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Distracted driving law could target minorities, advocates warn

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Civil liberty advocates warn that Ontario’s new distracted driving law could disproportionately affect racial minorities.

Tougher penalties for texting and driving in the province came into effect Jan. 1. Drivers caught talking, texting, dialing or emailing on handheld devices can now be fined up to $1,000.

But there are concerns that the law could allow police to target specific groups over others.

“Is this another reason to pull over black folk that are driving and minding their own business?” asked Ottawa community advocate Richard Sharpe.

“I think we’ll have to really be vigilant and safeguard against this law being used to disproportionately target minority groups.”

Community advocate Richard Sharpe worries if police rely too much on their own discretion, visible minorities could be hit harder by tougher penalties for distracted driving. 0:27

Studies suggest certain minorities targeted

U.S. legislation intended to reduce texting while driving has received pushback in states like Massachusetts and Iowa, where studies have shown black and Hispanic motorists are far more likely to be pulled over by police.

In Canada, a 2016 report by York University researchers revealed that Middle Eastern and black drivers — particularly young men — were stopped by Ottawa Police Service officers more than any other drivers.

In an interview with CBC News about the new law, Sgt. Mark Gatien said Ottawa police officers will use “subjective” judgment to stop drivers suspected of being distracted.

The executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said that’s problematic.

“There’s a type of police officer in Ontario who believes in what they consider good old-fashioned policing involving a hunch. And if they don’t like the look of somebody, they pull them over,” said Michael Bryant.

“[Police could say] ‘I thought I saw you on your cellphone, or I thought I saw you looking down as if you were on a cellphone or texting somebody. And that’s why I pulled you over.'”

Toronto-based human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan agrees.

“[Police] discretion too often ends up being abused,” he said. “That could lead to racial profiling.”

Michael Bryant, the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says it’s problematic that Ottawa police officers use ‘subjective’ judgment to stop drivers suspected of being distracted. (CBC)

Tracking traffic stops not enough

Ottawa police officers record the race of drivers at traffic stops, but both Bryant and Morgan said that isn’t enough.

“There needs to be meaningful, robust training that is as significant as their use-of-force training,” said Morgan.

Bryant also suggests cities and police agencies set aside money in their budgets to specifically address systemic bias. 

“[The] people who are accountable for what the police do … they have to show us that they are taking this seriously.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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