Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Meningitis vaccination program proposed

GILLIAN LIVINGSTON, CP 2004-03-31 03:34:59

TORONTO -- Ontario needs to protect children from meningitis by providing free access to vaccines that fight the potentially fatal disease, the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada said yesterday. The foundation wants the province to use recently announced federal immunization funding to ensure all children are vaccinated against two forms of meningitis.

"We are urging the government to think not of the money that it will cost to vaccinate our children, but the lives that have already been lost or impaired by this disease and of the sorrow and heartache it has caused our families," said Kathryn Blain, chairperson of the foundation, who lost her son to the disease in 1995.

"The vaccines are available and there is no time like the present to do the right thing," Blain said yesterday at a news conference.

In its budget released last week, the federal government announced $400 million in new money to improve immunization programs and relieve stress on local public health systems.

The foundation wants the Liberals to keep their promise during last fall's election that they would provide free meningitis vaccines to children.

Does this also mean compulsory shots for children?

Health Minister George Smitherman said the province is committed to its election promise.

Smitherman said he's working with the province's chief medical officer of health, Sheila Basrur, on a plan to extend Ontario's immunization plan to include meningitis vaccinations for children.

"The commitment is an extensive immunization plan that would offer protection against meningitis to kids," Smitherman said.

While there are some issues about "catchup" vaccinations, "this would be broad-based," he added.

The initial stages of the plan are expected to be put in place this fiscal year, he said. "This is a big priority for us."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Libraries eyed as services provider

The province wonders if they can be used to deliver information to the public.
CP 2004-03-31 03:34:59

TORONTO -- The Ontario government is looking into whether it can use public libraries across the province as a way to provide people with better access to government services and information. Finance Minister Greg Sorbara said the idea was brought forward by a library association during the recent budget discussions.

"We could use our public library system and libraries in colleges, universities and schools as a mechanism for delivering public services," Sorbara said yesterday before a caucus meeting, recounting the suggestion from the library association.

"I thought that was very interesting and (an idea) that I brought to my own officials to say, is there any merit to that?"

Most libraries offer high-speed Internet access, so people could download information about government services, he said.

In addition, a kiosk could be put in the library so people could pick up information on government programs.

"They may be a method to change the way we deliver public services," he said.

Many public libraries are municipally owned, but they do get some provincial funding, he added.

"We're looking at changing the way in which the individual citizen encounters his or her government," Sorbara said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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New depots adding to food drive needs

VIVIAN LUONG, Special to The Free Press 2004-03-31 03:35:02

With the arrival of London's first satellite food bank this month, the London Food Bank's spring food drive will be more important than ever. The drive starts tomorrow and runs until April 12. Organizers hope to match or exceed last year's 70,000-pound goal.

This month a new food depot -- open the third Wednesday of each month and supplied by the food bank -- opened at St. Lawrence Presbyterian Church on Huron Street.

That depot -- one of several new ones coming -- could increase demand on the central food bank, which recently moved to a Leathorne Street location from the downtown.

"When you put people closer to (food bank locations) than (ours), you have more clients . . . and more food is required," Glen Pearson, executive director of the London Food Bank, said yesterday.

Two more depots are coming in May -- one at the New Life Centre at Adelaide Street and Hamilton Road; the other at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre on Wonderland Road North.

"We could have five or six (depots) by the end of the year," said Pearson.

The added depots are good news for those in need who can't easily get to the main food bank. Take Michelle and Lyne, two women with a six-year-old boy, who have to travel about 90 minutes by bus to get to the new food bank.

"(Depots) would be great," Michelle, who had eaten only a small croissant and tea in the last few days, said yesterday. "If we get one up that way."

Michelle and Lyne, who didn't want their full names used, rely on the food bank about seven times a year but have visited less often lately because of the needed bus fare.

"I don't have five bucks to get here. Five bucks can get me food from a corner store," said Lyne.

The food bank shares about half its drive donations with 25 social agencies and will share 10 per cent with the new food depot and the other two planned, said Pearson.

Because the new depots are extra mouths to feed, Pearson said he had to turn down eight new social agencies that sought drive donations.

"Unless, we have more food, we won't be able to help them," he said.

The new food bank is serving about 2,000 families a month, down from about 2,500 at the former location -- a decline Pearson attributes to lack of widespread knowledge about the bank's new location.

The annual spring drive means a lot to people like Michelle and Lyne, who said it means greater food variety -- such as the cinnamon buns they received yesterday.

"Those are a treat," Michelle said.

London & Area Food Bank Drive

Goal: 31,500 kilograms of food.

Needed: Non-perishable food items such as canned meats and fish, canned beans, powdered milk, rice, cereal, juice, cans of stew, canned fruit and vegetables, dried food and cereal, dried and canned soup, baby food and formula, peanut butter, jam, boxed macaroni and cheese dinners. Non-food items such as diapers, toothpaste, toilet paper, detergent.

Bags: Donations can be put in the special brown bags found in selected copies of tomorrow's Free Press or in any grocery bag.

Dropoff points: London fire stations, major grocery stores -- A&P, Food Basics, some No Frills stores, Loblaws, Sobey's and Valu-Mart -- and at the London Food Bank at 926 Leathorne St.

For more information about the food drive or to donate money, call the London Food Bank at 659-4045 or visit the food bank's website http://www.web.net/ londonfoodbank/index.htm

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Ban on workplace practical jokes can be taken too far, expert says

PATRICK MALONEY, Free Press Reporter 2004-03-31 03:35:02

On the eve of April Fool's Day, one London psychologist says the hot-button issue of banning workplace pranks is nothing to laugh about. The act of subjecting co-workers to pranks is seen more and more in a negative light, said Heinz Klatt, a professor at King's University College at the University of Western Ontario.

He sees a social change, underscored by an ongoing controversy at city hall. Klatt doesn't condone vicious or vindictive acts, but he laments anti-harassment policies have stopped the fun that "introduce a light element into life.

"What is lost . . . is a little light-heartedness," he said yesterday. "People have done pranks all through history. We can live without it, but (life) is better with it."

Glenn Howlett was on stress leave from his longtime job at city hall since November, when colleagues pulled a prank that backfired. Howlett was given a dummy memo stating a major report had to be finished by April 1. The use of that date, April Fool's Day, was intended to tip Howlett off to the joke.

The gag, however, has led to Howlett taking an early retirement package and prompted city officials to ban any and all pranks by employees.

"While the city appreciates the need for camaraderie within the work environment, any conduct involving practical jokes does not conform to the city's code of ethics," a recent city hall news release read.

Klatt didn't comment on the Howlett case, but he stressed anti-harassment policies in the workplace can sometimes go too far. His own colleagues, he said, no longer joke around with students and "most" people shy away from what used to be more commonplace.

"They shouldn't be done cruelly, (but) these April Fool's pranks add a little light-heartedness. We should keep space for this," Klatt said. "We have become so nervous and insecure that we don't dare do this anymore.

"It's a bad policy to abolish all pranks."

Natalie Allen, a University of Western Ontario psychologist specializing in work issues, said there is no telling what effect, if any, the city hall controversy will have on other London workplaces.

Klatt, however, has seen a change in recent years.

"It's a tremendous loss," he said. "Keep the possibility of keeping some colour in life."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Controllers defer decision on limousine service's rates

Free Press Staff 2004-03-31 03:35:02

City councillors once again hit the brakes in the process to decide the fate of Allaround Limousine. Board of control met Monday to decide whether to revoke the licence of the controversial year-old company, which critics say is undercutting competing cab drivers by picking up passengers in vans but charging the same rate as cabs.

The board, however, deferred its decision until April 5. Allaround owner Sultan Sultan also appealed to the environment and transportation committee Monday, offering a bylaw suggestion that would see his mini-vans charge $9 upon pick up.

The committee has postponed its decision until controllers decide on the company's licence.

Sultan's argument revolves around wording in the taxi bylaws, which he says doesn't stipulate what his vehicles -- minivans, not vans -- should charge.

Competing taxi drivers say his is a limousine company and should charge what limousines charge -- $30 upon pickup.

Competing taxi drivers should take note of the free market system. If this guy can make a profit charging people less, than maybe 'competing taxi drivers' should change their business tactics rather than lobby the local government. Fight your own battles with good service and honestly competitive rates.

This latest delay by the city is upsetting for all involved, said Hasan Savehilaghi, president of the London Taxi Association.

"It's been (an ongoing issue) for over a year," said Savehilaghi, one of about 25 cab drivers who attended the meetings Monday.

"This is very frustrating for us."

Frustrating indeed! Dispense with the bylaws and open up the taxi business! Let Londoners make their own choice rather than paying more money to council and the privileged few.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Silence prevents lawsuits

City council is keeping mum on Howlett affair to avoid legal actions, experts say.
JOE BELANGER, Free Press Reporter 2004-03-31 03:35:02

The City of London could face expensive lawsuits if it disclosed details of any discipline meted out to senior managers after a prank backfired, experts say. The city has come under fire by the public for refusing to release details about the incident that led to the stress leave and early retirement of Glenn Howlett, general manager of community services.

Since last Friday, when Howlett announced his early retirement, Mayor Anne Marie De-Cicco has declined to say what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against the perpetrators of the prank.

