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Ontario police free 43 from ‘modern day slavery’

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Police in Ontario have freed dozens of people from a human trafficking operation officials likened to “modern day slavery.”

The Ontario Provincial Police announced Monday that an investigation revealed 43 people were brought to Canada with the promise of work visas and permanent residency status. The majority male, Mexican-born victims paid large sums of money to leave their home country, police said, but were often left with less than $50 a month to live in “squalid conditions” in Barrie and Wasaga Beach, Ont.

“Human trafficking is modern day slavery,” said the OPP’s Rick Barnum at a news conference Monday. “Exploitation is the key element of this offence.”

The victims, who were between the ages of 20 and 46, were reportedly working for a Barrie-based cleaning company and were transported daily to work at hotels and vacation properties in central and eastern Ontario, Barnum said. Workers were charged fees for the transportation and lodging.

One victim reportedly told an officer: “Last night I went to bed a slave. This morning I woke up a free man.”

The operation was the first of its nature and size seen in the region, said Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood. “This is very disturbing,” she said, adding that while human trafficking for labour purposes is less commonly discussed, it is no less troubling. “It is inconceivable that this was taking place in our community.”

Police executed 12 warrants on Feb. 5, and rescued the 43 victims who were then provided hot showers, food and fresh clothing before interviews were conducted. All victims have been offered accommodation and legal employment at a local resort, said Greenwood.

“To me, this is what it means to be Canadian. Stepping up when others are in need and rectifying wrongs in our community when we’re able to do so,” she said.

Officials said charges will be laid at a later date.

“We aim to discover every dollar that these individuals profited from holding people as labour slaves,” said Barnum.

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Residents fear Lincoln Fields revitalization will be just another suburban mall

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Plans are taking shape for the future of Lincoln Fields: demolishing the aging shopping mall, building a new Metro grocery store in the near future and hundreds of rental units in residential towers somewhere down the road.

Neighbourhood groups say they have no problem with intensification, but they want redevelopment done in step with the city’s plans to revitalize Carling Avenue and a new LRT station that will turn the neighbourhood into a transit hub.

“We want it to be pedestrian and transit-friendly,” said Jonathan Morris, president of the Britannia Village Community Association. “This is about a third of the size of LeBreton Flats and it’s also on the LRT. We should give it some serious thought.”

There’s no dispute that Lincoln Fields is a dying shopping centre sitting on 16.2 acres of increasingly prime real estate. The mall first opened its doors in 1972. A Loblaws store departed in 1984. Walmart arrived in 1994, occupying 120,000 square feet, and departed in 2016. That space remains empty. A Wendy’s restaurant located just outside the mall was demolished following a fire in November.

The city’s plans for the Lincoln Fields area include converting bus rapid transit lanes into light rail. The Lincoln Fields station is scheduled to open in 2025.

“We’re all excited about the redevelopment. It would be better than what is there now. But we don’t want it to be another Centrum, just a bunch of big box stores,” said Annie Boucher, president of the Lincoln Heights Parkway Community Association. “What’s missing is the city’s vision for how this huge hub will connect to the LRT.”

Two weeks ago, representatives from owner RioCan and Metro met with representatives from six community associations and outlined plans for the shopping centre. A new Metro and Rexall will be built on the site to replace stores in the mall. Wendy’s will also rebuild and Pizza Pizza will remain in its current location, said Terri Andrianopoulos, RioCan vice-president of marketing and communications.

Phase 1 of Lincoln Fields redevelopment. RIO-CAN Rio-Can

Demolition is expected to start in November, although the city has not yet received a demolition application for the mall, said Derrick Moodie, the city’s manager of development review.

Alex Cullen, president of the Belltown Neighbours Community Association, said residents wanted to see “main street frontage” where stores were street-oriented, not separated from the street by parking lots.

Although the number of parking spots will be reduced, there will still be room for hundreds of cars. The two parking lots near former Walmart will lose 103 parking spots, leaving 487. The parking lot in front of the new Metro will have 270 spots, an increase of 30, while the lot near the old Wendy’s will lose 44 spots, leaving 276.

RioCan’s draft master plan shows the two new retail buildings could fit into a larger mixed-use development with high rise apartment buildings and ground-floor retail space, but that’s intended only to illustrate possibilities, Andrianopoulos said.

“This will be determined by the city’s secondary plan process. We will work with the city to explore additional opportunities for growth, but we will not finalize our future intensification plans until their review process is complete.”

The city’s planning policy staff is undertaking the process of creating a secondary plan. The current draft boundary is from about Richmond Road/Maplewood Avenue at the west, Ancaster Avenue to the east, Regina Street to the north and the southern edge of Woodroffe High School to the south, Moodie said.

The study will identify appropriate built form, building heights and density and orientation, specifically frontages along the main roads, and general land uses. “We will examine infill development, differentiating between stable areas and candidates for significant intensification. The study also includes analysis of the transportation network to identify opportunities to enhance the pedestrian environment, safe cycling, and connections to the O-Train station,” said Moodie. He expects consultations will begin this fall, with the plan to be adopted on the same timeline as the new official plan in 2021.

Kathy Vandergrift stands in the Lincoln Fields shopping centre parking lot. Jean Levac / Postmedia News

Residents consider the site to be a barrier to be crossed, said Kathy Vandegrift, vice-president of the Queensway Terrace North Community Association and chairwoman of its planning committee. The shopping centre’s parking lot is a “wasteland,” she said.

