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Toronto Star

A healing Danforth looks back, one year after the unimaginable

Jul 19, 2019 4:18:17 PM

1 danforth a healing danforth looks back one year after the unimaginable 17 07 2019 gta news thestar dam content  https:

Step for step, smile for smile, it is the Danforth again: the same endlessly friendly village-within-a-city that has beckoned Toronto for decades.

The shops are hopping and the sidewalk patios are packed as the high heat of summer takes hold. Fruit stands bulge with colour. The human-scale hum of buying and selling, eating and relaxing, or even just strolling the street to take in the glory of Greektown — it’s almost as if July 22, 2018, never happened.

But scratch the surface ever so slightly and the wounds remain painfully raw. The collective shock of a random, senseless shooting spree that knocked this most welcoming of Toronto neighbourhoods off its axis a year ago echoes loudly.

And it will echo even louder this weekend in what is shaping up to be a delicate balancing act of commemorations, one intended as a solemn candlelit vigil of remembrance, the other a nearly-as-solemn celebration of #DanforthStrong, paying tribute to the city’s first responders and this caring community’s resilience.

The tension between those impulses — wanting never to forget the victims, yet wanting this anniversary to be the turning point that puts a lid on the lingering trauma — is evident throughout the village, even in the second-floor office of Philip Kocev, the designated spokesperson for the Danforth Business Improvement Association.

Kocev, who runs a real estate brokerage, knows there is no going forward without looking back. His role with the BIA requires him to emphasize the Danforth’s “vibrant recovery” because everyone’s livelihood depends on it. But all he need do is glance out his window and “the hairs on my neck stand up” — there, right across the street, is the very spot where the shooter fell and died a year ago, taking his own life after taking two others and leaving behind a meandering trail of 13 others wounded.

“The short answer is yes, of course, the Danforth is back,” Kocev told the Star. “In some ways, the community is even stronger. The way everyone came out, almost from the moment this tragedy happened, to support each other. The way everyone came out in the days that followed, just to reclaim the street and support each other. The way the people have raised funds and risen and demonstrated a sense of unity. It’s the one positive outcome from an otherwise incredibly tragic event. It brought us even closer together.

“Yet this kind of anniversary is a difficult thing to navigate. You can replace broken glass and you can patch the bullet holes, but some of the other scars run deeper. Just the fact of remembrance is bringing back things that some of us hadn’t expected to feel. It shows we are still carrying forward some wounds and we will see that Sunday and Monday when we gather to mark this moment.”

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The first of the two ceremonies will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at the northeast corner of Withrow Park, where a 30-minute “solemn commemoration” will include a choral presentation by an interfaith choir, a moment of silence, the reading of the names of the victims and — in a measured gesture of healing, the reading of a piece crafted for this moment by City of Toronto poet laureate Al Moritz.

Moritz, in an interview with the Star, explained he has felt the pull of the Danforth since the mid-1970s, where the neighbourhood was a regular destination “for many of us in the early days of CanLit to gather together.”

The neighbourhood’s Greek identity was by then well established, spurred by a surge of new arrivals to Toronto fleeing the aftermath of the 1967 coup that brought military rule to Greece. By the mid-1970s, the Star was hailing the vibrancy of “Little Athens” on the Danforth and its restaurant and nightclub scene. Though subsequent decades of yuppification and gentrification left their marks, adding cultural depth and variety to the village, the flavours of Greece still dominate the 21st-century Danforth.

Moritz has titled the new poem “Days of July: The Danforth” and said it is intended as a celebration of the unpretentious openness, strength and warmth that makes the neighbourhood “every bit as enchanting” today as it was when he first encountered it 45 years ago.

“Certain neighbourhoods are spectacularly welcoming places and the Danforth is perhaps the strongest in this way. Anybody can come from any other part of the city and just by walking down the street you start to feel you are a part of it,” said Moritz.

“For me, the Danforth is a place where commerce and life itself come together in the best possible way. Sometimes I feel we are so used to being mad at capitalism that we forget, making and buying and selling are basic human activities that are always going to be 80 per cent of our life.

“This comes together on the Danforth in the most wonderful way: The shopkeeper loving to open his shop and spray his sidewalk in the morning, to talk to the neighbouring shop owners and to bring out the beautiful vegetables. All those interactions as the customers come through. This is life — and the Danforth presents it all in the most vivid way and shares it with everyone. That’s one of the things the poem for Sunday is about, trying to celebrate that.”

