Grey County supports equestrian bid

Grey County council has endorsed an attempt by The Blue Mountains to attract the 2015 Pan Am Games equestrian event to the local area. The Blue Mountains has agreed to support a bid to hold the equestrian event at the Thornbury Horse Park, which is being developed by the Cedar Run Corporation. At county council’s regular meeting last Tuesday, The Blue Mountains Mayor Ellen Anderson updated county council about the bid and asked for an endorsement from county council. "Your support shows the bid committee that the County of Grey is behind the bid. They regard partnerships as very healthy," Anderson explained. "This is a wonderful opportunity for us and your support does not tie the county into anything specifically," said Mayor Anderson, who has also invited the Town of Collingwood and the County of Simcoe to offer their support to the bid. Grey County Warden Kevin Eccles met with Mayor Anderson extensively prior to the meeting last Tuesday to discuss the bid proposal. Anderson also brought several pictures of the proposed equestrian centre to the meeting for councillors to take look at. Warden Eccles gave his complete support to the proposal. "If this does go forward it will create a facility that is world renowned," said the Warden. "There are no financial impacts (for the county) on this going forward," said Eccles. The Blue Mountains Deputy Mayor Duncan McKinlay said the equestrian centre would create enormous spin-off benefits for the entire region. "The creation of that facility will provide work for local contractors. It will be a permanent, high calibre facility to host a number of events each year that will provide employment in the tourism and agricultural industries," said McKinlay. Owen Sound Mayor Ruth Lovell-Stanners said the bid could lead to a great opportunity to let the world see the local area. "It sounds like something that would be huge for Grey County and would showcase our area," she said. County council unanimously voted in favour of supporting the equestrian bid. The Cedar Run big is currently up for consideration by the Toronto bid committee, which is responsible for choosing the various event locations across Ontario for the games. Once the locations are selected the overall Toronto bid committee submits an application to the Pan American Sports Organization for consideration. With files from Erika Engel


