It’s like the city wasn’t aware they existed, so now it’s making up for lost time.
That’s how residents of an east Toronto townhouse complex describe their current splash with the city’s water services department. Despite repeated calls from some asking to have their water meters hooked up, 30 units were never officially added to the water grid.
Last week, at long last, residents found water bills in their mail slots. But they were aghast at the amounts billed: more than $5,000 in some cases, stretching back more than six years to when the complex was built.
And payment is due May 5.
“Everybody I spoke with got billed the same amount,” said Jim Barbour, who lives with his wife and four children at the complex, on the corner of Dundas St. E. and Kingston Rd. He’s written a letter to the city and his local councillor, Mary-Margaret McMahon, demanding an explanation for how the bills were calculated, and why — and how — the city didn’t bill them for so long.
“It took nearly seven years to notice 30 homes weren’t getting bills,” Barbour said. “Who’s reviewing the water meter billing at the city?”
City communications co-ordinator Lyne Kyle told the Star in an email that Toronto Water realized something was amiss early this month when one of the homeowners called to ask about getting a meter.
Kyle said the city calculated the bills for Barbour and his neighbours by pegging the average consumption of homes this size — one cubic metre of water per day — to the annual price of water, which has been rising steadilyover the years.
“Moving forward, once the meters are installed, these homeowners will be charged based on their water use,” Kyle said.
Barbour’s neighbour, John Golding, said he had repeatedly caled city officials to get them to start tracking his water use, to no avail. He eventually installed a water meter himself, but still wasn’t getting billed. Now that the fee has arrived, he claims he is being charged for nearly four times more water than he actually used since moving to his townhouse in mid-2008. He’s also being billed for months he didn’t live there.
“They’re just guessing out of a hat,” said Golding. “They just give you a $5,000 bill … Who has that kind of money in their bank account?”
Jacques Bonhomme also lives in the complex with his wife and kids. Like Golding and Barbour, he reached out to the city to inquire about the getting a water meter set up, but says the process was difficult and never panned out.
According to the city’s Water Meter Program website, Toronto residents can call or book an appointment online to get a meter installed for free. Under the new electronic meter system — which the city indicates is completely rolled out in the ward that includes the townhouse complex — residents are supposed to get three bills per year.
Kyle said that in 2011 the city started flagging new developments for follow-ups to ensure utility use is being tracked. The city’s revenue services department has also been working to match tax and utility accounts to make sure everyone is online, said Kyle.
These homes were missed because they were built before this flagging process was put in place, Kyle said.
“Most of us are more than willing to pay; it’s just very frustrating that they make it so difficult to set up,” said Bonhomme. “It’s just like a cat chasing its tail.”
Bonhomme and Barbour have both suggested they should be given a payment plan to pay what they owe, but want clarification on how their $5,000 bills were calculated.
“That’s a big hole in your pocket, I’ll tell you,” said Bonhomme.
Kyle said the city is working with some of the homeowners to extend the due date for their bills and to pay them incrementally.
The average annual water bill in Toronto — based on 300 cubic metres per year — is currently $887. In 2008, just after the east Toronto complex was built, the average was $522.
“Were you lying then or are you lying now?”
Answer that, if you dare, Ms. Witness.
In fact, the witness – who is also one of the alleged victims in a sexual assault trial of two Toronto-area doctors – answered the ham-fisted question just fine.
But the nasty query is quoted here as a reminder that, despite what many people may think, the manhandling of witnesses, of alleged victims, in sex assault trials has not really changed much from the bad old bullying days of cross-examination.
Pardon, make that womanhandling. Because the defense lawyer over-hand-smashing the question is female, Marlys Edwardh. How much easier it is for woman-on-woman malice, even dressed up in the decorous chimera of courtroom badinage.
Edwardh, a veteran criminal lawyer, represents Dr. Amitabh Chauhan, one of the doctors on trial for sexual assault, gang sexual assault and intent to stupefy by administering a drug.
On the stand Thursday morning was a woman who has told court that Chauhan drugged and assaulted her more than a decade ago. The 31-year-old witness – her identity protected by a publication ban – had earlier testified that she ran into Chauhan, a man she had previously dated briefly, at a function at the Royal Military College in 2003. After chatting for a bit, they moved to a nearby bar where, the woman testified, Chauhan insisted that she have a drink.
She drank half of her Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which had arrived while the woman was in the washroom. With the drink only half-consumed, the witness said she became suddenly blinded, barely capable of moving.
The ensuing hours can now only be recalled in flashback, the witness has told the court: a car ride to Chauhan’s room at a nearby military base, the defendant carrying her immobile body inside and sexually assaulting her, how she managed to convince Chauhan to let her leave afterwards, how he helped her dress because she could barely stand and her hands were useless, and that he drove her home.