If city officials did disclose such details, "I think the city could face lawsuits from those involved for damage to their reputations," John Craig, an expert in labour law and adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario, said yesterday.

It's been disclosed city manager Bob Blackwell, acting finance manager Vic Cote and city engineer Peter Steblin drew up a phoney resolution.

The resolution was signed by new city clerk Kevin Bain, leading Howlett to believe a major report was due within two weeks. The deadline was later changed to April 1.

Howlett, who received the bogus deadline while on vacation, suffered heart palpitations and ultimately concluded he could no longer be part of the city's senior leadership team.

Even though the prank, including the use of official city documents, may raise a valid issue of public trust or confidence, Craig said the potential for lawsuits outweighs the public's need to know the facts about the discipline.

"Even people who have clearly committed wrongs have turned around and sued for damage to their reputation and wrongful dismissal when an employer publicized the discipline or reasons for dismissal," Craig said.

"What it comes down to is the public trust betrayed versus the legal implications."

Last Friday, it was announced that Howlett was taking early retirement and had accepted a settlement of $20,000 -- $5,000 for loss of employment and $15,000 to cover legal fees.

Yesterday, the city's lawyer, London labour specialist Frank Angeletti, confirmed Howlett initially sought more compensation, but city council "adamantly" declined.

Angeletti said Howlett wanted a "lump sum payment" -- likely two year's salary -- that would have offset the $20,000-a-year in reduced pension benefits.

Angeletti defended council for not disclosing more details of the incident or the discipline.

"They have an obligation as an employer to maintain confidentiality," Angeletti said.

"And I understand the (public's) frustration, but the city is taking more flak for maintaining that confidentiality, which is what they're obligated to do. They're following (my) advice."

Angeletti said public servants have the same rights to privacy and confidentiality as private-sector employees.

"The fact is, people have rights. Not everybody may be happy about that, but it's no different than if it was you or anyone else -- you'd want your personal information to remain confidential."

Angeletti also explained that DeCicco's description of the discipline as "reasonable and appropriate" takes into account many factors, such as work records, apologies offered, lack of "malicious intent" and the past practice of pranks between senior managers.

He agreed that if the media hadn't identified the individuals involved, it would "perhaps make it easier" to release more details.

Michael Lynk, a UWO law professor and labour law expert, said the media's "diligence" at getting the facts made the city "more concerned than ever to keep a lid on it.

"The trick is to find out where the balance is (for the release of information) in this situation," Lynk said.

"And the non-release of information, rightly or wrongly, suggests they're trying to hide something."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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London team reports diabetes breakthrough

JOHN MINER, Free Press Health Reporter 2004-03-31 03:35:02

A team of London scientists is reporting a possible breakthrough in preventing Type I diabetes in individuals considered at high risk for the disease through work with genetically engineered tobacco plants. "There is no other group in the world that has this approach or is as advanced as we are in this area," researcher Dr. Anthony Jevnikar, program director of transplantation, immunity and regenerative medicine at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, said yesterday.

The scientists' findings, released this week in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, showed it is possible to prevent mice that are prone to diabetes from developing the disease by feeding them proteins made by insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.

The next step will be to do clinical testing in people.

Jevnikar said the proteins fed to the mice, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), are thought to be a trigger factor for Type I diabetes, which is caused by the body's immune system damaging insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

When the proteins are part of the diet, the immune system is reprogrammed not to attack the cells, a mechanism known as "oral immune tolerance," Jevnikar said.

A major hurdle for the London scientists was producing enough of the GAD proteins and interleukin-4, which is added to the diet to magnify the effect of the GAD proteins.

The costs using traditional laboratory methods were prohibitive for the interleukin-4 and not enough GAD proteins could be produced. That was solved by genetically engineering non-nicotine tobacco plants to manufacture the proteins.

The mice used in the research were simply fed the genetically modified leaf tissue.

If the method works in humans, it will mean people who are identified as susceptible to Type I diabetes could have the proteins added to their diet to prevent the disease, Jevnikar said.

It could also be an important protection for diabetics who have received a pancreas transplant, because they remain susceptible to the harmful immune response that originally destroyed their insulin-producing cells, he said.

Jevnikar said the advantage of the approach discovered by the London scientists is it doesn't involve powerful drugs with potentially harmful side-effects.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Western to unveil largest grant ever

PATRICK MALONEY, Free Press Reporter 2004-03-31 03:35:02

Just how huge will the biggest single donation in the University of Western Ontario's history be? That question will be answered this morning when tight-lipped Western officials draw back the curtains on what they say will be the most significant institutional donation in the history of not only the school, but the city.

Aside from revealing it is a gift "to assist health care, education and research," an excited Carol Herbert offered little information on the impending announcement.

"This is going to be a great day for Western," Herbert, the medical school dean, said yesterday. "This will create an endowment that will make a real difference."

A $13.5-million donation by the Ivey family in 1995 stands as the biggest donation yet to the school. Though today's announcement will be bigger than that, Western officials said little else.

"It's really hard for me to wait to tell you," Herbert said. "We have a private individual . . . prepared to make a major investment in health care and health education.

"We're really looking forward with great excitement to share what we think is really great news."

A news conference is set for Somerville House at 10:30 a.m. today and will be attended by several school officials and the as-yet-unnamed benefactor. No explanation was given for the scheduling of a second news conference this afternoon at Queen's Park in Toronto.

The Ivey Family, Western's record-holding benefactor, yesterday declined comment on this major announcement.

"Until they see who it's from and how much it's worth, they're not going to make any comment," an Ivey Foundation representative said from Toronto yesterday.

While no one has matched the 1995 Ivey gift, UWO has seen several other significant recent donations:

- Western's law school received $1 million from the Latner Foundation last August.

- The philosophy of science department received $1.4 million from alumnus Joseph Rotman last August.

- Robarts Research Institute was given $2 million last June by the Ivey family.

- The engineering department received $1.5 million from alumnus John Thompson in October 2002.

- Western's music school was given $3 million by Don Wright in October 2002.

Although today's announcement is exclusively for health studies, Herbert said the entire school can celebrate.

"The whole university can and will take pride in it," she said. "The more that we have in private investment . . . the more we're able to have security of future growth."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Safety of gays hot issue

MARISSA NELSON, Free Press Reporter 2004-03-31 03:35:03

Tempers flared at a public meeting last night about a controversial school board plan intended to make gay and lesbian students safer at school. With four security guards and two uniformed police officers in the hallways, Thames Valley District school board chairperson Jan Hunter threatened to end the meeting at one point if people didn't stop heckling presenters.

Hunter urged more than 500 people crammed into the board's auditorium to maintain an "atmosphere of respect."

The board's Chris Dennett said security was there to ensure civility.

"You can call it unusual, but this is considered a somewhat volatile issue. It brings a lot of people with strong opinions together and we really do want to just make sure the evening runs successfully," Dennett said.

It was standing-room only as 30 people addressed trustees to voice their support or opposition to a plan that calls for the expansion of the safe-schools program to include sexual orientation.

About half of the audience last night were wearing red clothes -- a move suggested by a parents' group called Simple Truths Our Priority (STOP) to show their opposition to the plan.

Kim Cartwright, a representative of STOP, stood outside the meeting handing out information on homosexuality, including a sheet stating "How does unsafe sex fit into a safe school policy?"

Her 10-minute presentation was one of the first to spark outbursts from the audience, as she urged trustees to stick to the current safe-schools policy.

"We believe all schools and students should be safe. By teaching homosexuality to students as an acceptable alternative lifestyle in any way, shape or form, we believe the school board will be inviting unsafe sex and unhealthy living," she said.

"The typical lifespan of homosexuals shows their lifespan is more destructive than smoking and as dangerous as drugs."

One audience member shouted "Where do you get this from?" and as Cartwright left the stage, several rainbow flags were flapped by audience members.

Dawn Stefanowicz, a London parent, also prompted outbursts as she spoke of children being "easy prey to being recruited into a subculture."

"You are sick people!" a woman shouted. Hunter asked security to remove her.

Susan Rodger, a local psychologist, commended the plan and trustees, saying it would help gay and lesbian students concentrate on academics.

"There's one group of students who face violence and hatred," she said.

"This group is a significant risk for suicide because they don't feel like they belong . . . This plan is a tool that will make them feel supported so they can have academic success."

The night began with a student rally in support of the plan with students presenting trustees with 1,900 student signatures backing the move.

"We had a lot of people working all weekend to collect signatures," said rally organizer and student Kyle Weaver. "We got the support I was hoping for."

Trustees were collecting public input on the implementation plan on sexual diversity, which is under the broader umbrella of the safe-schools program.

The board began to look at the issue after students picketed the board office in 2003, complaining they weren't safe in schools.

Trustees, having had last night's input, will debate the issue at a meeting April 13 and make a final decision April 26.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Toronto's transit system gets $1B birthday present

COLIN PERKEL, CP 2004-03-31 03:35:03

TORONTO -- A $1-billion gift, balloons and a giant cake for thousands of well-wishers that included Prime Minister Paul Martin were among the festivities yesterday as Canada's largest city celebrated the 50th birthday of the country's first subway train. It was an unabashed small-town-style party that included a train ride commemorating the opening of a system that Martin said had become critical to both the health of the city and of its residents.

