Justice Glen Donald’s judgement Friday (Nov. 15) at the Elgin County Courthouse infuriated the fur baby fans in the front row but, in the end, he had no other option. Following a three-day trial last month in which Tarrick Fakira-Martin – charged with unlawfully killing his dog, Lady – often wept and buried his head in his hands at graphic witness testimony, Justice Donald acquited him but noted there was no question the dog had been neglected. Fakira-Martin was charged last July after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog. He pleaded not guilty to charges of injuring an animal on the trial’s opening day, Oct. 7. Fakira-Martin has always maintained the dog drowned in Kettle Creek near an area known to some as Suicide Hill.
Planned provincial cuts and the closure of public healthcare services will lead to the Doug Ford government offloading more costs associated with these services to every municipality in the province. That is the message Melissa Holden will deliver in a deputation to city council on Tuesday (Nov. 12). Holden is a member of the Ontario Health Coalition in London whose mandate “is to protect and improve our public healthcare system for all.” In addition, the organization advocates “to protect services as public and non-profit and to protect local accessible service on the principles that underlie our public healthcare system . . . principles of compassion and equity.” Holden warns rural communities already suffering from a shortage of services will be particularly hard hit “as dispatch services and the governance of ambulance services would move further away.”
With a pair of high-profile St. Thomas court cases in the past couple of years dealing with abuse and neglect, this week’s announcement the province is proposing a new animal welfare system is encouraging news for animal advocates. The legislation was introduced Tuesday (Oct. 29) by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and, according to a release from MPP Jeff Yurek, “includes the strongest penalties ever in Canada for people who violate animal welfare laws and a more robust enforcement system.” No specifics, however, are contained in the release introducing the Provincial Animal Welfare System (PAWS) Act as to what those penalties may be. “Ontarians can be confident that the government is proposing a system that will protect animals,” assured Jones.
Proving her inaugural run at federal politics was no one-hit-wonder, Karen Vecchio cruised to an easy victory in Monday’s federal vote. She will represent the constituents of Elgin-Middlesex-London for a second term after garnering just shy of 31,000 votes, up from 28,000 in 2015. Liberal hopeful Pam Armstrong was a distant second with just over 14,000 votes. That is far less than the 17,642 gained by Lori Baldwin-Sands in 2015. We caught up with a battle-weary Vecchio on Thursday for a lengthy conversation on her local success which was tempered by the failure of leader Andrew Scheer to power past the Justin Trudeau Liberals. To open the discussion, we asked Vecchio about the strain she underwent running a 40-day campaign marathon.
“You’re going every single day from dusk till dawn. And honestly, the thing that keeps you going is all the volunteers that surrounded you. But physically, you are getting drained, mentally, you’re ready to go. You’re going, going going, but physically, you’re getting tired. But it’s really hard when one time I had a 93-year-old lady who coordinated 16 volunteers. You’re not going to say ‘no.’ “So, I just kind of went to the pace that my volunteers were at. That kept me going every day. Hard, hard, hard, and it was wonderful. I’m surrounded by really hard-working people that motivate me every day.”
Recognizing the need to fix “long-standing issues with how hospitals are funded,” the province this past week announced an additional $68 million in funding to support small- and medium-sized hospitals in Ontario. Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek unveiled the funding boost Thursday (Oct. 17) at the CASO station, indicating St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) will received $1.47 million under the investment geared to ending hallway healthcare. “Noting that it is a medium-sized hospital, the hospital has faced its fair share of problems throughout the years,” acknowledged Yurek, “in spite of its success in implementing the Lean program throughout the facility.” The Lean management program – adopted by the hospital several years ago under then CEO Paul Collins – maximizes patient care while minimizing waste at the facility. In other words, creating more value for patients with fewer resources.
Exactly one month ago this weekend, local artist Christine Dewancker was on hand for the official opening of the St. Thomas Elevated Park.
Her imaginative installation, The Faraway Nearby, could the seen in the distance at the west end of the Michigan Central Railroad bridge.
The 11-piece sculpture had previously been on
display at Ontario Place in Toronto and the plan at its new venue in St. Thomas was to have it spread about 30 feet wide and stretch 120 feet to the western entrance to Canada’s only elevated park.
At the Sept. 11 opening of the park in the sky, Dewancker noted, “I’m really, really pleased to be a part of this historic project and I know all of the work that has gone into creating something like this and everybody should be really proud.”