The witness did not report the event to police because she feared that doing so might have jeopardized her military career. She came forward only after discovering that Amitabh and another man had been charged with drugging and assaulting a woman in 2011.
That brings us to Thursday morning’s exchange in front of Ontario Superior Court Judge Julie Thorburn.
Edwardh challenged the witness’s account under direct questioning, in which she’d mentioned feeling discomfort in her vaginal area following that 2003 evening with Chauhan. The defense lawyer pounced on what she characterized as a discrepancy between what the witness said here and what she’d said at the preliminary hearing. At that occasion, the witness had only mentioned headaches and nausea.
“Were you lying then or are you lying now?”
Witness: “Those were the only physical symptoms bothering me ... then.”
Edwardh: “So your memory’s getting better?”
Witness: “No, but I feel I’m being asked more questions now.”
Edwardh reared back to deliver her roundhouse blow.
“I’m going to put to you that you made this up …”
“… to contribute to your narrative of this event.”
Chauhan and Dr. Suganthan Kayilasanathan are both charged with gang sexual assault and intent to stupefy for an attack that allegedly occurred on Feb. 12, 2011.
Chauhan alone faces sexual assault and intent to stupefy charges from the 2003 incident, involving the witness on the stand this morning.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The trial continues.
The legal battle between Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Progressive Conservatives is heating up, with the Tories filing a notice of intend to defend in $2 million defamation suit.
“We’re prepared to fight it out,” Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod said Thursday, challenging Wynne to drop the suit and “stop playing little games behind the scenes with lawyers.”
Wynne is suing MacLeod, PC Leader Tim Hudak and the party for remarks they made linking her to an OPP investigation of the premier’s office in regards to the deletion of government documents in the $1.1 billion scandal over gas-fired power plants cancelled before the 2011 election.
MacLeod challenged Wynne to call an election so concerns can be settled at the ballot box.
In a letter to Wynne’s lawyer Mark Freiman of Lerners LLP, the Conservatives say “the statements about which your client complains are clearly within the recognized privileges protecting freedom of speech, particularly where it concerns matters of importance within a necessary and vital public debate.”
Acting for the Conservatives, lawyer Robert Rueter charges the Liberals “intensified” media coverage of the remarks made by MacLeod and Hudak by repeating them in an open letter signed by the premier on March 30.
“Our clients are not responsible for any republication of the purportedly defamatory statements as a result of the release to the public by your client of her open letter.”
Hudak has charged Wynne “oversaw and possibly ordered the criminal destruction of documents,” while MacLeod has tweeted a comparison between Wynne and former U.S. president Richard Nixon of Watergate infamy.
The OPP anti-rackets division is investigating former Dalton McGuinty chief of staff David Livingston for breach of trust, alleging Livingston obtained a special password enabling the holder to wipe clean computer hard drives in the dying days of the McGuinty administration last year and gave it to a non-government employee.
That password was valid until March 20, 2013, about five weeks after Wynne became premier on February 11. Livingston has denied any wrongdoing.
In a 111-page document used to obtain a search warrant, police claim that password was used by Peter Faist, the boyfriend of Livingston deputy Laura Miller, on a handful of computers on February 6 and 7 of last year. Other computer hard drives from the premier’s office are now being examined to see when they were accessed using that special password.
You may notice a slightly more charcoal hue to the artificial turf and a few sharper bounces in the outfield at the Rogers Centre this season.
But what’s darker on the eyes is actually softer on the knees. The darker shade and livelier playing surface are the result of changes made by the Rogers Centre’s grounds crew to extend the turf’s lifespan.
Underneath the polypropylene blades of “grass” — think garbage-bag material — is an infill of black rubber beads, which are about the size of coarse coffee grounds.
Previously, that infill was a combination of sand and rubber, which, in the four years that the current turf has been in place, had grown hard and compact from the compression that occurs whenever the turf is rolled up and not in use. The sand particles had settled at the bottom, while the rubber bits deteriorated to the size of pepper grains.
“It created a very hard field,” said Kelly Keyes, vice-president of building services for the Blue Jays.
By the end of last season, Keyes and her crew knew they needed to make a change.
So this off-season the grounds crew, led by Keyes and head groundskeeper Tom Farrell, painstakingly tamped out all of the turf’s old infill and replaced it with a fresh all-rubber infill, doing away with the sand mixture. Hence the black streaks and puffs of what look like little black clouds when an outfielder dives on the turf or a ball skips hard on the surface.
Infielder Maicer Izturis said he noticed the difference right away.