"Having a subway like Toronto's is vital," Martin told scores of Toronto Transit Commission staff and politicians gathered at a downtown bus maintenance facility.

"It keeps the heart of Toronto's economic, cultural and social life alive and throbbing."

Martin and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty arrived with a gift of sorts for the TTC -- a promise of their share of $70 million a year over five years to keep the subway, buses and streetcars running.

The money, to be paid equally by Ottawa, Ontario and Toronto, is the largest federal-provincial investment ever in municipal transit, but still falls millions of dollars short of what the system needs.

In fact, riders who pay $2.25 for a single cash fare could still be hit with another quarter increase to help make ends meet.

Still, the announcement clearly delighted those on hand, including commission chairperson Howard Moscoe, who has frequently criticized upper levels of government for the lack of support for the transit system.

"This is a warm, fuzzy group-hug day," Moscoe said.

Mayor David Miller called it a "historic day" and McGuinty said it was "revolutionary" that senior levels of government had recognized that cities are "where it's at."

The Canadian Urban Transit Association called the new partnership between the three levels of government "great news for the future of transit in Canada," but warned it was just a first step.

The money will go toward the purchase of new equipment, including environmentally friendly buses, and to other improvements.

It's a concrete sign of his promised "new deal" for cities, not part of a pre-election spending spree, said Martin, who was repeatedly applauded by the assembled employees.

In lieu of loot bags, Martin and McGuinty were both presented with red TTC ties.

After Martin left, McGuinty, Miller and a host of other dignitaries boarded a subway train decked out with festive rosettes for a 12-stop ride from what was once the end of the line -- but is now just a mid-town stop -- to historic Union Station.

There, thousands of people jammed the cavernous main hall decked with balloons and ribbons to listen to speeches, get a sneak preview of a new subway-themed 49-cent stamp and eat some birthday cake.

There was also a minute's silence for those who lost their lives building the subway system.

The city's transit system moves an average of 1.3 million people a day on equipment in perennial need of repair and upgrade.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Gay rights 1, free speech 0

National Post

March 30, 2004

This week, the Senate is expected to pass an amendment to the Criminal Code that will limit religious freedom and freedom of expression in Canada. Bill C-250, a private member's bill introduced by Svend Robinson, MP for Burnaby-Douglas, will make it a crime to "communicate statements in any public place" that "wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group," including gays. Observant Christians, and others who view homosexuality as immoral, worry the new law will serve to ban the Bible, the Koran and other holy texts as hate literature and criminalize sermons that condemn homosexuality as sinful. Given the ambiguous wording of Mr. Robinson's bill and the recent willingness of Canadian courts and human rights tribunals to shove aside religious liberty whenever gay litigants complain the dogma offends them, C-250's opponents are right to be worried. Whatever one thinks of gay rights or same-sex marriage, it is unconscionable in a democracy that one side should succeed in using the law to shut up the other.

Originally passed by the Commons last fall over the objections of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and other religious organizations, C-250 died in the Senate when Parliament prorogued in December. The Liberal government of Paul Martin, however, consented to have the law reintroduced where it left off when Parliament reconvened last month. Senators hurried to get it through a series of "public" hearings almost no one knew about. The committee gave most opponents just three business days' warning to appear, then lumped them together on unwieldy panels and allowed each of them 10 minutes or less to speak. Several witnesses said afterwards they were certain senators had made up their minds in advance and merely wanted it to appear as though they had consulted Canadians.

It is true, as Mr. Robinson and other backers of the bill point out, that the Criminal Code was amended when C-250 was before the Commons to exempt from hate crimes prosecution opinions "based on a belief in a religious text." As the CCCB points out, though, the amendment does not adequately address fears that an activist judge somewhere will convict a strident priest or pastor for counselling against homosexuality from the pulpit.

Judges and human rights commissioners have demonstrated repeatedly that laws to protect religious freedom are not worth the velum they are printed on. In an infamous 2002 case, a Saskatchewan Queen's Bench judge upheld a human rights ruling that equated the Bible with hate literature. Hugh Owens, a strident evangelical, ran an ad in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix citing, but not quoting, four scriptural passages that declare the sinfulness of gay and lesbian sex. Next to the four citations, Mr. Owens placed two stick men holding hands. Superimposed on them was a circle with a line through it. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled, and a federal judge concurred, that the "forbidden" symbol by itself was not hateful to gays, but "when combined with the passages from the Bible ... would expose or tend to expose homosexuals to hatred or ridicule." According to the reasoning of the Saskatchewan judge, had Mr. Owens been brought before him under C-250, he likely would not have been able to avail himself of the religious exemption, and so might now have a criminal record courtesy of his Christian beliefs.

Mr. Owens' case does not stand in isolation. Scott Brockie, a Christian with a print shop in Toronto, was forced at about the same time to do printing for a gay and lesbian advocacy group, even though he claimed that doing so would force him to compromise his religious convictions. A board of inquiry for the Ontario Human Rights Commission declared that while Mr. Brockie was "free to hold his religious beliefs and to practise them in his home, and in his Christian community," in public, the rights of gays trumped his religious freedom. And last month, a B.C. court upheld the suspension of Chris Kempling, a high school counsellor, not for anything he did or said at school, but rather for writing letters to the editor of his local newspaper questioning the naturalness of the homosexual lifestyle.

All of these cases occurred before C-250 will make speaking out against homosexuality a crime. Now that the law is changing, many religious Canadians will likely simply shut up, lest their religious convictions land them in jail. This is a sad day for Canada: The enshrinement of gay rights is taking place at the expense of expressive freedoms that civilized nations have taken for granted for generations.
© National Post 2004

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Fast-tracked spending bill outrages Tory

MPs' quick passage of $50-billion bill 'appalling,' Senator Lowell Murray says: Bypasses process: Senator

Bill Curry
CanWest News Service

OTTAWA - MPs were "asleep at the switch" last week as the government sneaked through a highly unusual bill approving $50-billion in spending through to December, says Senator Lowell Murray.

Mr. Murray, whose Senate finance committee will give the legislation a second look today, said the bill allowed Paul Martin to bypass the normal spending review process to prepare for a spring election.

"There wasn't even a peep out of any of them," Mr. Murray said of the MPs. "I find it appalling the way they've conducted themselves."

Reg Alcock, the Treasury Board Minister, introduced the bill shortly after 7 p.m. last Monday and the bill went through all stages in less than half an hour and was sent to the Senate. The routine bill is passed every March, but is normally limited to approving a smaller sum of money for the government until the June vote on spending for the full year. Last year's motion only approved $17-billion. But with the strong possibility of a spring election, the bill is seen as a way for the government to clear the decks ahead of schedule.

"There's the Liberals, who are supposed to be flexing their muscles to slay the democratic deficit and they let this go through on the nod and the new united right -- these paragons of fiscal conservatism -- didn't seem to understand what was happening. It's incredible. It is truly incredible," he said.

Mr. Murray was appointed to the Senate in 1979 and was a minister in the Brian Mulroney government. He opposed the creation of the Conservative Party of Canada and now sits as an independent conservative.

Though senators are "rather agitated" by the bill, Mr. Murray said it will likely pass because Senators rarely challenge budget measures.

The period between March and June is listed in the parliamentary rules as the time for MPs to review and approve the $186-billion in annual federal spending. During that period, the government normally releases key documents such as the main spending estimates for the year and longer-term projections from departments.

However the normal pattern has been significantly disrupted this year, with the Treasury Board going so far as to say February's main spending estimates will be scrapped and replaced with an updated version later this year to take into account the recent announcements made by the Martin government.

Former Conservative House leader Loyola Hearn appealed to Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, arguing the government is admitting the current spending estimates are "invalid," but the Speaker disagreed.

Mr. Hearn said the government could now bring in an "entirely different" budget after it has been approved by MPs. "It seems they can do whatever they want. Budgets mean nothing," he said.

NDP MP Pat Martin compared the situation to recent corporate accounting scandals. "This is more and more like Enron," he said. "When you have to reissue your financial statements, it's the most humiliating thing you can do on Bay Street or on Wall Street."

Mr. Martin said Senator Murray "may be right" in his criticism of the Commons, recalling that though the opposition voted against the government's $50-billion spending bill, most MPs were busy chatting and socializing as the votes took place.

MPs who have been wading through the almost three-inch-thick document in committee will be very frustrated if it is ultimately replaced, Mr. Martin said.

"Mr. Alcock's pat response to every question is 'All will be revealed if you look at the estimates.' Well, now we find the estimates are completely irrelevant," he said. "This is truly astounding."

Mr. Alcock said he simply wants to provide Parliament with as much information as possible and to take into account the creation of several new departments.

"There's no change in terms of the amounts of money," he said.

As for pushing through $50-billion in spending last week, Mr. Alcock said no one complained at the time. "It took unanimous consent to do it, so they can't have it both ways," he said.

Liberal MP Paul Szabo, who chairs the Commons estimates committee, said the government has a responsibility to ensure public servants are paid and committees are free to review government spending any time they wish.

"I don't place as much importance on the actual budget numbers themselves," he said. "It's probably more important to ask 'What's your plan?' "
© National Post 2004

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Language cop incites backlash

Don Martin
Calgary Herald

First, a word about Don Cherry: The feds' language referee still can't decide whether to slap the coach in the corner for unsportsman-like commentary.

