four people. 

Unlike British Columbia’s four-pronged approach that began May 25. Residents in the province are now allowed to dine both inside and out, with a maximum of six per table, not restricted to one household.

Quebec will enter into its first step Friday, where outdoor dining will be available for two adults and their children, who can be from separate addresses per table. This applies to red and orange zones in the province. The curfew will also be lifted. 

In Gatineau, hair salons opened their doors to customers last week. Ten minutes away at Salon Bliss in Ottawa, all owner Sarah Cross can do is hope she can reopen sometime in July.

“Most people think that government funding covers all the bills but it’s far from it,” says Cross. Her upscale salon has nine chairs and over the course of the pandemic, in order to comply with regulations and keep staff and patrons, safe, only three chairs can now be filled. She says the hardest part is that the rules constantly change and vary in each region, adding it doesn’t make sense how one is better than the other.

“Our livelihood is dependent on what the decisions are made and if they were aligned with one belief system then I think they would have the trust of the public to follow these protocols.”

Many Ontario business owners say it’s not only a matter of necessity they open, but can do so safely. Infectious disease physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti agrees, and says the province needs to expedite its timeline.

“Especially with the fact that we are in the post vaccine era,” says Chakrabarti.

“It’s important for us to remember that we have been following this case count very closely for the last year and certainly we’ve had some experiences with opening things, especially with the second and third waves we have to remember that as we go forward now vaccines are a huge difference maker to the situation. Cases may go up but that doesn’t mean the most important thing will go up which is hospitalizations.”

Chakrabarti says while people will still get infected with COVID-19, with the reduced risk of hospitalization in large numbers there is no reason to restrict the community. He says while it’s not time for packed stadiums, it’s also not time for lockdowns and Ontario should re-think its strategy.

“We have to faith in the vaccines. We have seen in the other parts of the world like Israel, the U.K.,and the U.S. our neighbours to the south,” says Chakrabarti. “They are very safe and effective and our ticket out of this pandemic. We really should be taking that.”

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$2.9 million tax break for Ottawa Porsche dealership receives the green ligh

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OTTAWA — Ottawa city council has given the green light to a $2.9 million tax break for a new Porsche dealership in Vanier.

Council voted 15 to 9 to approve a grant under the Community Improvement Plan initiative to build a Porsche dealership at the corner of Montreal Road and St. Laurent Boulevard.  The project by Mrak Holdings Inc., a.k.a. Mark Motors of Ottawa, would be built at 458 Montreal Road.

Under the Community Improvement Plan approved by Council, business owners can apply for a grant equal to 75 per cent of the municipal tax increase attributable to the redevelopment. A report says the goal of the Montreal Road Community Improvement Plan is to “stimulate business investment, urban renewal and property upgrades in the area.”

Coun. Catherine McKenney was one of nine councillors who opposed the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“I agree with the Community Improvement Plan, but I know and what people see here is that this application does not meet the criteria,” said McKenney about the CIP proposal for the Porsche dealership.

“A car dealership, no matter whether it’s Honda, or a Porsche or a Volkswagen, it does not first off belong on a traditional main street. This does not the meet the criteria of a CIP, it will do nothing for urban renewal.”

Approximately 70 people gathered at the site of the proposed Porsche dealership Tuesday evening to oppose the tax grant.

Coun. Diane Deans told Council she doubted any councillors who supported the Community Improvement Plan when it was developed in 2019 thought it would support a luxury car dealership.

“I don’t think it fits. I don’t think a clear case has been made that this incentive is required for the Mark Motors project to move forward at all,” said Deans. “I don’t believe there’s a clear community benefit.”

Coun. Riley Brockington, Deans, Jeff Leiper, Carol Anne Meehan, Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Keith Egli, McKenney and Shawn Menard voted against the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“It will lead to a $17 million investment on Montreal Road, it will create about 20 jobs in that neigthborhood,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson noted auto dealerships were not excluded from the Community Improvement Plan when approved by committee and Council.

A motion introduced by Watson was approved to use property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment for affordable housing.

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