Riding with the boss

The red compact car sweeps past at a breezy 130 km/h its driver a young woman with a cell phone clasped to her right ear. She is deep in conversation and oblivious to the unmarked cruiser, its high-profile passenger none too pleased by the scene unfolding in the passing lane. “One hand – no hands on the wheel now,” OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino observes. “She took her other hand off the wheel for a minute.” Fantino’s driver, Sgt. Jeff Dziepak maneuvers their black Ford Edge behind the speeding car, which is now ripping along Highway 400 southbound at 140 km/h. He follows at a safe distance for a few minutes before calling in the license plate. Fantino dons his wool-lined cap and activates the cruiser’s flashing lights with a hand-held keypad. Within moments, the driver pulls to the shoulder. Dziepak and his boss have done this many times before, and there is a sense of routine as they approach the vehicle – Dziepak writing the ticket and the commissioner observing from the passenger’s side. The fine is $295 and four demerit points. “That’s painful,” Fantino says, back in the car. ••• He has nabbed more than a few speeders since his appointment as commissioner in 2006, but downplays the non-traditional image of a senior administrator working in the trenches. “I wouldn’t expect our people to be doing anything that I won’t do, or am not prepared to do myself,” he says. “And you know, you lead from the front. Besides, it’s gratifying to know you may have prevented a fatality, a serious crash, and taught someone a lesson.” Fantino readily acknowledges the flash of recognition he receives from many drivers familiar with his famous mug, but would rather not dwell on it.   “Business is business,” he adds. The week before, Fantino and his driver pursued and pulled over a driver travelling at 176 km/h on Highway 407. While standing roadside, they were approached by another driver who had parked nearby. “I really didn’t know what the citizen wanted – maybe directions or some other thing,” he adds. “He just stopped to thank us for the work we were doing, which was gratifying.” In an interview prior to the afternoon drive, Dziepak recounts numerous instances where motorists nabbed by Ontario’s top cop reacted in surprising ways. “It happens all the time,” he says. “Some people are apologetic, and some people are excited to see him. “He is like any officer with their partner,” he adds. “He gets out of the car and he is right there.” The ticket given to the woman with the cell phone will dent her pocketbook, but it won’t garner the screaming headlines that followed the arrest of a driver clocked at a blurry 250 km/h in the southbound lanes of Highway 400. In a tone devoid of sarcasm, Fantino suggests a visit with a psychiatrist is in order for that particular motorist. “I think that that person should be admitted somewhere for assessment,” he says. “Nobody can think that is a normal speed, a normal thing to do. It is very reckless, very dangerous, not only for himself, but for the other people involved.” ••• Fantino, who turns 67 in August, recently celebrated 40 years of public service with a career that began at the Metropolitan Toronto Police in 1969. He would eventually serve as Toronto’s police chief for five years, starting in 2000. Today, his work schedule is typical only in that the hours are long, the travel extensive. “This is very early for us to be going home,” he says en route to his Toronto-area home in the late afternoon, adding “We’re only doing it because we don’t want to tire you out.” In about two years, Fantino and his driver have added more than 140,000 kilometres to the odometer, travelling to meetings, visiting OPP detachments and generally conducting the business of overseeing the roughly 6,000 uniformed members and 2,600 civilian staff. Plane and train travel are often required for visits to remote communities, and little of his time is spent at General Headquarters in Orillia. “It is difficult to get around, so if you are doing things here, there and everywhere, you spend half your time running around and you are not getting you work done,” he said. “Managing your schedule is really important.” ••• He was 23 when he first dipped his toe into the waters of law enforcement, working security for the Simpsons department store in what was then the newly-opened Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The experience was an important one, though not without its hard-learned lessons. As he recounts in his book, ‘Duty: The Life of a Cop’, the fledgling investigator was memorably scolded rather than rewarded for ejecting a pair of would-be shoplifters from the store. The teens’ affluent parents were regular customers, and didn’t take kindly to their sons’ treatment. Fantino was reprimanded but did not lose his job. “I happened to exert my authority in a way that I thought was not only appropriate, but was the right thing to do,” he says of the incident. “It was not apparently the politically nice thing to do.” And yet prevention continues to be a guiding principle in his approach to law enforcement. “That’s why most of our people are not hiding behind billboards, you know, the old fashioned Smokey,” he says. “Our people are quite open, we encourage them to be quite visible. The mere fact that our people are stopping vehicles out in the open as they do … people going by will recognize and understand and appreciate the fact that if they don’t abide by the law, they too might end up in the same fate.” ••• Fantino’s imprint on the provincial force is perhaps most evident, at least to the public, in the return of the classic black-and-white colour scheme that once adorned the force’s fleet. This rebranding, as he calls it, had a two-fold purpose – one of which was to bring “a sense of pride and identity” to the OPP. The new vehicles are also hard to miss. “We don’t have any more cars, but we have much more visible cars, so our visible presence has increased dramatically,” he adds. Beyond the effort to increase public awareness of police on Ontario’s roads is a move to targeted traffic enforcement of impaired and erratic driving and seatbelt infractions.   “We are not out there fishing,” he says. “We are very focused and very strategic in our enforcement approach. We do a lot of analysis as to where we should be, what we should be doing. We need to stay focused on what in fact is causing so much of the carnage and the crashes.” Aerial surveillance is another recent tool in the OPP’s arsenal, allowing pilots to track and report lawbreakers undetected from the wild blue yonder. Fantino says the numbers speak for themselves. Highway deaths on roads patrolled by the OPP dropped by nearly 30 per cent in 2008 over the previous year, with 131 fewer people dying in traffic-related accidents. Add to that the more than 10,000 people whose vehicles were seized in a year under legislation targeting ‘racers’ who exceed the speed limit by 50 km/h or more. “There’s a lot to be said about making the effort out here,” Fantino adds. ••• “There is an expectation that you don’t stand up and speak to issues, that you don’t make waves, just not engage in debate or dialogue or controversy,” he says. “But everything we do has a controversial component to it.” Unlike the career politician who tip toes around touchy issues ¬– testing the winds before offering an opinion that may prove unpopular and ultimately career-breaking – Fantino is both revered and reviled for his blunt style and disarming candor. His face betrays little and he speaks evenly in a voice that borders on monotone – firm but rarely rising in volume no matter the gravity of the subject. It appears his critics – and there are more than a few on the political left – have not cost him any sleep. “When I picked up my badge to become a police officer, I didn’t check my rights as a Canadian citizen to speak up and stand up and be counted on issues,” he says. “If others can be critical of me and my profession and my colleagues in law enforcement, why should I just sit back and be a passenger?” That unwillingness to self-censor is rooted in what Fantino describes as his “apprenticeship of being a Canadian.” An Italian immigrant who arrived in Toronto with his family at age 10, he faced discrimination, bullying and other abuses that commonly awaited new arrivals already challenged by the language barrier. Struggling to learn English, he was roundly rejected by others his age, and was often picked on. “You overcome all of that,” he says. “How do you do it? You do it based on family values and encouragement and wanting to make a contribution.” A decision to drop out of school in Grade 8 to help support his family would find him challenged academically years later. He was rejected three times before gaining entry to the police force. “That was a rude awakening for me because, all of a sudden, I had to meet certain standards and I just wasn’t there,” he adds.  At age 27, after gaining his high school equivalency through correspondence courses, Fantino was admitted to police college. “The rest is history, as they say.”   ••• “Today, it is harder to be a cop and easier to be a crook.” (From Fantino’s ‘Duty: The Life of a Cop’) Running like a thread through his book is the challenge police face in tackling crime while working within the boundaries of a legal system that has “bent over backwards to ensure the rights and entitlements of the criminal are preserved, upheld and championed,” Fantino says. “But we don’t have the same equal regard for their victims.” Criminals often receive “bargain-basement justice” with watered-down sentences that award three days’ credit for every day spent in detention, he adds. “Very often, it is really not about justice,” he says. “It is just a process people go through.” The reality of the system’s shortcomings hit close to home when Fantino’s son was hit by a drunk driver, only to have the charge tossed out due to delays in having the case heard. “I tried to prepare him for that. To this day, he is still shaking his head.” Fantino’s vocal dissatisfaction with the justice system is not limited to the courtroom. “The jails do not rehabilitate people. They warehouse people. And they are full of the same badass offenders who keep going in and out over and over again.” (Duty: The Life of a Cop) Convicts are too often granted unearned parole, re-entering society without ever having been compelled to better themselves during their time in prison, he says. “The jails are full,” he adds. “If the jails are full, I guess we can say that whatever programs have been instituted and whatever things are in place, we can honestly say they are not working very well, because all of us collectively working in the system … and the amount of resources dedicated to all of this, we should have been able to turn this thing around.” During his years on Toronto’s homicide squad, Fantino would work a case that left a lasting impact on his view of the justice system, and affirm him as a proponent of capital punishment. Michael Sweet, a 30-year-old police officer and a father of three died March 14, 1980 after being shot twice while attempting to stop a robbery. The shooter, Craig Munro, was convicted of first-degree murder, and his brother, James, was found guilty of second-degree murder. Craig Munro deserved to die, Fantino says. “For me, the only thing missing was the order to have this guy executed,” he writes in his memoir. In late February of this year, Munro was granted a parole hearing. “He didn’t get out, and now we have to go through this virtually every six months because he is entitled to apply every six months,” Fantino adds. The consequences of the actions “of two hardened career criminals are still being felt today,” he says. While the death penalty appears an unlikely prospect, Fantino remains convinced of its value in select circumstances. “There are circumstances, albeit unique, when all is said and done, all the appeals are exhausted, all of the tests of the system have been applied, the severity and the gravity of their crime would merit execution,” he said. ••• Fantino’s initial two-year appointment to his current position was extended by another year, which concludes this October. Whether the term will again be extended remains to be seen, and his thoughts on the matter remain his alone. A query about how he views his legacy goes unanswered. “My only immediate focus and concern is to be solely committed and dedicated to my present mandate, regardless of any potential end date,” he says. “All my life I’ve never been unemployed.”