An offhanded quip by hockey's highest-paid blabbermouth insisting "the only players who wear visors are Europeans and French guys" remains under inexplicable investigation by the Commissioner of Official Languages. Her report is now due by the end of April.

One sentence. Three months of investigation. In either official language that's

niaiseux which, I'm reliably informed, means "goofy" in French and is thus a word worth memorizing for federal government commentary, particularly as it relates to our languages czar.

Dyane Adam is in the fifth year of a seven-year term as Canada's bilingualism cop, running a $17-million office which increasingly serves as the Grand Frere of linguistic enforcement and speech control.

Her scope of surveillance is not inconsequential. She's keeping an eye on a $751-million, five-year action plan to make Canada more bilingual, not to mention the $200 million in translation costs picked up by the taxpayer every year. If you believe enforcing bilingualism is a colossal waste of money, well, it dwarfs the squandering in the sponsorship scandal.

But in her most desperate bid to create a healthy make-work environment, Adam commissioned a "sociolinguistic analysis" of the government, which was released yesterday.

In it, Adam pronounced herself reasonably satisfied with the level of bilingual fluency in the ranks of senior management. Fully 85 per cent of those in bilingual positions among the 67,000-strong Parliamentary precinct have met minimum bilingual requirements. And some 88 per cent of the employees felt comfortable enough to communicate in their language of choice. Tres bien, oui?

Non, dang it. Not good enough.

Knowing French isn't the same as talking French, she concludes, and is demanding "concrete measures" to force more francais into the daily fray.

How? Exactly? She doesn't say. But success should "be a prerequisite in determining performance bonuses" for senior management.

The wrinkle in her screwy logic comes in assigning blame for the unacceptably high level of English in office conversation.

The bottom line: Blame the Francophones.

It seems they prefer to communicate with their colleagues in English. And this, in turn, tends to discourage Anglophones from talking in French.

"English-speaking respondents complain the Francophones are too reluctant to speak French," she notes.

And in a gasp of horror only a Franco-fanatic could muster, Adam has determined that "Francophones sometimes use English when speaking to each other."

The notion of forcing Francophones to speak more French even when they prefer English would be severely laughable if Adam didn't have a habit of flying off madly in all bilingual directions.

Hers is a history of inadvertently inciting a bilingualism backlash instead of trying to mediate common sense between the two linguistic solitudes.

She's the commissioner who called for an end to the two-year grace period allowing those in a bilingual-designated position to learn French, thus ensuring unilingual anglos would be blocked from hiring panels.

She raised the possibility of linking provincial health transfer payments to tangible signs of respect for linguistic minorities.

Now she's calling for a more "rigorous review" of all senior managers to ensure even greater fluency, even though there's no discernable problem inside the top bureaucracy.

All this, combined with her rush to probe Don Cherry's quip, not to mention having her staff study the size of language print on menus in National Capital Region restaurants, suggests an underemployed empire sweating the small stuff in lieu of meaningful concerns to explore.

Her annual reports increasingly pick trivial fault with government and its Crown corporations. And she's shown an almost palatable anti-Anglo bias.

She attacks the City of Ottawa for falling down on official bilingualism, but refuses to apply a similar litmus tests to Gatineau across the river, which is considered part of the capital region.

While no other political party would dare fail to communicate in both official languages, she's yet to record a discouraging word about how the Bloc Quebecois fails to issue any documents in English.

This is not to suggest any personal opposition to bilingualism. Having spent two weeks in French immersion in rural Quebec, I am proudly and fluently capable of ordering beer in either official language and, in third-round bravery, can actually specify a "grande biere ou petite biere." Usually grande. Unless I'm driving.

But while government can force its workers to walk the bilingual walk, it can't force them to talk the talk.

Don Martin is the Herald's Ottawa bureau chief.

© The Calgary Herald 2004

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Former Via chief suing over dismissal
Canadian Press

Montreal — Former Via Rail chairman Jean Pelletier, recently fired for belittling a former Olympic champion, is suing the rail carrier and the federal government for defamation and illegal dismissal.

The suit, filed Monday in Quebec Superior Court, seeks more than $3-million in damages.

Mr. Pelletier alleges the government acted illegally when it fired him this month following an interview that appeared in Montreal La Presse on Feb. 27.

He also accuses the government of sullying his reputation by dismissing him in a public fashion that led to unfavourable media coverage.

Mr. Pelletier's problems began when Myriam Bedard, a two-time biathlon gold-medallist, said she was pushed from her marketing job at Via after asking questions about the scandal-plagued federal sponsorship program in January 2002.

Mr. Pelletier, once the top aide to former prime minister Jean Chrétien, responded in La Presse by calling Ms. Bedard a "pitiful" single mother seeking publicity.

"I don't want to be mean, but this is a poor woman in a pitiful state, a woman with no husband that I know of," Mr. Pelletier told La Presse. "She's feeling the pressure of being a single mother with financial responsibilities. Basically, I find it pitiful," he said.

Mr. Pelletier reprinted the excerpts in his lawsuit, but contended in the suit that the remarks had been taken out of context. He apologized after the interview appeared in La Presse, but that wasn't enough to save his job.

He says in the suit that the firing hurt his public image.

"The public firing of the plaintiff caused serious harm to his dignity and his reputation," the suit says. "News of his firing was continually repeated and commented upon in the media."

Via Rail and federal officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment. A source close to Prime Minister Paul Martin has told La Presse that the Prime Minister's Office expected to be sued if it fired Mr. Pelletier.

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City wants to keep new drug clinics away from schools

JOE BELANGER, Free Press City Hall Reporter 2004-03-30 02:24:14

London is trying to establish a bylaw requiring a buffer zone between methadone clinics and sensitive areas such as schools. But it won't be taking any action to encourage a Dundas Street clinic located across from Beal secondary to move.

"We can't do anything about it. They have a right to be there," Coun. Joni Baechler, head of the city's planning committee, said last night.

Clinic 528 has operated at 528 Dundas St., across from the high school, for about two years.

It provides a medically supervised program to help people with "severe opiate dependence." It includes a pharmacy and clinic doctors provide continuous care for clients who have overcome drug and alcohol abuse.

City staff are examining the issue and will report back to the committee in May.

Baechler said a buffer zone would require such clinics to open a set distance away from places such as schools, similar to a bylaw for strip clubs.

She said the issue must be explored carefully.

"We have to look at what the implications are, because they can be significant. Is every pharmacy dispensing methadone? Will they all fall under it? We have to be careful."

A group led by East London resident Elaine Murray approached the committee last month demanding the city take action to reduce the number of storefront social agencies in east London, including the clinic.

Some committee members asked administration to see what action, if any, could be taken to move the clinic.

Staff advised the clinic operates under legal zoning and there is little that can be done.

Murray said last night she is "pleased the committee is taking our concerns seriously."

In a report, Disband the Old East Ghetto, Murray, who says she represents the group Eyes of East London, says an over-concentration of social service agencies is having a negative impact on the area, discouraging new business and shoppers from going there.

City staff are preparing a report on the concentration of storefront social agencies in East London as part of an overall study of the area. That report is expected later this year.

Murray and Eyes of East London founder Mark Burrows are at odds over use of the group's name.

Burrows quit the group over a dispute about inaccuracies in the report on social agencies. He has since provided the city with documents claiming ownership of the name.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Festivals urge city to reconsider meters policy

JOE BELANGER, Free Press City Hall Reporter 2004-03-30 02:24:14

Festival organizations may have to wait until next year to get relief from a new city policy demanding they pay for parking around London's Victoria Park, a city council committee is recommending. The parking change is part of a new special events policy and procedures manual approved by city council's community and protective services committee last night.

Full council will be asked next Monday to approve the manual.

Although the document was lauded by festival organizers and community groups, the parking policy was not.

"Every time there has been a new charge . . . I've had to cancel something in the program to pay for it," Karen Killeen, executive director of the London International Children's Festival, told committee members.

"We're all (festivals) really struggling right now and I'd hate to see any of them go and I'd ask you to reconsider that (parking charge)."

This year, the city reduced funding for festivals and community groups and will charge them to bag parking meters -- $7.50 a meter a day and a flat $50 administrative fee for closing meters.

The change will cost the festival an estimated $2,400.

"We can't change that today," advised committee head Coun. David Winninger, who said city council could revisit the issue during next year's budget deliberations.

London police used to bag meters at no charge but asked the city to do it last year.

The festival groups were quick to praise city staff for their ongoing help and the city's $3-million in upgrades at the park.

Don Donner, whose Boys' and Girls' Club of London sponsors Rib-Fest, also asked the committee to reconsider the policy. "I appreciate the financial vice we're all in these days, but I urge you to reconsider this if at all possible," Donner said.

"It may not seem like a lot of money in the big scheme of things, but every festival is struggling and we need all the relief we can get."

After the meeting, Winninger said he sympathizes with festival organizers.

"Obviously, it does have a big impact on these special events and it ought to be reconsidered," he said.

"And it's not a lot of money, but it does take away from the profits these non-profit groups depend on. Who knows? Maybe we'll be in a more favourable budget climate next year."