On Monday — the actual anniversary of the mass shooting — a candlelit vigil begins at sunset (8:51 p.m.) at Alexander the Great Parkette at the intersection of Danforth and Logan Aves. This more intimate community vigil will again involve a reading of the names of the dead and injured, the ringing of the bells of nearby St. Barnabas church, a moment of silence and a choral presentation.

In announcing the commemorations, the area’s churches, mosques and synagogues this week offered a statement of interfaith unity, saying, “Within our diverse community, we gather around our shared values of peace, justice and hope. We come with broken hearts, offering our support to those who are grieving and all those affected by the tragedy one year ago.

“As people of hope, we come together to affirm that love is stronger than hate. On July 22, 2018, our community was shaken by unthinkable violence. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and all whose lives were changed that day … in our pain and in our hope let us hold space for one another as we mend the world with love.”

Handwritten notes of remembrance were beginning to accumulate around Alexander The Great Parkette when a Toronto Star team visited Wednesday night. There, sitting at the fountain as children splashed in the water behind them, sat retiree Helen Tsionas, together with her son Jim, 50, resting after an evening stroll.

Tsionas has called the Danforth home since 1951, when she arrived from her native Greece. She spent 38 working years in the hospitality industry — the Westin, the Royal York and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where she ran the coat check for 11 years. The wide-open smile on her face said it all.

“We are happy because the Danforth is quiet again. We have nothing to fear,” she said.

Her son Jim added some nuance. “Nothing like this happened in my 50 years. It affected a lot of people. For a long time I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder as I walked along the street. But eventually we started feeling safe again, even if it is still there in the back of your mind.

“You realize it all came from just one crazy guy, who ended it by killing himself. That’s all it was.”

Further west, outside Carrot Common, Patricia Gray-Thorpe sat on a bench alongside her dog Archer, telling The Star her empathy extends to all the victims, including the family of the deceased shooter.

“I look back on this tragedy as a reflection of the times, maybe a symptom of a larger issue, including the availability of guns. I don’t understand what was happening in his mind — but I do know it brought people together. It was a call to take action and have a voice and to assert the sense of community.

“It demonstrates people are resilient. But as much as we need to move on, we need also to honour the lives of the victims and honour the lives of those who live with this pain.”

Though the general public is invited to attend both commemorations, the city is asking attendees to “respect the privacy of those impacted by the shooting.” City officials will have a range of services available on site, including staff from the Community Safety and Well-Being Unit and therapy dogs from St. John’s Ambulance.

Fundraising efforts continue in memory of the victims of the rampage — including the two who were killed, Julianna Kozis, 10, and Reese Fallon, 18. Among them is the JDK Foundation, which conveys both Julianna’s initials and the encouragement to Just Do Kindness. To mark this first anniversary the group now is more than halfway towards a goal of raising $25,000 to support the Dr. Jay Children’s Grief Centre.

Passersby The Star spoke to on the Danforth this week appear to have little expectation and scant little interest in learning more about the perpetrator. A flurry of immediate speculation alleging terrorist ties has since given way to broad acceptance that a singularly troubled man with a history of mental-health issues did what he did alone, without any known motive, political or otherwise.

The why of it all went with him to the grave, forever unanswerable.

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

Ford’s chief of staff orchestrated pension board shakeup the day before he resigned

Jul 19, 2019 3:20:00 PM

dean french fords chief of staff orchestrated pension board shakeup the day before he resigned 19 07 2019 provincial politics thestar dam content  https:

The day before he resigned as Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff amid a cronyism scandal, Dean French orchestrated the dismissal of the chair of a $60-billion public pension board and appointed three new members, the Star has learned.

On June 20, David Leith, the chair of the Investment Management Corporation of Ontario, was advised in writing that his services would no longer be required even though the respected Bay Street veteran had been expected to be reappointed to the $150,000-a-year post when his term expired June 30.

In what ended up being his penultimate day as Ford’s chief of staff, French decreed that Neil Selfe, Brian Gibson, and Geoffrey Belsher would be joining the board that manages assets on behalf of the Ontario Pension Board and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Reached by the Star on Friday, French hung up the phone when a reporter identified himself. He did not respond to an email with detailed questions about the moves.

Leith, a former top CIBC executive who has a master’s degree from Cambridge University, declined to comment on Thursday.

The IMCO board now has nine members, but no chair.