Glenn Howard wins battle of brothers

Sometimes it’s hard to separate family from curling. Such was the case Tuesday morning in Calgary, when the Midland born and raised Howard brothers, Russ and Glenn, faced each other in a historic meeting at the Tim Hortons Brier. In the end, it wasn’t the titanic battle the fans at the Penngrowth Saddledome had been hoping for, but it was one for the history books. "I got a big kick playing against Glenn and I know he enjoyed it," said Russ, speaking with TSN following the game. It marked only the second time in the long history of the Brier that two brothers had skipped against each other in a national men’s curling final. Glenn Howard’s Coldwater and District Curling Club rink scored three points in each of the first and fifth ends, en route to a 7-2 win over the New Brunswick rink, skipped by Russ. "It was pretty cool to play against my brother and it’s too bad we had that bad shot on that angle raise in the fifth end, or else it might have been a closer game," said Russ. The win helped the Team Ontario rink, skipped by Glenn and consisting of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill ,maintain an unbeaten record at the Brier, improving to 6-0. Kevin Martin’s Alberta rink kept pace with Howard, posting a decisive win over British Columbia on Tuesday morning to also improve to 6-0. To add to the Howard threesome, Steven Howard played with his dad Russ on Tuesday morning. "It’s just an awesome experience playing in my first Brier with my dad and playing against my Uncle Glenn," said Steven, 24. Russ said playing with his son will be a moment he’ll remember for the rest of his life. "When your son is born, you count his fingers and toes and you hope he is healthy. When he is three or four then you start thinking about how cool it will be when he starts kicking a baseball or soccer ball around. Like me ,you hope he plays golf. But for him to play in my sport (curling) is totally unbelieveable. Steven is soaking it up and living the dream. To play against Glenn is such a bonus," said Russ. In providing an exclamation mark to the brother battle, Glenn helped the New Brunswick rink sweep the final shot by Russ into the house, before the two teams shook hands. The Howard family was well represented at the rink on Tuesday, with Glenn receiving cheering support from wife Judy and son Scott. In Calgary, Russ was cheered on by his wife Wendy and daughter Ashley, who earlier this year skipped her own team to an appearance at a Canadian finals in the junior division. Meanwhile, Barbara Howard spent Tuesday morning at the Midland Curling Club watching her two sons battle on ice in the company of friends and fellow curling fans. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first, the Ontario rink later increased its lead to 4-1 in the fourth end. In the fifth end, Russ attempted an angle raise to score one, but instead rolled his own shot stone to far and surrendered three to Glenn, increasing the Ontario lead to 7-1. Visibly angered by missing the shot, Russ Howard displayed a rare burst of anger in front of the thousands in attendance, slamming his curling broom against the ice. "I played an angle raise and tried to punch it (the rock) through a hole that wasn’t even there," said Russ later. Given the dominance of the Glenn Howard team within the curling world this year, Russ knew he had a tough test going into the game. "They have such a great team. We didn’t really expect to post a win when we woke up this morning," said Russ, who is making a record 14th appearance at the Brier. With the loss to Team Ontario, New Brunswick dropped to 2-4 in the standings. Russ Howard and his rink went on to play the Jeff Stoughton rink from Manitoba on Tuesday afternoon, with Glenn Howard scheduled to face the same Manitoba rink in the evening draw.