Among the other significant changes to the policies and procedures is a 90-decibel noise limit, which residents around Harris Park praised, and a requirement police officers be hired for safety and security at events where alcohol is sold.

The festival groups say the city has spent about $100 million to revitalize the downtown, including the new central library and John Labatt Centre, but are making decisions that could drive them to other locations.

The policy change falls on the heels of a change last year requiring festivals to pay the cost of cleanup at the park.

The city tightened its fiscal belt to avoid a double-digit tax hike this year and asked staff to find sources of revenue and cost savings, many of which have met wide resistance.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Career centre given $322,000

PATRICK MALONEY, Free Press Reporter 2004-03-30 02:24:14

Helping unemployed Canadians find full-time jobs is a key step in strengthening families across the country, London-North-Centre MP Joe Fontana said yesterday. Fontana made the comments at Goodwill's Career Centre, where he announced $322,000 in continued funding for the charity's program, which annually helps 2,000 unemployed Londoners find work.

But more than just a means for making a living, Fontana said, jobs help people build their lives.

"A job is a vehicle by which a person builds for themselves and their families," he said. "It's all about self-esteem."

Funding for the employment planning program, which began seven years ago, remains unchanged from last year.

Without the announced funding -- which equals about 40 per cent of the centre's budget -- the program simply couldn't run, said Robert Collins, Goodwill's workforce development director.

"We really help people find out what the skills and talents are that they have," he said.

While the year-by-year funding is appreciated by Goodwill, Fontana says he would like to eventually see the local program and others secure multiyear funding.

"(That) is something we've been discussing as a government. A good case could be made as to why we don't do multiyear funding," Fontana said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Tories renew call for Sorbara to resign

GILLIAN LIVINGSTON, CP 2004-03-30 02:24:14

TORONTO -- Conservatives again called on Finance Minister Greg Sorbara to step aside yesterday after documents show he was quietly stripped of responsibility for the Toronto Stock Exchange and related securities laws earlier this month. The order-in-council is dated March 4, a week after responsibility for the Ontario Securities Commission was transferred to Management Board chair Gerry Phillips from Sorbara.

The change followed revelations Feb. 25 that Royal Group Technologies, a company where Sorbara was a director until he was named to cabinet last October, was under investigation by the commission, RCMP and tax authorities.

Since then, opposition members have called on him to step aside while the investigation into the company proceeds. The finance minister and Premier Dalton McGuinty have steadfastly stated that he has done nothing wrong.

Conservative member John Baird said he was shocked the government would remove responsibility for the Toronto Stock Exchange and all related legislation from the minister and not publicly acknowledge it. "What it says is they were embarrassed about it," he said.

"They're refusing to be transparent about it."

Baird questioned why McGuinty said it was "sufficient" to relieve Sorbara of responsibility for the securities commission, but then "a week later, under the cover of darkness, behind closed doors, fire him as minister responsible for the TSX."

Opposition parties want a government committee to examine the entire Sorbara issue, but so far the committee has refused.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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More water shortages forecast for communities across nation

DENNIS BUECKERT, CP 2004-03-30 02:24:14

OTTAWA -- Despite Canada's vast water resources, many communities have faced shortages and the problem will likely get worse with climate change, an Environment Canada report says. About 26 per cent of Canadian municipalities with water supply systems experienced water shortages from 1994 to 1999, the report, Threats to Canada's Water Supply, points out.

"I think that it's going to get worse," Liz Lefrancois of Environment Canada, one of the authors, said yesterday. "I think the issue is there and we have to address it."

Even Vancouver, with all its rain, has to impose lawn-watering restrictions in the summer, she noted.

Many municipalities are already having trouble finding high-quality sources of drinking water and are forced to adopt costly solutions.

"This may require the use of more distant sources, or development of sources with lower water quality requiring more complex treatment entailing more losses in the treatment process.

"Stress on both surface water and groundwater sources may lead to service disruptions."

On a per-capita basis, Canadians are among the biggest water users in the world, says John Carey, director general of the National Water Research Institute, a federal agency. There is little effort made to manage demand.

"It's really pretty hard to tell people around the shores of Lake Ontario that we're short of water. We flush our toilets with drinking water."

And we drink our toilet water. More funding needed for everyone at the expense of everyone else. Join your local lobby group today so you don't end up at the end of the ration queue.

Carey said water shortages are already hampering development in some regions of the country, and the problem will be exacerbated by climate change. "A lot of people equate climate change with global warming but climate has a major impact on water distribution."

Many prairies cities depend on water from glaciers in the Rockies but the glaciers are receding, he noted. "We believe Canadians will be impacted more on the water side than on temperature,"

Some of Canada's biggest cities, including Vancouver and Montreal, still don't meter water use, said Lefrancois. Montreal loses 40 per cent of its water to leakage.

She said public awareness of the issue is needed.

"Before . . . if you needed water, then you went and piped in or built a dam or did other things to add supply. Now, we realize that that supply is pretty finite and we're using it to capacity in many respects. So what we have to do is cut back on demand."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Lobbyist's dual role raises concerns

JONATHAN SHER, Free Press Reporter 2004-03-30 02:24:18

Five London councillors want to freeze funding for the Hale Street overpass and examine the role a CN Rail lobbyist played in what was supposed to be an unbiased review of the $11.5-million project. The London firm Makin' Headlines was picked to get public feedback in a review arranged by the city, even though the company was already being paid by CN to lobby for the overpass.

The engineering firm hired by the city to lead the review said yesterday it hadn't heard of Makin' Headlines until its hire was suggested by CN and city staff. While councillors knew Makin' Headlines was a hired lobbyist for CN, many didn't learn of its role in the review until last week.

"I didn't know that," Controller Russ Monteith said three days after council voted 11 to 7 to buy land for the rail overpass last week.

The dual role, called a conflict of interest by a University of Western Ontario political scientist, has led some to call for a freeze on spending.

"I think it's a good reason to freeze purchasing (of land)," Coun. David Winninger said.

"How can we be certain the communication strategy that was used wasn't geared to one particular outcome?" he said.

Also supporting a freeze were councillors Joni Baechler, Susan Eagle, Judy Bryant and Paul Van Meerbergen -- all four of whom voted against buying land for the overpass.

Winninger was absent for last week's vote.

John Matsui of Makin' Headlines defended his dual role, saying he had special skills needed to get public input on a technical matter.

"Maybe that's not an excuse, but if you don't use me, maybe the whole public consultation process fails," Matsui said.

Matsui said he performed his duties without bias even though his client, CN Rail, opposed doing nothing at the crossing, one of four options considered in the review.

But that's beside the point, said UWO professor Andrew Sancton.

"A conflict involves serving two masters at the same time who may have very different interests and this seems to me a clear case of that," he said.

Told several councillors believed he had a conflict of interest, Matsui said: "There is no appearance of a conflict except in people's minds that didn't want (an overpass.)"

"There are some people who can't take a loss . . . I'm sorry they didn't get good upbringing by their parents," he said.

One of those questioning Matsui's role is a councillor who voted for the overpass.

"If there isn't a policy that forbids it, there should be," Coun. Sandy White said.

"I want to know how much input (Matsui) had," she said.

Makin' Headlines was hired by the engineering firm Delcan Corp, which had been hired by the city to perform an environmental study.

The senior project manager at Delcan, Henry Huotari, said he hired Matsui on the recommendation of the city's transportation division and CN.

That was contested last night by city engineer Peter Steblin, who said the city wouldn't have suggested any particular company be hired.

But Steblin said the choice of Makin' Headlines wasn't a conflict because Matsui played such a minor role.

According to Delcan, Matsui wrote public notices to get people to public meetings, created displays to educate them and answered one-on-one questions at the meetings.

Coun. Roger Caranci -- who has led the push for an overpass -- and Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell, who voted against it, said their colleagues were making much ado about nothing.

"That part doesn't bother me," said Gosnell, who said that in a small city such as London, consultants sometimes switch hats.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Gay students call for end to abuse

A London survey showed 98 per cent of gay high school kids suffered verbal harassment.

MARISSA NELSON, Free Press Education Reporter 2004-03-30 02:24:18

Trevor Patterson had a lot going for him in Grade 9 at Sir Frederick Banting secondary school. He was on the student council, he was friends with the pretty girls, he had good grades and supportive parents. Now, 20-year-old Patterson wonders how and where his high school career took a turn.

The one thing that went wrong was harassment he suffered from students because he was gay.

Patterson's story is just one of many from this region, where gay students are at a higher risk of dropping out and being bullied.

A London study conducted in 2000 surveyed 62 gay, lesbian and bisexual youth and found 98 per cent suffered verbal harassment, 71 per cent experienced physical violence and 13 per cent had been victims of sexual violence. The study also found 66 per cent were beaten at school, 26 per cent had suicidal thoughts and three of the 62 had attempted suicide.

Patterson wants decision- makers to have a face that represents those statistics -- he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the anxiety caused by daily doses of harassment at school and dropped out. He also supports the controversial plan to beef up the safe schools program.

"I remember the first time I ever heard the word. In Grade 7, this kid came up to me and said 'Are you gay?' " he remembers. "I just remember saying 'no.' I didn't even know what it meant but he had such a negative tone I knew I didn't want to be associated with it."