Once every month or so, you’ll find Elizabeth Reavely standing beside the entrance to the laneway leading to the CASO station off Talbot Street. Sign in hand, she is quietly protesting on behalf of her daughter Claire in the hope of alerting downtown traffic to the plight of autistic children across the province. The small group of parents usually catch the attention of Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, whose office is at the end of that laneway. “Jeff comes out and talks to us usually every time and he did hold a round table,” advises Reavely. “But for the most part, his hands are tied. “He has to toe the party line and it’s too bad. We need the MPs and MPPs to take a step back from their parties and say ‘my constituents need this.'”
A year-and-a-half sexual relationship with a teenage girl will put a former St. Thomas Police Service officer behind bars for 30 months. Garry Christiansen – a 29 year veteran with the police service – showed no emotion as he sat in the prisoner’s box during sentencing Friday afternoon at the Elgin County Courthouse. Justice George Orsini said Christiansen took advantage of a vulnerable 15-year-old girl, and added, “adult sexual predators must pay a heavy price.” Christiansen first met the girl – whose identity is protected under a publication ban – in January of 2016 when she came to the police station to obtain a background check. Two days later they had their first sexual encounter and the relationship continued until May 2017. The key consideration in sentencing was whether Christiansen had intercourse with the girl prior to her 16th birthday.
Tarrick Fakira-Martin had an “exclusive opportunity to neglect, abuse and kill Lady,” his German shepherd found buried in a shallow grave on July 3 of last year. However, after three days of testimony at the Elgin County Courthouse, defence counsel argued while there is no doubt Lady died that day, what happened to her and how she died remains unanswered. Fakira-Martin was charged last July after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog. He pleaded not guilty to charges of injuring an animal on the trial’s opening day, Oct. 7. Fakira-Martin has always maintained the dog drowned in Kettle Creek near an area known to some as Suicide Hill.
A disturbing Facebook video and a grisly PowerPoint presentation highlighted Day 2 in the trial of Tarrick Fakira-Martin, charged in St. Thomas with injuring an animal. The accused was led into the courtroom Wednesday morning in handcuffs after his arrest late Tuesday on three counts of breach of bail conditions on an unrelated charge. Fakira-Martin was charged in July of last year after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog. He pleaded not guilty Monday at the Elgin County Courthouse to charges of injuring his dog Lady, a female German shepherd. The first witness Wednesday, Aaron Watt, a neighbour of Fakira-Martin, said he saw Lady and her owner almost every day and often gave him dog food when he had no money.
Trial update: Due to a busy court schedule today, Day 2 of the trial has been pushed back to Wednesday (Oct. 9).
The recounting of Lady’s injuries proved traumatic today (Oct. 3) and the trial scheduled to last three days at the Elgin County Courthouse will determine if the actions of the German shepherd’s owner, Tarrick Fakira-Martin, led to her death.
Fakira-Martin was charged in July of last year after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of injuring an animal on the trial’s opening day, in front of Justice Glen Donald.
The first witness, St. Thomas Police Service Const. Dan Ainsworth, recounted the events late on the evening of July 3, 2018, when he responded to a grassy area at the end of St. Catharine Street adjacent to the rail yard.
With the opening for the season at the homeless shelter serving St. Thomas and Elgin, what was once deemed “possible and probable” is set to become a reality. A reality, mind you, that is a sad reminder of day-to-day life for the homeless and near homeless in the community. Gathered outside Inn Out of the Cold, housed at Central United Church, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston announced Thursday (Oct. 3) the short-term shelter that has served as a ray of hope to the homeless for the past 10 years is to become a year-round shelter service. This will be achieved through a two-model approach, explained executive director Lori Fitzgerald. “Our normal model is that we open November through April. We open at 6 p.m. for a hot meal and we offer some activities and programs to move people forward and connect them to services. “That is followed by a good night’s sleep in a warm place and a good breakfast before heading out at 8 a.m.”
They lined up patiently behind the microphone at Memorial Arena in St. Thomas, awaiting their opportunity to question a half-dozen of the Elgin-Middlesex-London candidates in the Oct. 21 federal election. Close to 200 people attended Wednesday’s (Oct. 2) all-candidates meeting hosted by the Aylmer Express, with the hopefuls queried on a wide range of subjects ranging from the national debt and climate change to electoral reform, taxes and freedom of speech. A no-show for the event was the Green Party’s Ericha Hendel. The Sudbury resident and Laurentian University student was parachuted into the riding after failing in her nomination bid in the federal riding of Nickel Belt. Addressing climate change and related spinoffs, including the relevance of electric vehicles and support for intercity transit, consumed a good portion of the two-hour meeting.