Solar farm proposed

Oro-Medonte farmland is at the heart of a multi-million dollar plan to harness the sun’s energy. Power generated by a massive solar field would be fed directly to the provincial grid through the Orillia transmission station, according to the planning firm representing Helios Energy. Solar panels would cover about 60 per cent of the property’s 380 acres and produce enough power to supply about 3,000 homes. “This is a major investment,” said Ray Duhamel, of Jones Consulting Group Inc. The property, which the company has leased, is south of Highway 400, between the eighth and ninth concessions. A flat site with access to the highway made it an ideal candidate for the project, Duhamel said. “Simcoe County has reasonable sunshine to make it fly,” he added. The county’s new Official Plan recognizes “green” energy as an acceptable use for farmland, though Oro-Medonte’s plan does not. Whether township council approves the necessary rezoning may prove irrelevant if the province passes the Green Energy Act, legislation that would pave the way for such projects and supercede municipal planning policy. “There is every indication it is going to be passed,” Hughes said. Homeowners along the ninth concession say their picturesque views will be permanently obscured, should Helios Energy blanket a nearby field with large solar panels that could at times reach nearly 14 feet in height. “We bought here because the view is perfect, it is nice, open country,” said Carl Swanson, a retired police officer who moved to the area 15 years ago. An application for the solar energy project is now before the township, said Mayor Harry Hughes. “I don’t think anyone has a disagreement with creating energy from sunlight,” he said. “Everyone recognizes we have to have hydro produced from some source. It is a matter of which source people have a preference for.” Hughes supports the call for environmentally friendly energy sources, but wants to learn more about the project that is said to represent an investment of more than $200 million. “I haven’t got all the data yet,” he added. “Whenever you bring something in, it is going to have an impact one way or the other. And we have to decide that as a council.” Duhamel said the company is aware of local concerns, and has offered to plant a thick vegetative border to lessen the visual impact of the solar farm. “Some people just won’t like (the project) because it is change,” he said. “Some people like looking at that agricultural field and don’t want to look at solar panels.” The public would have an opportunity to weigh in on the matter in future, Hughes added. “People don’t have enough information enough yet to make up their mind one way or the other,” he said. Hughes said the project would prove less of a boon to the economy revenue-wise, as energy projects aren’t expected to face the higher property taxes applied to industrial/commercial properties under the proposed “green” act. “But that shouldn’t be the driving force,” he added. “The driving force should be, is it the right thing to do?” Beyond the tax revenue to be gained by the township is the potential for local jobs, Duhamel said. “You don’t develop a $200 million project without needing concrete, fencing and landscaping people,” he added. “You need truckers.”


Towns prepare to go dark for Earth Hour

The towns of Midland and Penetanguishene will be powering down Saturday to take part in Earth Hour. Earth Hour is a global event to promote energy conservation and send a message about co-operating to tackle climate change. Launched by the World Wildlife Fund in Australia in 2007, it has since grown into an international campaign. Millions of people are expected to participate by turning off their lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. on March 28. Andrea Rabbitts, planner for the Town of Midland, said while the municipality is not hosting any events related to the occasion, staff have been busy promoting Earth Hour to schools, businesses and organizations. She noted the town will be doing its part by asking all departments to power down for the hour if possible. “The (North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre) can’t, for obvious reasons. Same with the fire department and police, due to safety,” she said. “But we have asked (departments) to conserve where they can (by) shutting off lights, computers, printers in offices, etc.” The Midland Power Utility Corporation, meanwhile, will be scrutinizing consumption rates to see whether or not the town was able to decrease its usage, she noted. “It’s important for the town to participate because of the effects being seen on climate change,” she said. “This event is growing so enormous – and there is so much interest in taking action in something as simple as turning off the lights – that the town, by leading this, can put forward an example to its residents and hopefully make the change.” The Town of Penetanguishene will also be going dark for Earth Hour, said Pat Harwood, manager of recreation services. “The town is, where it can, shutting down all our lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m.,” she said. “We’ve had it on our website (and) had posters in all our facilities.” She added it’s important to show that the town is doing its part in conserving energy. “We’ve taken steps here,” Harwood said, noting the town has turned off some parking lot lights at night, and evaluated buildings for energy efficiency. “(That) means savings back to the taxpayer.” For more information on Earth Hour, visit