Faggot, fruit, homo -- they're names he heard every day. It became so bad in Grade 10, Patterson and his parents, who knew he was gay, went to the school to complain. A week later, he was assaulted after school.

"At least 25 people surrounded me. They were calling me faggot. So I started walking and I got shoved around. I thought I was a write-off."

Although he's been out of school three years, the anxiety persists.

"That's what I want people to understand: It doesn't go away. These people are screwing up people's lives."

While Patterson has dreams of going into real estate, he wonders where he'd be if his problems in high school hadn't happened.

Harassment isn't just a student concern -- it worries parents, too.

Paul Sutton's parents, Liz and Greg Sutton, were worried about their son's safety the second their then-15-year-old son, an Oakridge student, told them he was gay.

The next feeling was relief because it helped explain the depression Paul was suffering.

"We just kept asking, 'Why is this kid depressed?' But he had all this other stuff going on," Greg Sutton, a retired principal, remembers. "Every day at high school he heard things that were said, like 'faggot.' Often, teachers heard and saw that but chose to ignore it. That was the environment in the school."

Paul Sutton, now at the University of British Columbia, says the lowlight was a semi-formal dance, which he had to leave minutes after arriving because an older student was trying to pick a fight with him and his boyfriend.

"I was scared and angry at the same time. There was a break in my personal safety, which should have been taken care of by the powers that be."

Now he worries about the gay students still in this city, who don't have support.

"My parents have been my saving grace on countless occasions. If I hadn't had a space at home where I was completely safe, I really don't know what I would have done. It would have taken a grave psychological toll on me."

THE PLAN

Details of the Thames Valley District school board's plan to teach tolerance of gays and lesbians in schools:

- Provide training for teachers who want to help establish after-school equity clubs and gay-straight alliances.

- Include sexual orientation in the board's anti-violence drama program and produce a video examining issues gay students face.

- Provide schools with a list of plays that address sexual orientation and present gay- positive role models.

- Get the board's subject co-ordinators to review curriculum and ensure non-biased material representing diverse beliefs and values be included.

- Provide some high schools with a lesson plan for a sexual diversity workshop.

- Provide schools with: a list of community groups that offer workshops on sexual diversity, a list of speakers who can speak on sexual orientation issues, a web-based resource directory students can use, and material on how to set up after-school clubs on sexual diversity.

- Give high schools a list of local supports for gay and lesbian students, to be considered for inclusion in student day planners.

- Encourage schools to buy age-appropriate books on sexual diversity and the board will provide all schools with a list of resources.

- Encourage principals to designate a staff member to serve as a contact for students and staff on sexual diversity issues and ensure issues of confidentiality are addressed with administrators so there's a trusted adult in each school to whom students can report harassment or hate crimes.

- Develop a safe schools continuum that can help schools assess their own culture and how it can be improved.

How about teach your own kids at home?

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Pass the buck, so noone goes down

Official refutes Gagliano's claims

The Public Works auditor recalls no discussion of bringing in the police.
JIM BROWN, CP 2004-03-30 02:24:18

OTTAWA -- The top auditor in the Public Works Department denied yesterday he was asked by Alfonso Gagliano whether police should be called in to investigate the federal sponsorship program. The testimony by Norman Steinberg to the Commons committee probing the scandal contradicts what Gagliano, the former public works minister, told the committee .

Steinberg confirmed he briefed Gagliano in September 2000 on the results of an internal audit that found shortcomings in the sponsorship program.

But he said he couldn't recall the minister raising the possibility of a criminal investigation. "He never asked me, 'Mr. Steinberg, should I call the police?' "

Steinberg also took issue with a claim by Gagliano and others that the audit found only "administrative" difficulties with the program.

The study discovered deals were being approved without proper documentation, requisitions sometimes were not signed until after work had already begun and billing practices were questionable.

Steinberg said he never would have dismissed such "serious management lapses" as merely administrative.

But he stopped short of labelling them criminal.

"It may not have been value for money, but it wasn't illegal," he said. "There was no evidence at the time that there was anything criminal or illegal."

He supported Gagliano's testimony on two fronts:

- Gagliano noted the audit had not examined all files and requested it be extended to cover all files.

- Gagliano agreed to freeze all contracts until implementation of an action plan to deal with the problems.

Since the internal audit, further evidence has come to light in two reports by Auditor General Sheila Fraser and the RCMP has launched more than a dozen criminal investigations -- a development that prompted Conservative MP John Williams, the committee chairperson, to wonder why the problems couldn't have been discovered earlier.

Williams also noted Steinberg confirmed he had briefed not just Gagliano but senior officials at Treasury Board, the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office.

Among them was Mario Lague, then a Privy Council official, now director of communications for Prime Minister Paul Martin.

"Why would it go all the way to the highest level? I think we need to find the answers to these questions," Williams said.

Committee members were greeted by news yesterday that a potential witness, former advertising executive Alain Richard, had left the country because of an alleged death threat. He vowed to return to testify.

Williams initially told reporters he was "shocked and horrified" to learn of the death threat. He later backtracked, referring to the claims as hearsay.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Council did right, DeCicco declares

It took 'appropriate' action on the Howlett prank scandal, but she won't say what it was.
MARY-JANE EGAN, Free Press City Hall Reporter 2004-03-30 02:24:18

Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said yesterday she regrets the early retirement of Glenn Howlett but stopped short of saying the city might have handled the whole affair better. "We regret the way things turned out . . . it's not our finest hour," she said in her first public comments since Friday's negotiated deal with the city's longtime community services manager.

DeCicco said she'd held out hope Howlett would return to his post -- a hope his lawyer John Judson said wasn't possible because the workplace atmosphere had become untenable.

Fresh from a week-long Florida vacation, a tanned DeCicco said she regrets the whole affair.

Howlett accepted an early retirement package worth $20,000 -- $5,000 for loss of employment and $15,000 to cover legal fees -- after taking doctor-ordered stress leave in November, prompted by a prank that backfired.

It's been disclosed city manager Bob Blackwell, acting finance manager Vic Cote and city engineer Peter Steblin drew up a phoney resolution.

The resolution was signed by city clerk Kevin Bain and hoodwinked Howlett into believing a major report was due within two weeks on the city's controversial corporate renewal plan.

Howlett, who received the bogus deadline while on vacation, suffered heart palpitations and ultimately concluded he could no longer be part of the city's senior leadership team.

DeCicco had London labour lawyer Frank Angeletti with her during yesterday's interview -- an outside solicitor hired for the Howlett case -- who often interjected during a 90-minute exchange.

Among the highlights in a wide-ranging interview:

- There have been other pranks at city hall and Howlett has been among the instigators.

- In addition to the $20,000 early retirement package, the Howlett affair has cost the city $21,000 to date in legal fees and will cost an undetermined sum to head-hunt and advertise for his replacement. Some estimates put those costs at between $50,000 to $75,000.

- DeCicco repeatedly refused to disclose what if any disciplinary action was taken against perpetrators of the prank. She also refused to confirm the culprits' identities.

Q: Anyone I've spoken to about Glenn Howlett tells me the city has lost a very valuable employee and they feel the city has suffered a black eye over the circumstances of his departure. How do you respond?

A: Glenn has always been a valued member of this corporation and it was always our hope he would come back and we took steps in helping deal with some of the concerns he had. I respect the fact he's made a decision to retire and I do know even previous to this situation he'd been looking at early retirement. He'll be missed here but we do respect he's made a choice.

Q: The public is clearly incensed over the whole Howlett matter. How do you explain to Londoners why the one individual who blew the whistle on a prank loses a 30-year career while the perpetrators -- your top administrators -- appear to have suffered no repercussions?

A: City council looked at all the information from all sides. We did take appropriate and reasonable actions to deal with a number of people involved in this situation. This is not the first time there have been practical jokes here at city hall and we have taken what I believe are reasonable steps on conduct. I don't think this started off with any malicious intent, I really don't, but it did go sideways and no one can dispute that. I know there were apologies offered to Mr. Howlett from the people who were involved and it is a regrettable situation, but again I have to reiterate council's intention was to bring Glenn back.

Q: Howlett and his lawyer have said he felt the workplace had become untenable. That he could not return to that senior leadership team as long as those key individuals -- city manager Bob Blackwell, acting finance manager Vic Cote and city engineer Peter Steblin -- were still in place. I understand he felt some disciplinary action was going to take place.

A: I appreciate this is frustrating for the community and for you as a reporter because you would like to know exactly the actions that were taken and we do have to deal with confidentiality. We've got 3,000 employees and we considered many options, but we felt the actions were reasonable given all the circumstances, so we did the right thing in dealing with those individuals.

Q: But this is what the public is demanding. What disciplinary action was taken?

A: (From city lawyer Frank Angeletti) This organization has a responsibility not to disclose personnel issues and by that, it's no different from the employees at The London Free Press. They are entitled to confidentiality.

Q: The employees at The London Free Press didn't produce a fake resolution signed by the city clerk. I've talked to people at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs who have called that unprecedented.

A: (From Angeletti) The city took the appropriate action for the circumstances.

Q: When exactly, after you got the note from Howlett (in which Howlett asked DeCicco to explain the resolution that was later exposed as phoney) did you and council realize this resolution was phoney and was cooked up by senior managers?