“We’re all eager to see revitalization,” Vandegrift said. “The tension now is in the shape of that and how it relate to the neighbourhood around it. It’s a missed opportunity if we don’t do this well.”

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Rideau Canal’s new Flora Footbridge to open Canada Day long weekend

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Residents and visitors will have another option for walking or biking across the Rideau Canal starting this weekend, with the opening of the Flora Footbridge. 

The pedestrian bridge connects Clegg Street in Old Ottawa East to Fifth Avenue at Queen Elizabeth Drive in The Glebe.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson were on hand for the announcement, Wednesday. 

The $21-million bridge was originally scheduled for completion in the fall of 2019. Money for the project came through a funding partnership between the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Ottawa, under the federal Public Transit Infrastructure Fund and the Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Program.

Along with improving safety and connectivity between mid-town Ottawa neighbourhoods, the new crossing is expected to shorten commute times and offer a dedicated active and sustainable transportation route to schools, work, entertainmentand shopping sites, such as Lansdowne in The Glebe. 

“By connecting our neighbourhoods and helping people get around Ottawa on foot, by bike or on transit, we are making our communities safer and healthier, supporting local businesses, and protectingour environment,” said McKenna. “After years of planning, community involvement and coordination among the city, the province and our government, it’s great to see the Flora Footbridge becoming a reality for people living near or travelling along the Rideau Canal.” 

The bridge will also link up with pathways connecting to Ottawa’s O-Train Confederation Line at Hurdman and Lees Transit Stations. 

“The whole community has been eagerly anticipating the completion of the Flora Footbridge,” added Watson. “Thanks to the great work of City staff and Pomerleau construction crews, we are able to open it ahead of schedule, providing a new way for residents and visitors to cross the canal without using a car, and making it easier for everyone to get out and experience Ottawa to the fullest.” 

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Ottawa city council extends transit fare freeze until after LRT opens

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One week after learning the Confederation Line would miss its June 30 deadline, Ottawa city councillors on Wednesday voted unanimously to delay a scheduled OC Transpo fare increase once again, this time until after the light-rail train has opened to riders.

A majority of council, however, refused to entertain a proposal to reduce transit fares for that period put forward by one councillor, a request that triggered a heated and lengthy debate around the council table.

Council had previously approved a transit fare freeze until July 1, 2019, after finding out the $2.1-billion LRT system wouldn’t launch in 2018.

The builder of the east-west line, the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), has since missed two other handover dates. No new deadline for the train — delayed now for more than a year — has been announced.

At city council’s meeting on Wednesday, Coun. Allan Hubley, who chairs the transit commission, put forward a motion proposing that the city implement the 2019 fare changes “on the first day of the month following the opening of O-Train Line 1 to transit customers.” Mayor Jim Watson seconded Hubley’s motion.

WATCH (March 4, 2019): Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator
Continuing the fare freeze until August 1 would cost the city about $328,000, according to the text of the motion; pushing it until September 1 would cost the city a total of $616,000.

The city will initially use funds from the municipality’s transit capital reserve to foot that bill, but the motion also directed the city manager try and recoup the costs of continuing the fare freeze from RTG.

Councillor’s request to explore fare reduction triggers heated debate; proposal defeated

Coun. Diane Deans proposed an amendment to Hubley’s motion, asking staff to look into and report back on the feasibility of reducing OC Transpo fares beginning on Sept. 1, 2019 and deducting the cost of that fare reduction from the city’s cheque to RTG.

“The fare reduction should be commensurate with the reduction in service reliability and remain in place until such time as Phase 1 LRT is fully operational,” Deans’ motion read.

The LRT delays have strained Ottawa’s bus system, leading to widespread delays and cancellations throughout the winter. A number of route changes and detours were implemented in anticipation of the LRT’s launch.

Deans argued that OC Transpo riders aren’t getting what they’re paying for right now and the city needs to “show some respect”  to its “severely inconvenienced” transit customers.

“When I go to the grocery store and buy a pound of grapes, if I only get half a pound, I don’t expect to pay for a pound. And it’s the same principle. If I’m not getting the full service, I don’t expect to pay for the full service,” she told reporters after council’s meeting.

A quarter of city council backed Deans’ proposal, including councillors Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Shawn Menard, Rawlson King and Catherine McKenney. Carol Anne Meehan, who called the state of the city’s public transit system a “disgrace,” expressed some support for Deans’ idea but didn’t vote in favour in the end.

Other members of council fervently opposed a fare reduction, including the mayor. Watson claimed that reducing fares by 30 per cent would cost taxpayers $29 million over six months and argued that the city won’t improve its bus service by lowering fees while it waits for LRT.

Hubley said the city would be “gambling” if it reduced fares at a higher cost with no guarantee that RTG would agree to foot that bill. Coun. Keith Egli, for his part, described the proposal as “a shell game.”

“It’s a sham. It’s not going to fix the problem,” Egli said. “It sounds really good but at the end of the day it doesn’t fix the issue, which is people’s frustration with the service.”

Deans’ amendment was defeated 6-18.

“I don’t think it goes far enough just to say, ‘I’ll tell you what, the service is so unreliable we won’t charge you more for it,’” Deans told reporters.

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