Climate crisis marches were again held around the globe yesterday (Sept. 27) including here in St. Thomas. The province’s Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks did not attend any local rallies, as was the case with a rally held last Friday in front of city hall. Instead, he issued a media release where he noted, “Today, I would like to recognize all the young Ontarians who are making their voices heard on the serious issue of climate change.” But just how seriously are Conservatives at both the provincial and federal level dealing with the implications of climate change? At a massive rally in Montreal, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was the only head of a major federal party not in attendance.
“I can guarantee there will be a hospice in Elgin county . . . during my term.” Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek issued that assurance last December and less than a year later, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott backed that guarantee with a $1.6 million pledge to open an eight-bed residential hospice to serve St. Thomas and Elgin. Friday morning (Sept. 20) Elliott, who is also the province’s health minister, made the announcement at Memory Garden in Pinafore Park and added once the facility opens, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs. The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs.
Earlier this month, council unanimously approved recommendations from the planning department concerning amendments to the city’s official plan to support hotel and apartment use at Elgin Centre (formerly Elgin Mall). The report from Jim McCoomb, manager of planning services for the city, followed a public meeting held July 15 where some residents expressed concerns about noise emanating from the hotel, snow removal and storage, fire safety for the upper levels of the hotel and parking and traffic. A traffic assessment study submitted to the city concluded, “the proposed redevelopment of a portion of the existing Elgin Centre shopping mall will not significantly change the existing roadway traffic volumes and on-site parking accommodation.” It was noted a petition had been received signed by 40 individuals opposed to the proposal.
It’s the recent recipient of a 210-foot wooden boardwalk, a continuous 600-foot concrete sidewalk and is the home of an 11-piece art installation. And it officially opens from end to end on Saturday (Sept. 14) with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5 p.m. The St. Thomas Elevated Park – Canada’s first – was previewed to the media today (Sept. 12) a little more than two years after the first phase of construction began atop the 850-foot Michigan Central Railroad bridge crossing Kettle Creek at a height of 95 feet. It’s the third bridge on this site and opened in 1930 at a cost of $689,000 and carried as many as 50 trains a day.
In a ceremony held this morning at the main fire hall in St. Thomas, several dozen firefighters, members of the police service and EMS gathered for a 9-11 memorial service and to recognize the efforts of the people “willing to step up and answer the call to action when it is needed.” Hosted by the St. Thomas Professional Firefighters’ Association, the ceremony honoured the more than 400 firefighters and law enforcement officers who died in the World Trade Center and on the ground in New York City. It was also an opportunity for elected officials to pay tribute to the city’s first responders. “Thank you so much for all of the work you do each and every day to keep us safe,” observed Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio.
The question was posed recently by Peter Ostojic of Walter Ostojic & Sons Ltd. “Just do not understand why the city is involved in building affordable housing units themselves.” The former mayor of St. Thomas was referencing the community and social services hub now under construction at 230 Talbot St. The subject was broached again this past Tuesday (Sept. 3) at the reference committee meeting in which city manager Wendell Graves updated council on Phase 2 of the project, which will front onto Queen Street. With Phase 1 nearing completion this fall – “something Graves described as a shiny, new nickel for us” – he presented a conceptual business case to council members. The structure would contain a minimum of 48 housing units on two floors with the possibility of more units should the structure be expanded to a third or fourth floor. The estimated cost of constructing each unit is $225,000 with 24 of them renting out at $500 or so per month and another 24 geared to income at approximately $300 per month.
Is another provincial backtrack in the offing? On Aug. 16 MPP Jeff Yurek, minister of the environment, conservation and parks, noted in a statement, he is working “to improve public transparency and consistency” in dealings between municipalities and the conservation authorities. Yurek continued, “The legislative changes we’ve made ensure conservation authorities focus on delivering core services and programs that protect communities from natural hazards and flooding while using taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively.” Last week in this corner, we questioned the impact this legislation would have on events such as the maple syrup festival hosted by the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority (CCCA)at Springwater Conservation Area. Well, what should appear in the agenda package for Tuesday’s (Sept. 3) city council meeting but a letter from Rick Cerna, CCCA board chairman and Ward 3 councillor in Malahide Township.