A: It's a fair question, but I spoke to (Howlett) that day and he never indicated there was a red flag. I got the note and my staff followed up with the clerk's department because to be honest, I wasn't sure what the resolution was. My staff was told by the clerk's office that the issues he was raising were addressed and clarity was provided.

Q: Did city clerk Kevin Bain tell you he'd signed this phoney resolution?

A: It was several weeks later that we learned there was more to this, that Glenn was off on stress leave, that he'd hired a lawyer. That's when we started doing more in terms of finding out what was going on. There was no red flag for us. Glenn never called me.

Q: But what about the senior leadership team. When were they going to tell you why Glenn was on stress leave? When did they come clean?

A: Within a couple of weeks some information indicated there was a problem.

(Angeletti): The mayor has made it very clear we are not going to get involved in disclosing personnel matters. Mr. Howlett has chosen, as is his right, to name names and take certain action and that's his prerogative. You're asking the mayor what she knew at a certain point in time and what she's telling you is there was a note left by Mr. Howlett, but he didn't follow up, it was weeks later that we now understand Mr. Howlett is off on medical leave.

Q: But in the meantime, no one that was in on this comes forward to explain why Howlett is on stress leave. When did council find out?

A: You have to appreciate we were trying to gather information. The important thing we tried to do was get the information from all the parties involved. In fairness, we were trying to make sure we had all the facts. It took time to gather all that information. But in January, when we had a clear understanding of the concerns, we outlined steps we hoped would help Glenn come back.

Q: We know you changed the code of conduct. We've been told you informed the individuals involved that their action was inappropriate. What the public wants to know is was there any disciplinary action?

A: With all the circumstances, and we had to look at this in total, this was not the first practical joke in this organization -- and involving Glenn even (as perpetrator), so we took the actions we thought were appropriate. But I'm not going to go into any further detail.

Q: But can you not understand the public's frustration in terms of what action was taken? People are saying the $20,000 (Howlett retirement package) should come out of the perpetrators' pockets and that those responsible should be fired. How much credibility has the city lost when its top brass falsifies city documents?

A: I think there are certainly some issues of concern raised through this and we've addressed them all directly.

Q: It's my understanding city clerk Kevin Bain was coerced into signing this resolution. Is that the case?

A: You know there are aspects of this you know I can't answer. I cannot, based on the law, talk about certain issues that deal with individuals and I'm just asking you to respect that.

Q: How much has the city spent on legal fees on the Howlett issue?

A: I can only tell you to the middle of March, we were looking at approximately $21,000, but there will be a full report to board of control that will be disclosed publicly.

Q: Several readers and callers have said that money should come out of the perpetrators' pockets, not taxpayers' pockets.

A: I appreciate that and that would be a fair comment for many people, but it's not a resolution of council that it be handled that way.

Q: What can you tell Londoners to reassure them this sort of thing can't happen again?

A: We took the appropriate action. We do know practical jokes have occurred in the past and that Mr. Howlett has been a part of some of those. I'm optimistic about our new city manager (Jeff Fielding). We've had one too many city managers around here, but I've told Jeff you really have to move this organization forward.

Q: Can you confirm (Fielding) didn't apply for the job? That you approached him because your list of candidates was so slim because of London's reputation right now?

A: No, I'm not going to confirm the whole process, but we had 37 candidates, some who were head-hunted and some who applied. I'll be honest that the organization has suffered, but (Fielding) brings such a practical, reasonable approach. I'm really optimistic about that.

Q: Even Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell has said this whole prank thing was over the top. When our readers say people should have been fired, that it's another example of incompetence at city hall, how do you respond?

A: City council did everything it could to get all the facts. Yes, it was a situation where a practical joke was inappropriate. This one went too far. If I was not the mayor, I would probably have some of the same concerns people are expressing and I understand that. You have to have all sides before you take action. We believe we handled it the best we could.

Q: It's suggested you'll have a hard time finding a replacement for Glenn Howlett.

A: I would agree with that. We wanted Glenn to come back. We all really believed there was a way to bring Glenn back and that was always our hope. We regret the way things turned out. As was already said, it's not our finest hour.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Monday, March 29, 2004

Ministry of Municipal Affairs

Two affordable housing pilot projects approved in City of London

LONDON, ON, Feb. 26 /CNW/ - Two pilot projects that will create 102 units
of affordable housing for low-income people in the City of London were
allocated more than $2.7 million under the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing
Program.
The announcement was made by the Honourable Joseph Volpe, Minister of
Human Resources and Skills Development, and Deb Matthews, MPP London North
Centre, as part of $56 million allocated today to communities across Ontario.
"Today's investment demonstrates the Government of Canada's commitment to
provide affordable housing for those Canadians who need it most. We are
pleased to be working with the Province and the City to support healthy,
sustainable communities right here in London," said Minister Volpe.
"The affordable housing program is an important part of the provincial
government's efforts to strengthen the communities in which we live," said Ms.
Matthews
"This is extremely welcome news for all Londoners, as we strive to combat
homelessness in our community," says London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco.
"Although the critical need for affordable housing is a national issue, the
City of London committed long ago to being part of the solution and with this
additional funding for our two pilot projects, we can now put shovels in the
ground."
The $2.7 million allocation to the City of London includes:

- $2.43 million for a 90-unit project at 382-392 Burwell Street in
London. The project is sponsored by the non-profit organization Homes
Unlimited. The units will be occupied by lower income tenants.
Approximately 50 per cent of the tenants will pay rent geared to their
income.
- $324,000 for a 12-unit project at 450 Pond Mills Road in London. The
project is sponsored by the non-profit organization London's
Affordable Housing Foundation. The units will be occupied by lower
income families. All of the tenants will pay rent geared to their
income.

Today's federal and provincial allocation will be complemented by more
than $2.8 million in City of London capital funding plus other municipal
financial incentives.
In the City of London, the Government of Canada, through Canada Mortgage
and Housing Corporation (CMHC), has contributed $2.5 million through the
Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program Agreement.
The pilot projects are part of a five-year commitment that will create
affordable housing units in Ontario. This partnership combines Government of
Canada funding of $245 million with matching contributions of the Government
of Ontario, municipalities and other private and non-profit partners.

For more information visit http://www.mah.gov.on.ca
http://www.cmhc.ca

For further information: Mary Johnson, Office of Minister of State
Scott, (613) 952-1684; Ross Parry, Office of Minister Caplan, (416) 325-1657;
Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco, City of London, (519) 661-4920

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Ontario to boost rent banks

CP 2004-03-29 03:27:49

TORONTO -- The McGuinty government was to announce $10 million today for a rent bank program for tenants facing eviction, and promise another $2 million to help people with low incomes deal with higher electricity prices that kick in this week. A government source said Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen and Community and Social Services Minister Sandra Pupatello would announce the funding today at the Woodgreen Community Centre in Toronto.

Rent bank funding is intended to prevent evictions of low-income residents who due to an unforeseen crisis miss a rent payment.

The province currently provides $1 million a year to municipalities to help locally run rent banks and hopes the tenfold increase will give other communities sufficient encouragement to establish similar banks.

"Short-term rent arrears is the most common reason tenants lose their apartments and end up in shelters," Gerretsen says in a release that was to be released today but found its way into reporters' hands early.

Low-income tenants apply to a rent bank and if they are approved, can get as much as two months of outstanding rent paid directly to the landlord.

Tenants can only apply for assistance once in two years.

The rent bank program is administered by municipal service managers, including the local governments and agencies that administer social housing, welfare and child-care programs.

According to a survey of service managers that operate rent banks, the average amount of a loan is $1,500 a household.

Also today, Pupatello is to unveil details of a $2-million energy assistance fund that will help low-income households pay the higher electricity prices that take effect April 1, and what the government news release calls energy-related emergencies.

"Our government understands that communities cannot thrive if they struggle to meet the basic needs of citizens," said Pupatello in the release.

"That's why we're working with our municipal partners to develop effective solutions that meet the needs of low-income households and help prevent homelessness."

It will be the first time hydro prices have risen in Ontario since the previous Conservative government capped them at an artificially low rate in November 2002 after it was forced to abandon a privatization plan that had sent rates skyrocketing.

Household rates will rise from a flat 4.3 cents a kilowatt-hour to 4.7 cents for the first 750 kilowatt-hours used each month, and 5.5 cents for each kilowatt-hour beyond that as the cash-strapped Liberals seek strategies to have consumers pay more of the true cost of power generation.

The Liberals say Ontario can't afford to keep subsidizing electricity prices at a rate that was costing taxpayers about $800 million a year.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Landmarks' future on city agenda

JOE BELANGER, Free Press City Hall Reporter 2004-03-29 03:27:49

The future of two London musical landmarks remains in doubt, despite efforts to save them. The former Wonderland Gardens dance hall should be preserved as a cultural heritage site because it's "integral" to the city's heritage landscape, a report bound for tonight's meeting of city hall's planning committee says.

The report is by London's heritage advisory committee.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to buy and designate as a heritage property the Aeolian Hall on Dundas Street East.

The cultural heritage of Wonderland Gardens may be more obvious than its architectural value, but both are significant, says Joe O'Neil, the committee vice-chair.