Rumor has it, community theatre onstage

Wasaga Community Theatre is staging Rumors, a play by Neil Simon. Simon is an American playwright who has written more than 30 plays including The Odd Couple and Brighton Beach Memoirs. In Rumors, first published in 1988, guests arrive at the posh apartment of New York City’s deputy mayor to celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary only to discover the house in darkness. The first guests to arrive, a pair of lawyers, discover the deputy mayor has been apparently shot and rumors fly. They discover it is a superficial wound and try to keep it quiet until they find out what happened. They call a doctor instead of the police, in an attempt to keep the shooting out of the media. As more guests arrive, dressed in gowns and tuxedos, they begin looking for the food, drinks and the host only to discover the wife of the man who has been shot is missing. "It just gets more and more complex as it goes along," said director Pat Drury. Drury said the host spends the entire play upstairs, passed out in bed, unseen by audience. She said the play has many great lines, delivered by the 10-member ensemble cast that has been rehearsing since the beginning of February.   "We chose it because it’s extremely funny. The audience seems to like the comedies, especially now, they need something to perk them up a little bit and we were looking for another comedy and its really hard to find really good comedies," said Drury. "We want to give them what they want and we want to do it too because it is fun for us." She said the theatre troupe has performed several Neil Simon comedies over the years and they are always popular. Drury had to write to Simon’s agent, promising not to stray from the original script, in order to get the royalty rights to perform the play. Evening shows on April 16-18 begin at 8 p.m. and there is a Sunday Matinee on April 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $15 each and are available at Major’s Guardian Pharmacy, The Corner Market, IDA Pharmacy, The Crow’s Nest Books and Gifts in Collingwood and Barb’s Clothes Closet in Stayner. The theatre group offers tiered seating. Visit Cast: David Clayton Laura LaChapelle Al Davidson John Clayton Marion Bell John Robinson Jennifer Smith Pat Drury Sherrie Halliday Ilona Armstrong


Councillors wary about bridge costs

Members of Meaford council are adamant that the cost of replacing the Bognor Bridge better be reasonable. The Municipality of Meaford has received more than $920,000 in funding to replace the bridge. With the municipality’s one-third share of the money factored in, the town has in excess of $1.3 million available for the bridgework. At council’s regular meeting on February 23 members of council were clear that they expect the project to cost less than that total amount. "I’m having a lot of trouble accepting that this bridge could run over $1.3 million. We’re replacing a one-lane bridge – with a two-lane bridge I hear now. There has to be some costs savings on this. I hear Chatsworth was able to get a new bridge installed for $150,000," said councillor Harley Greenfield. "Are we tying up a fortune in engineering and consulting fees? Do we have to? It should not cost that much," said Greenfield. Councillor Jim McPherson said he will be watching the costs of the project very carefully and expects municipal staff to find savings. "I don’t want to hear from another municipality that we got taken on this," said McPherson. In terms of the status of the bridge project CAO Frank Miele told council that the design work should come forward at the next committee of the whole meeting on March 9. "We’re confident that in the next few weeks we’ll initiate the RFP process. We should have a bridge in by the fall," said Miele. Deputy Mayor Mike Traynor said the municipality is fortunate the upper levels of government came through with funding for the bridge. "We’re blessed that the feds and the province have come forward with this $900,000. Whether it’s a single lane or double lane bridge it’s a bridge that will be there another 80 years," said Traynor.


Farmstead falls in demolition

Another one of Innisfil’s old farmsteads has fallen to the wrecker’s ball. A two-storey house at 1438 6th Line, just east of the 20th Sideroad came down in a matter of hours last Thursday. The structure had not been designated as a heritage property but did appear on the “Potential Inventory List of Heritage Sites” prepared by the Innisfil Historical Society last April. The Town of Innisfil issued a demolition permit for the house on Oct. 15, 2008. When contacted by the Innisfil Journal, Heritage Committee chairperson Andrew Cowan was unaware the home had been destroyed. “We had some pictures of it from the outside,” Cowan said. “I asked for permission to go inside but had not heard back from the owners. We were hoping to capture at least some of the architectural features.” Cowan said he had heard rumours that the interior of the property was not in the greatest of shape. Apparently, a previous tenant had kept a variety of exotic animals in the house. “We weren’t sure of the condition of the house, but we would have liked the opportunity to have seen it,” he said. “If it was not in salvageable condition, that’s one thing but we wanted to have a closer look. It’s unfortunate (the demolition) has happened.” Innisfil resident David Steele, whose house is one of four properties now on the town’s heritage registry list, said he was saddened by the destruction of the house. “The owner has the right to demolish the house,” Steele said, “but it’s horrifying to see another part of Innisfil’s history destroyed.” He, like Cowan, had heard the building’s interior was in a state of disrepair. However, contrary to popular opinion, Steele says, “Building a new building would cost more than bringing an old one up to snuff. People think it’s cheaper to demolish than rebuild.” Steele believes more could be done locally to preserve older structures. “Unfortunately, council hasn’t seen fit to have more than a few houses on the registry list,” he says. “East Gwillimbury (council) has passed a bylaw to make the town a ‘No demolition’ zone and their council has accepted a list with more than 400 buildings on it. Even Bradford West Gwillimbury has 30 properties on the registry, even though they dismantled their heritage committee. Springwater has bylaws for older properties and whether they should be designated. They are way ahead of us.” On a positive note, Steele attended a meeting last weekend of the Ontario Architectural Conservancy, where the Simcoe County chapter was formally chartered. “The chapter is now official,” Steele says. “We learned a lot about what we could be doing to protect old houses and buildings. You can’t make a fuss about every old house but there’s a long way to go up here.”