Members are paid $50,000 annual retainers plus expenses, as well as an additional $1,500 per meeting attended, and $10,000 if they chair one of the board’s three committees. In 2018, some board members participated in 14 meetings, meaning they earned $71,000 from IMCO.

Sources close to Ford said French had concerns about IMCO president and CEO Bert Clark, and wanted to expand and shake up the board.

Clark did not return messages from the Star. He is the former president of Infrastructure Ontario and the son of Ed Clark, the one-time TD Bank chief executive who later served as Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne’s privatization guru.

Progressive Conservative insiders, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations, said French felt IMCO was not performing as well as it should be and wanted the board to replace Clark, who made $1.78 million last year.

Leith and others who were on the board at the time resisted.

“It was personal. Dean had some issue with Bert Clark and none of us could ever figure out what it was,” a senior Tory insider said Wednesday.

Another government official insisted there is no intention of trying to oust Clark despite the board changes last month.

“That may have been Dean’s plan, but, of course, Dean is no longer here,” said the PC source.

Ford’s press secretary defended the revamp of the IMCO board. “The former board of IMCO was not delivering on its expressed mandate to pool assets,” Ivana Yelich said Friday.

“As a result, the government appointed new directors to get a better understanding of the issues at hand and explore ways to improve the fund’s performance. The time to make changes is at the end of an appointee’s term and prior to the (annual general meeting),” she said.

The new IMCO board members could not be reached for comment. Selfe is the chief executive officer of INFOR Financial Group, Gibson is the chief executive officer of TAVANI Relationship Investors, and Belsher is a lawyer and retired CIBC executive.

Yelich noted Ford is examining the overall appointments process in the wake of French’s sudden departure on the night of June 21.

“The premier has directed his staff to review all pending appointments. Additionally, if the premier finds that people have been appointed for the wrong reason and are not performing to the highest standards, these individuals will be removed from their positions,” she said.

“As an added level of scrutiny, the premier has directed that all public appointments must go to the Treasury Board for approval prior to going to cabinet and the multi-party standing committee.”

The changes at IMCO were announced at 4:15 p.m. on June 20, the same day Ford unveiled a massive cabinet shuffle that dominated the news cycle at Queen’s Park.

The announcement came 90 minutes after the government disclosed that Taylor Shields, a cousin of French’s wife, and Tyler Albrecht, a 26-year-old lacrosse buddy of French’s son, were being awarded six-figure patronage jobs to be Ontario’s agents-general in London, England and New York City.

Early on June 21, Ford revoked the Shields and Albrecht appointments and, under pressure from cabinet ministers furious about the patronage scandal, accepted his chief of staff’s resignation that evening.

Over the past month, the “French connections” affair has led to seven appointees stepping aside.

The most recent casualty was Jeff Coles, an Ontario Power Generation board member, who resigned from his position Thursday night following concerns about his ties to French, QP Briefing revealed Friday.

Sources in the premier’s office admit they do not know if there are other potential landmines out there.

“Dean did a lot of this on his own. The premier had no idea this was going on and when he found out he stepped in,” an official said.

But NDP MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) said Thursday that it strains credulity to claim Ford was out of the loop and that French acted unilaterally.

“We see his signature on every certificate,” said Natyshak, referring to the cabinet orders in council that the premier often signs.

“He knows exactly who those people are. Either he’s ignorant to the process or he’s complicit,” the New Democrat said.

“I mean, Doug’s driving the bus here. This is his show.”

Robert Benzie is the Star's Queen's Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Zhebin Cong case raises questions about ‘not criminally responsible’

Jul 19, 2019 6:20:19 PM

zhebin cong zhebin cong case raises questions about not criminally responsible 19 07 2019 gta news thestar dam content  https:

Mayor John Tory called Friday for a comprehensive review that would bring together inquiries launched by Toronto police, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Canadian Border Services Agency into how a man who was being detained at CAMH managed to walk away from the facility and leave the country.

Zhebin Cong fled on July 3 after being issued an unescorted day pass from CAMH, where he was being held for treatment after being found not criminally responsible for killing his roommate with a meat cleaver in 2014.

In the wake of one of two police reviews examining whether there was miscommunication about the threat Cong posed to the public, the Star spoke to criminal defence lawyer Robert Karrass, an expert in mental health and criminal law, about what a finding of “not criminally responsible” means, and how risk to the public is assessed.

Q: What does it mean to be not criminally responsible (NCR)?