"Although when this facility was built these kinds of dance halls were a dime a dozen, now this is one of the last of its kind still standing," he said.

The city is preparing to call expressions of interest to redevelop the former ballroom and restaurant.

City council plans to include up to $250,000 in next year's capital budget, possibly to remove the site's pool and to redevelop its pathway system and river frontage.

A lease dispute prompted former gardens operator Chuck Jones to give up the business his family created and ran for nearly 70 years.

The city, which owns the land, this year gained ownership of the buildings as well.

The heritage committee's report notes the original 1935 bandshell and outdoor dance floor are still visible.

Wonderland Gardens hosted many famous entertainers, including Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong and Guy Lombardo and, later, rock bands such as Alice Cooper.

Planning committee chair Coun. Joni Baechler said she agrees Wonderland Gardens is a key cultural property.

"It's been a gathering place and very integral to the life of Londoners," she said.

The designation of Aeolian Hall as a heritage site will be the focus of a hearing Friday.

"It should be preserved, no question," said George Goodlet, chair of the heritage committee. "It's an important building in the city, especially for that area."

The owner, the Gordon Jeffrey Music Trust, has opposed the designation, which led to a hearing before the Ontario Conservation Review Board.

The board can make recommendations to the city, but has no teeth to enforce them.

The hall is used by the London Community Orchestra, which founded the Aeolian Hall Musical Arts Association in a bid to buy the former East London Town Hall.

Completed in 1884, the building at 795 Dundas St. was London East's town hall until it merged with London in 1885.

In 1946, the original Aeolian Hall on Dundas Street near Colborne Street was destroyed by fire. The old town hall was renovated and converted to a concert venue.

The association wants to buy and use the hall as a community cultural venue.

"We don't have enough money to meet the price being asked, but we still would like to buy it," said treasurer Malcolm Morham. About $15,000 has been raised for the purchase, far short of the $277,000 asking price.

The Old East Village revitalization plan says retaining Aeolian Hall is vital to the community. Its loss "would be a significant blow," it says.

Gordon Jeffery bought the old town hall more than 30 years ago and renovated it as a concert venue. He died in 1986.

The hall was made available for public use through a bequest of Jeffery. But the trust's members want to sell the hall because of issues such as maintenance costs.

Restrictions on future concerts and events are in place to allow a buyer to take charge as quickly as possible, trust officials have said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Superior court judges want $38,000 raise

Free Press news services 2004-03-29 03:27:49

VANCOUVER -- Canada's superior court judges want a 17.2-per-cent raise, or almost $38,000 a year, CP has learned. The increase would see their annual earnings rise to almost $254,000 a year, says a Dec. 15 written submission to the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission. The federal government, however, says in its undated reply that the judges' demands cannot be justified, estimating that they would cost $150.4 million over the next four years.

The judges currently make $216,000, plus various benefits and expenses. That rose from $178,000 in 2000. In that last salary review, the judges had asked for a raise of $47,000 or 26 per cent. There are 1,056 superior court judges in the country.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Audit chief faces grilling by panel

The Public Works Department's chief of audits is to testify in Ottawa today.
STEPHANIE RUBEC, Free Press Parliamentary Bureau 2004-03-29 03:27:49

OTTAWA -- The Commons committee probing the sponsorship scandal will grill the Public Works department's chief of audits today to uncover why he cautioned his political master against calling in the police. Norman Steinberg will be asked by MPs to lay out what he uncovered in the the 1996 and 2000 audits he oversaw.

Those audits outlined cases of double-billing and missing files. Both reports concluded there was serious mismanagement in the sponsorship program.

Former Public Works minister Alfonso Gagliano told the committee earlier this month that he asked Steinberg whether he should call in the police to investigate the findings of the 2000 audit. Gagliano said he was told it was purely an administrative matter.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser's February report found the $250-million sponsorship program was little more than a slush fund used to funnel hefty commissions to Liberal-friendly ad agencies.

And Fraser found a handful of Crown corporations were participating in the scheme.

Steinberg launched the 1996 audit into federal advertising practices after public servant Allan Cutler complained rules were being broken and contracts funnelled to specific ad firms.

The audit found ad agencies were being cherry-picked by the Privy Council Office. Public Works called in a private auditing firm, which came to the same conclusions.

The committee has heard the feds failed to clean up the advertising sector and created the sponsorship program headed by Chuck Guite.

Guite has been subpoenaed to appear at the committee Thursday. Neither he nor his lawyer have responded to the summons.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Saturday, March 27, 2004

Downtown festivals angered by city fees

JONATHAN SHER, Free Press Reporter 2004-03-27 03:32:03

Festivals that bring hundreds of thousands of people to London's Victoria Park say they may be driven out of the core by expenses imposed by the city. The same city politicians who approved building $100 million in downtown attractions, such as the John Labatt Centre, are neglecting festivals that have made Richmond Row the most prosperous neighbourhood in the core, event organizers say.

"They want economic development? Here are events that have been driving London's economic engine, and if (the city's) not careful, they'll drive us all out of business," said Don Donner, whose Boys' and Girls' Club of London sponsors Rib-Fest.

Last year, the city made festivals pay the costs of cleaning up the park. This year, the city reduced funding for festivals and will charge them to bag parking meters -- $7.50 a meter a day and a flat $50 administrative fee.

"It's a slap in the face to all festivals," Donner said.

If the city can finance the JLC with more than $4 million a year when nearly all of arena revenue goes to private companies, then why shouldn't the city forego what amounts to several thousand dollars in parking revenue to help festivals that benefit local charities?, Donner asked.

"They're forgetting to take care of the bread and butter at home . . . I don't think the new arena has the impact of what festivals bring," Donner said.

Organizers of the Gus Macker basketball tournament, second largest in North America, say they may leave downtown because of the new charges.

And the Home County Folk Festival has been forced to scale back this year's festivities as it tackles $30,000 of debt, one-third of which is related to missing funds that led to fraud charges against a bookkeeper.

The London International Children's Festival also will scale back offerings after city council refused to waive metre charges to allow school kids to be dropped off.

"It's still a struggle for city hall to understand there is tremendous value in these festivals," said Alfredo Caxaj, artistic director of Sunfest and Fiesta del Sol.

That's unfair, said Coun. Roger Caranci, who described himself as an avid festival-goer.

"We all feel very strongly about each and every one of these festivals," he said.

Festivals have benefitted from mega-projects like the JLC, a new market and a new central library, because those facilities bring people downtown, Caranci said.

The city tightened its fiscal belt to avoid a double-digit tax hike this year and must find new sources of revenue and focus on core services.

"I'm not prepared to put any more money downtown," Caranci said.

But some in London business and tourism communities say the city's strategy is unduly risky.

The new charge on meters is expected to net $14,000 for the city. That's too small a gain to risk losing festivals, said John Winston, general manager of Tourism London.

"We know from surveys we've done the festivals generate multi-million dollars of activity," he said.

If the Gus Macker moves from the downtown the impact would be huge, Winston said.

"They do more business on Richmond Row during the Gus Macker than during Christmas time."

Lindsey Elwood of the London Downtown Business Association agreed, saying, "That's a lot of risk for a little money."

The festivals also bring new business downtown.

The changes by the city have even prompted reaction from someone whose mandate downtown doesn't extend as far north as Victoria Park. Janette MacDonald, executive director of MainStreet London, said she'll ask the city to reverse itself.

"I really hope the city will step up and give these festivals a break. We need these festivals downtown for revitalization," she said.

It's not just Victoria Park events that have been stung. The London Sports Council paid to bag meters this year when it closed part of Talbot Street for Hockey Day.

"What a terrible cash grab. It makes you think twice about wanting to do anything downtown," said sports council executive director Susan Legg.

London police used to bag meters at no charge but asked the city to do it last year, said Shane Maguire, head of the city's parking division.

Festival organizers were careful to note the city has done things to help them, from spending $3 million to improve Victoria Park to providing excellent support through city staff.

But the imposition of meter charges couldn't have come at a worse time for the granddaddy of London festivals, the Home County Folk Festival. Forced to deal with growing debt, the festival, in its 31st year, will forego some niceties attendees have come to expect. There may be no lawn chairs and fewer portable toilets and the budget for attracting talent may be scaled back.

The festival has raised fees for artisans to have booths, to $450 from $350, drawing outrage from some vendors who say that's too much to make ends meet.

"It's one of the most expensive festivals in Ontario," said London artisan Dianne Ferris, who will get in free because she won for best booth last year.

If it weren't for the free entry, Ferris said, she "wouldn't be able to afford to do a showing in my hometown."

The Canadian Crafters Association has complained about the fees, prompting Home County to scale back what had been a planned fee of $500.

But raising fees was the only way to go to climb out of debt, said Phyllis Brady, who chairs the Home County Folk League.

"It's our hope we can make this year a turn-around year," she said.

If more of the 100,000-plus attendees chipped in a loonie, many of the challenges could be overcome, she said.

The city should have consulted festivals before imposing the meter fee, said Clyde Adkin of the Gus Macker.

"The city's asking us to pay this exorbitant price when they're trying to revitalize downtown," he said.

"It just doesn't make sense -- They're discouraging us from bringing people downtown."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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