“Absolutely, it’s a little softer this year,” he said earlier this month, before suffering a knee injury in Baltimore. “But the ball jumps a little bit more, too.”
But this year’s improvements are just a stop-gap, a means of squeezing another season out of the current field before purchasing a new AstroTurf field for next season, which will bridge the gap before natural grass is installed by opening day in 2018.
Preparations have already begun to make that highly anticipated transition, but the transformation is complicated and extensive, requiring not only rigorous study, but also physical retrofits to the stadium.
When Jays president Paul Beeston announced last September that the Rogers Centre would have natural grass by 2018, he framed the timeline as if it were a gesture of goodwill to the Toronto Argonauts, whose lease at the stadium was extended until the end of 2017.
But even if the Argos could move into a renovated BMO Field before 2018, the Jays would not be able to install grass any sooner; in fact, the organization needs every bit of the intervening four years to research and then produce the sod that will eventually be installed.
“We need the time as well to make sure we do this right, because we’ve got one shot at this,” said Stephen Brooks, the Jays’ senior vice-president of business operations. “As soon as you put jackhammer to concrete . . . you better know what you’re doing.”
Though the partnership has yet to be formalized, the Blue Jays are working with researchers at the University of Guelph to test and develop the blend of grasses best suited to the Rogers Centre’s unique conditions and also the methods by which it will be maintained.
In the meantime, the Jays still need a field on which to play.
After determining at the end of last season that the current turf needed a new infill, Farrell conducted extensive testing to ensure they used the appropriate amount of rubber. Too little and the field would play too fast and could also lead to injuries; too much and balls could skip and spring as if on a trampoline.
“It’s not going to bounce like a natural grass field — the technology is not there — but we tried to get it as close to real grass as possible,” Farrell said. “More important than anything is making sure that every time it bounces, it bounces the same.”
They used a device called a Clegg Impact Tester, which looks like a bicycle pump and provides a G-force reading to measure the hardness of the field. The NFL regulates a specific Clegg Impact measurement for its fields to protect players from concussions and other injuries. In baseball, however, there is no regulation, so Farrell simply tested by trial and error, seeing how the ball reacted while adjusting the rubber infill accordingly. He set up a pitching machine and fired balls into the outfield to ensure every bounce was consistent, and also hit groundballs to some of his staff to gauge the turf’s playability. “I’m not going to lie, that’s an enjoyable part of the job,” he said.
It’s an inexact science. The players want a somewhat hard surface, so the bounces are true and predictable; but they want it soft enough so it doesn’t pummel their knees and backs.
But why, when the grounds crew realized the turf was in trouble at the end of last year, did the Jays not just buy a new field for this year?
“There’s not a big warehouse of turf,” Keyes said.
The artificial field must be custom-designed to the Rogers Centre’s exact specifications, so raw materials are trucked up from Savannah, Ga., and the designers will actually work inside the stadium to build the field. There was not enough lead time to do that for this season, Keyes said.
Maintenance of the turf is made more difficult by the fact that the Rogers Centre is a multi-purpose facility, so the baseball field goes in and out about 40 times a year. If the field were down permanently, as it is at Tampa’s Tropicana Field, the upkeep would be a lot easier.
Football isn’t the only inconvenience. Concerts, monster truck rallies, Disney on Ice — “We take this up and down more than any place in North America,” Keyes said. And every time they do, the field suffers.
The field’s impermanence is also why Toronto can’t do an all-dirt infield, like Tampa.
Which brings us to the impending transition to natural grass.
When the SkyDome opened in 1989, 10 of Major League Baseball’s 26 teams played on artificial turf. By 2000 that number had shrunk to seven, and since 2010 only the Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays have played their home games on imitation fields. Meanwhile, the league’s successful new ballparks have all embraced classic open-air designs — even in cold-weather climates like Minneapolis and Philadelphia — that hearken back to the game’s nostalgic roots.
The turf also factors into the Jays’ ability to attract free agents, who are typically embarking on the second half of their careers and often deterred by the turf’s unforgiving reputation.
So now that the Jays are more than mere tenants — as they were back in ’89 — baseball has become the priority, at the expense of other endeavours.
“We’re looking at what’s best for the business and the analysis is really for grass,” Keyes said.
If only it were as simple as heading to Home Depot and picking up 143,000 square feet of sod. The four-year timeline before grass can be installed inside the Rogers Centre is based on a year of research and testing, followed by three years to produce the sod and grow the grass.
“For grass in the spring of 2018, you’ve got to sow the seed in 2015,” said Eric Lyons, an associate professor of turfgrass sciences and physiology at the University of Guelph.