A: The question is not, “Do you have a mental illness and did you commit a crime?” The question is, “But for the mental illness, would you still have committed the crime?” And then you must have been robbed of the ability to know what you did was wrong or not understand the reasonably foreseeable consequences of your actions.

Q: How often are people found NCR?

A: It’s a very high threshold. It is very, very difficult to be found NCR. The vast majority of people are not found NCR — and it is even more rare when it is a serious violent offence.

(In 2017, a total of 126 people were found not criminally responsible in Ontario, according to the Ministry of the Attorney General. In the same year, more than 200,000 cases were completed. There are currently about 1,500 people under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Review Board who have been found unfit to stand trial or who have been found NCR.)

Q: What happens after a person is found NCR?

A: The person is sent to a secure psychiatric facility for treatment. Within 60 days, they must have a hearing before the Ontario Review Board — a five-person panel including a psychiatrist and a medical doctor or psychologist — who will determine whether the person poses a “significant threat to the safety of the public.” If they are considered a “significant threat,” the board will then consider how to manage that threat in the least restrictive way. It may mean the person is detained in the hospital — sometimes with escorted or unescorted passes into the community — or is allowed to live in the community under certain conditions. If the person does not pose a “significant threat,” they must be released entirely. A “significant threat” means that the person poses a risk of serious physical or psychological harm to members of the public in some kind of criminal way.

Q: What factors does the Ontario Review Board consider?

A: The board usually gets a report from the hospital, and hears submissions from a Crown prosecutor, a defence lawyer and testimony from the person’s psychiatrist. They will consider the nature of the crime and whether it was violent or non-violent. They consider the person’s behaviour in the unit. They will also consider whether the person is taking medication — and whether they are taking medication voluntarily with an understanding of why they are taking it, or whether they are simply following the instructions of hospital staff. This is a very important factor, especially when the board is considering a conditional discharge. In the majority of NCR cases, treatment is required. And if you think you don’t need treatment, what happens when you leave the hospital?

Q: How long can it take before a person found NCR is fully discharged?

A: There is no time limit, no matter how minor or serious the crime is — the board can have a person detained indefinitely. The board is known to be very cautious in the decisions about release. They also often don’t want to give the hospital the authority to make changes too quickly, though they do delegate the ability for the hospital staff to make decisions about passes, for example, on a daily basis with a full assessment of the person’s condition and risk level at that moment. In order to maintain legal jurisdiction over the person, the board must be consider them to overall be a “significant threat to the safety of the public.” But the hospital can determine that a person is a low enough risk to have a unaccompanied day pass to go into the community with the necessary support — as CAMH did with Cong. It doesn’t mean the hospital and the board are contradicting each other about his risk level.

Q: What do we know about recidivism rates for people who are found NCR?

A: Most people with a major mental illness never engage in criminal activity. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes. If they have engaged in criminal activity, it is very unlikely they will do so again with treatment.

(A landmark study of 1,800 NCR patients found that 0.6 per cent of patients committed another serious violent offence, 8.8 per cent committed a violent offence and 17 per cent a non-violent offence.)

Q: What do NCR cases tell us about the availability of mental health care in Ontario?

A: In many NCR cases there is a documented history of hospitalizations and interactions with the police. At the end of the day, we need more education and more funding for mental-health resources. It all boils down to early intervention. Treatment is more effective and the person is less likely to decompensate to a point where they harm themselves or others. Police also need to be trained in de-escalation and to take people to the hospital, not to jail.

Q: What do you think about Premier Doug Ford’s comments about Cong being a “nutcase,” and that, “You can’t let guys like this loose. You throw away the key.”

A: There are two sides to every story. What happened in the Cong case was a very sad situation. He will have to live with what he did for the rest of his life. And with treatment, his mental-health condition might improve but perhaps it may not completely, and until that time there has to be a significant amount of monitoring. On the other side, we have the victim and the victim’s family. Everybody can agree causing the death of someone else is a horrible thing and I think Premier Ford was focused on that perspective. His choice of language — such as the word “nutcase”— was not the best. But there is a group of people in society who don’t understand NCR and don’t understand that a person can act out of character from themselves because of mental illness. Rehabilitation is a part of the traditional criminal justice system as well. Except in very rare cases, we do not “throw away the key.” We usually incarcerate people for different lengths of time, after which they are released. In cases of murder, where the sentence is life, there is typically the option to apply for parole after a certain period of time.

This interview was edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati

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