An ambitious construction schedule this month along the St. Thomas Elevated Park is resulting in transformative development closer aligned to the final design. This beehive of activity meant the closure of the park atop the Michigan Central Railroad bridge during August. And now, due to unforeseen delays, it has resulted in the cancellation of the annual Elevated Picnic scheduled for tomorrow (Aug. 25). We caught up with On Track St. Thomas director Serge Lavoie hard at work in the park for an update. “Because the construction schedule was slipping, we felt it wasn’t going to be safe enough to do the picnic,” advised Lavoie. “What we’re doing instead is a grand opening on Sept. 14,” added Lavoie, “which coincides with an event the city and the health unit are doing called Trails Open St. Thomas.”
The following scenario is, no doubt, familiar to residents of the Lake Margaret area. Some time back, when you purchased your dream home in the ideally located subdivision, you signed a restrictive covenant – an agreement between you and Doug Tarry Limited – which stated “the purchaser shall not use any building erected on a lot for any other purpose than as a private residence and no such building shall be used for the purpose of a profession, trade, employment or business of any description.” The covenant went on to warn, “the purchaser will not park or store on any lot any trucks of greater than 3/4 ton capacity, boats, trailers and house trailers or any recreational vehicle other than in an enclosed garage.” Fair enough. An assurance of a quiet, safe neighbourhood in which to raise a family or retire as empty nesters.
Transit was a prominent talking point leading up to last year’s municipal vote and now, thanks to provincial funding, city residents may soon be standing at a bus stop of “a transit system we can all be proud of.”
At an announcement Thursday (Aug. 8) in front of city hall, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek indicated the provincial government is committing $1.8 million for transit projects in St. Thomas.
The money will be used for fleet upgrades – including the purchase of 10 new buses with an additional four vehicles for future expansion – and transit technology, including priority signalling for buses at designated intersections.
In addition, the transit projects are being nominated for federal funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), a $30 billion, 10-year infrastructure initiative cost-shared between federal, provincial and municipal governments.
A blue-and-white sign in the front window at 378 Talbot St., at first glance, appears deceptively hospitable. Its message, however, elicits a long second study. “Welcome To Ontario Open For Business Closed For Autism” Propped up against the glass in the former downtown branch of TD Canada Trust, the sign marks the office of CoField Inc. Co-owned by Lyndsay Collard and Alison Ditchfield, the pair head up a team of instructor therapists who provide Intensive Behavioural Intervention to children with autism and their families. Which has the two senior therapists butting heads with the provincial government over autism funding. Hence the sign.
It will be the first of its kind in Ontario and, as announced Wednesday (July 24), it is to be located in St. Thomas with an economic impact rippling across southwestern Ontario. At the Dennis Drive Industrial Park, the province’s minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski and environment minister Jeff Yurek announced $5 million in provincial funding to construct a cross laminated timber plant that will create 60 high-paying jobs. The $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. Element 5 facility “will showcase the kind of innovation we want to see more of in Ontario,” stressed Yakabuski at the funding announcement. Based out of Toronto, Element 5 has an existing plant in Ripon, Quebec which produces solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives.Continue reading →
As we noted last month, the city’s social services and housing hub springing up at 230 Talbot Street has run into what city manager Wendell Graves calls a “soft” business case concerning Phase 2. Phase 1, well underway, includes office space for the social services department and 28 residential units. Phase 2 was to include a childcare facility and 24 additional housing units on the second and third floors of the building. In a report to council in June, Graves warned “preliminary cost estimates for the construction of the proposed Phase 2 project are high.” He added, “At this point, the actual business case for the Phase 2 project is soft and the cost per residential unit is projected to be fairly high ($290,515 per unit).
With just 99 days until the federal election, you might very well be wondering who the Liberal party has tasked with attempting to unseat incumbent Karen Vecchio in Elgin-Middlesex-London (EML) riding. Well, the short answer is no one. The nomination meeting was originally scheduled for January and here we are midway through July with no designated candidate although we know Lori Baldwin-Sands has filed papers. Will she be acclaimed at some point in the very near future? A phone call to David Goodwin of the federal Liberal riding association should result in some answers. “They haven’t called the nomination yet,” advised Goodwin.
St. Thomas will be the venue for the latest inquest into an inmate death at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC). The coroner’s inquest into the death of 47-year-old Michael Fall on July 30, 2017, will begin Sept. 23 at the Elgin County Courthouse. Fall was one of five inmates to die that year at the London institution which has experienced 15 deaths in the past decade. An inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act and it will examine the circumstances surrounding his death. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths. It’s certainly not the first inquest into an inmate death and, most recently, on June 22 another male prisoner was found unresponsive in his cell and later died in hospital. Two days later, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek advised in a statement, “I will continue to work with the solicitor general to ensure the safety of correctional officers, staff and inmates.”