Lyons said the sod requires at least 12 growing months, which, given the Canadian winter, means a minimum of a year and a half. Plus, if you want the grass installed at the beginning of spring, you need to harvest it the previous fall, he said. Commercial sod farmers also like to guard against the possibility of drought or disease. “They could produce it in two years, but they wouldn’t be able to guarantee it.”
Before the Jays even reach that point, they first have to find the right species of grass or blend of grasses, as well as the right soil mixture, artificial lighting system, irrigation system and whether or not any engineering changes have to be made to the stadium to manipulate air flow and humidity.
The Rogers Centre previously installed grass for a one-off soccer game without all this research and testing. But planting a baseball field for a full season is different from a brief exhibition. “We can get grass in here,” Farrell said. “It could last a homestand and all be dead.”
Milwaukee, Houston and Miami all have retractable-dome ballparks with natural grass, but the biggest differences between those stadiums and the Rogers Centre, Lyons said, is that their default configuration is open, while the Rogers Centre’s is closed.
“That creates a huge issue,” he said, pointing out that the grass will have to grow under artificial light for at least 60 to 90 days in the spring, and again in the fall. “Once you start growing plants indoors you have issues of humidity and low light and lack of air movement.”
That could make the grass susceptible to certain types of diseases, and that’s why the testing will take up to a year, Lyons said, as various grass cultivars are screened under the Rogers Centre’s specific conditions to judge their disease resistance and fortitude over an extended period.
Lyons also said that unlike soccer and football, you can’t be resodding a baseball field several times in a season.
“Soccer has a fairly large ball; if you lay two pieces of sod side by side and they’re off by half a centimetre, that’s not really going to affect the ball roll very much. In baseball, the ball is fairly small, so when it hits something like that it skips funny.”
Then, after all the different testing, it also has to look right.
“In the major leagues, looks matter,” Lyons said. “If we put a grass down there that grows fairly well under low light and is fairly wear tolerant and is resistant to some of these diseases, but it’s almost got a yellowish-green colour, would that fly?”
The Jays hope to have the species of grass selected and the bulk of the research done within the next year, so sod production can begin in 2015. Any stadium alterations can be carried out in the intervening years, so that after the 2017 baseball season, the first jackhammer can bust through the concrete floor with everyone confident the right grass is going in.
So while 2018 may seem a long way away, much has to happen between now and then. “You back up from there and you realize we need this time,” Brooks said. “And you got to be right or else there’s going to be huge issues.”
The Toronto police officer charged in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim on a downtown streetcar last summer is back at work, the service confirmed Thursday
Const. James Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder last summer after police responded to a Dundas streetcar where Yatim, 18, was holding a small knife.
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Forcillo fired nine times, hitting Yatim eight. Bystander video and video onboard the streetcar captured the event. The public video, released on YouTube immediately after the shooting, set off massive public protest that has escalated into heated discussion on use of force by police.
Following the shooting, Chief Bill Blair suspended Forcillo, as mandated by provincial legislation. For months the officer could be seen in plainclothes checking in daily at police headquarters.
In February, Forcillo returned to work on restricted administrative duties for Crime Stoppers, which works to prevent and solve crimes through advocacy and receiving anonymous tips, said spokesperson Meaghan Gray.
Forcillo is not permitted to carry a gun, as his bail conditions prevent him from possessing any weapons. He is currently working out of headquarters on College St.
“He is not working in uniform, he does not have his use of force options,” Gray said.
The Police Services Act, which governs forces in the province, allows for an officer facing criminal charges to be suspended with pay or to return in some capacity, Gray said.
“It’s not an anomaly. Every case is considered on its own,” she said. “Those decisions are made in the best interest of the public, the service and the officer in question.”
Blair ultimately makes those decisions. He was not available for an interview Thursday morning.
Forcillo’s preliminary hearing, the precursor to trial, started this week. Defence lawyer Peter Brauti said there are some situations where the choice is clear to have the officer remain suspended.
“If the Toronto police had a video of a police officer robbing a bank, that police officer is not coming back in any form,” Brauti said.
Brauti said Forcillo’s case, despite video showing him shooting Yatim, is not as clear cut. “I think it’s far from it,” he said.
Police association president Mike McCormack said every case is evaluated on its on merits.
“The distinction is this . . . this is an officer that was responding to a call that was on duty,” McCormack said.
He said he understands the decision to bring an officer charged with murder back to work can rattle public confidence. “I get that on an emotional level,” he said.
There have been other recent examples.
Toronto police Const. David Cavanagh was brought back for restricted duties after he was charged with second-degree murder following an on-duty shooting death. His charges were thrown out at a preliminary hearing in March last year.
“Unfortunately, our job exposes you to people being charged,” McCormack said.
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