New policy could end holiday homework

The public school board has developed a new policy that could make homework during the March Break and Christmas holidays a thing of the past. The policy was presented to the Simcoe County District School Board’s programming committee April 1 and could be approved later this month. It contains provisions that would limit "next-day" homework and prevent teachers from assigning work the day before a holiday and making it due the day after. The policy also makes it necessary that homework marking provide constructive feedback, and not just a stand-alone mark. However, some trustees noted the issue of group work was conspicuously absent from the policy. "I don’t plan to support this unless group work is addressed," said Trustee Nancy Halbert. "As a parent of three children, group work has become a nemesis for me." Many trustees say they frequently receive calls regarding homework, and the board has been examining recent studies that have found too much homework can have a negative impact on a student’s family life. Along with taking time away from other activities, homework, especially group work, can put considerable strain on parents, studies have said. The policy was developed so the board would have universal guidelines for teachers to follow that would also limit the impact of homework on family time. Halbert, who represents New Tecumseth and Bradford West Gwillimbury, said many of her constituents are shift workers and can’t always help their children with homework or facilitate the travel required for after-school group work. Superintendent of instructional services Lindy Zaretsky said the board is awaiting the outcome of further studies before it includes group work in the policy. She said she would like to see the current policy move forward with the intent that it be updated as more information becomes available. Student trustee Hart Murdoch said while he likes some of what is in the policy, he questions whether it will have any actual impact in schools. He is currently a student at Bradford District High School and he said his experience is that some teachers will assign the homework they want, regardless of the policy. "Some of our more experienced teachers I could see being a little bit defensive of this," he said. "I worry that this makes a lot of sense on paper, and that students like this on paper, but will teachers listen to it?" The committee forwarded the policy to the board meeting at the end of April for approval. If approved, it could come into effect by the 2009/2010 school year.


Union helps fight against abuse

La Maison Rosewood Shelter received some much-needed aid last week. The local branch of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) donated $2,000 to the women’s shelter – one of 50 shelters across Canada that received a donation from the union – in conjunction with International Women’s Day. The donation, noted local CAW spokesperson Alex Contois, came from the CAW National Social Justice program, which puts $100,000 aside each year to donate to women’s shelters. Each local has to apply for the donation, said Contois, who applied on behalf of Rosewood, an emergency shelter that provides residential and non-residential support to abused women. “It’s important because there is a lot of abuse against women, and that’s a real no-no with CAW,” he told The Mirror. Each year, more than 60 women in Canada are killed by their partner or ex-partner. According to a recent Statistics Canada report, more than 38,000 incidents of spousal violence are reported to police across Canada annually. “The CAW has made ending violence against women a priority,” said Contois. “Real change comes with a political commitment to progressive social policy. Therefore, we will continue to challenge all levels of government to commit to concrete solutions that produce real change for women.” Contois, who said he knows of a few people who have required the assistance of a shelter, noted CAW recognizes the problems women have: “A lot of it is because of men. We are against violence against women, so that’s why we do it.”