Can’t imagine Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP would immediately suggest enjoyable to describe his first week as the province’s head of the environment, conservation and parks ministry. Just days after the cabinet shuffle that moved Yurek out of the transportation portfolio, he found himself in Halifax this past Thursday (June 27) at a meeting of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. The gathering allowed ministers the opportunity to brainstorm on such issues as plastic waste, climate change, air quality, and wastewater. In a release issued following the discussions, Yurek noted “we are deeply disappointed that (federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine) Minister McKenna continues to focus on her tax plan, disguised as a climate change measure, and refuses to respect the legitimate ways provinces and territories, including Ontario, are tackling climate change in their own unique jurisdictions.”
Exactly four years ago, we wrote at length about workplace harassment at city hall, referring to it as a “toxic environment.” At that time, we postulated the City of St. Thomas, as a corporation, should be held to a high standard of excellence with regard to a workplace environment. The issue in 2015 involved a city employee we identified as ‘Dave’ and his allegations of verbal and physical abuse involving fellow employees and managers. In a conversation in June of that year with human resources manager Graham Dart, he conceded “As an employer, we don’t have to guarantee a harassment-free workplace, because we can’t do that. “There is no expectation or requirement of that. But there is an obligation on our part — especially under the Occupational Health & Safety Act — that we address harassment in the workplace.”
It’s one of those unperceived neighbourhoods in St. Thomas . . . life beyond the hump of the Barwick Street bridge. The residents, who enjoy a tranquil setting west of the railway track, may soon be joined by a couple hundred new neighbours if the city approves a proposed subdivision in the Hill and Barwick streets enclave. The Ostojic Group of St. Thomas is proposing a 75-lot subdivision west of Hill Street with Nick and Joe Ostojic making their pitch to council this Monday (June 17). It’s not the first time the Ostojics have sought to develop the open field nestled between the St. Thomas bypass and Kettle Creek. The stumbling block in the past has been the restricted access across the wooden bridge that spans the CN line to London.
He continually courted controversy, was synonymous with waste management and his legacy adorns the front of the Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital. St. Thomas developer – and author of 2012’s cautionary tale Madame McGuinty’s Teflon Academy – Bob McCaig died this past Wednesday (June 5) at the age of 79. The former Elgin county school board trustee was not only a frequent contributor to City Scope, but he was also the focus of numerous items in this corner. Inclusion of the McCaig name could be counted upon to generate a considerable response, both pro and con. His was a black and white canvas, there was no gray on Bob’s palette. Love him or loathe him, there is no denying – at heart – he was a prolific community booster.
Is it a case of listening to the people or backpedalling in the face of stiff opposition? The agenda package for Monday’s (June 3) city council meeting includes a letter from Premier Doug Ford with regard to cost-sharing with municipalities for land ambulance, public health and childcare services. The proposed cuts to joint funding were to come into effect this year even though municipalities have already set their 2019 budgets and tax rates. The funding changes are a move by the Ford government to address the province’s $15 billion annual deficit and $347 billion long-term debt.
With a ballooning caseload and the threat of budgetary dollars evaporating next month, yesterday’s (May 24) announcement the provincial funding tap is to be turned on couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the local branch of the CMHA and the St. Thomas Police Service. The significance of the announcement was underscored through the appearance of a pair of Ford government heavyweights on hand for the investment news. Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, accompanied by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott, took to the podium outside the police station on CASO Crossing to announce $70,775 in funding that will allow a CMHA caseworker to continue working with the police service’s mobile crisis intervention team.Continue reading →
On Jan. 1 of 2014, the city implemented a 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan, as mandated by the province’s Housing Services Act. The goal of the plan – in conjunction with Elgin county – is to work toward meeting the housing and support needs of the community while eliminating long-term homelessness. At Monday’s (May 13) meeting, a mid-term report was presented to council detailing four strategic directions: increase housing supply options; provide supports to keep people in the sustainable housing they currently have; enhance the current system to prevent homelessness and when homeless, “rapidly” move people into stable housing; and pursue community partnerships. Let’s focus in on the homeless strategy as 2014 was a significant first year with the rollout of the city’s plan.Continue reading →