McGuinty wants ‘locked door’ policy at all elementary schools by next fall

TORONTO – Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Thursday there would be a “locked door” policy at all 4,000 elementary schools in Ontario by next September in reaction to last week’s shooting rampage that left 26 dead at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.

“In the aftermath of that tragic event that unfolded in the U.S. I think there’s an important question that we need to ask ourselves: are we taking all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of our kids at school,” McGuinty said at St. Fidelis Catholic Elementary School in Toronto.

“I think the response to that question requires that we assure parents that all of our elementary schools are locked during the day, that we are controlling access into our elementary schools, so we’re going to put a locked door policy in place.”

The Opposition said all parents would support initiatives to make schools safer for their kids, but questioned the timing of McGuinty’s announcement. The Tories suggested McGuinty was simply trying to change the channel from his government’s ongoing fights with public school teachers over wage freeze legislation, which prompted rotating one-day strikes in elementary schools this month.

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“I think that the timing, obviously, would lead one to believe that this is a cynical move by Mr. McGuinty,” said Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod.

“He used his final pre-Christmas media availability to talk about this when I think the issue that is really pressing on Ontario families’ minds right now is the labour strife in our schools and whether or not extracurriculars are going to go on and whether or not there are going to be strikes in January.”

The New Democrats said the locked door policy was a good first step but said safety was more than just about locking school doors.

“It’s about providing adequate supervision, access to mental health services and strong links to communities,” said NDP education critic Peter Tabuns.

“Unfortunately under the McGuinty government, funding for safe school programs and community linkages were cut in the last budget.”

Only about 850 elementary schools in the province took advantage of a government program to install video cameras outside school doors, but that was meant for buildings where the entrance was not in clear view of the office. It’s time to expand that program to all elementary schools, at a cost of about $10 million, said McGuinty.

“Now we can’t, and neither would we attempt to turn our elementary schools into fortresses,” he said.

“We’re not going to brick up these windows, but I believe there is a reasonable expectation on the part of parents that when their kids go to school in Ontario, that we will have a locked door policy in place.”

Veteran Conservative Frank Klees said he couldn’t understand why McGuinty didn’t also address the unsafe conditions for kids in high schools, where teachers working to rule aren’t taking attendance, and in some elementary schools where buildings were kept open during the rotating one-day strikes but students were not supervised.

“How can we tell parents that the schools are not assuming responsibility for student safety? It seems bizarre to me,” Klees said in an interview.

“If you’re not taking attendance, how can you tell where the students are?”

Twenty Grade One students and six adults were killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last Friday by a young man who fatally shot himself when police arrived at the scene.

Every Ontario school board is required to have a local police-school board protocol, which requires they have a lockdown plan in place that is practised at least twice a year. The government has arranged for professional development and training for school and board staff and local police services to implement the protocol at both the elementary and secondary levels.

Supreme Court allows appeal in spat over Ontario sex-offender data

OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada will allow the appeal of a ruling that would compel the Ontario government to reveal the number of sex offenders in the province by partial postal code.

The province’s Community Safety Ministry and its Information and Privacy Commissioner have been locked in a lengthy battle over the data, which the government says could identify individual offenders.

Earlier this year, Ontario’s top court ruled the information should be released.

The privacy commissioner had previously ordered the records be disclosed to an unnamed journalist, who made the request under Freedom of Information laws.

Last year, the Divisional Court dismissed the ministry’s application for a judicial review of the commissioner’s decision.

The ministry had said the information could reasonably lead to an expectation of harm, facilitate the commission of an illegal act or hamper the control of crime.

However, in ordering release of the data in 2009, the privacy commissioner found the ministry’s concerns baseless.

The ministry provided no evidence that providing the first three digits of the postal codes could be used to locate convicted sex offenders within communities, the appellate court ruled.

Sex offenders are required by law to notify the Ontario registry if they change addresses. Information in the registry is normally off-limits to anyone other than police involved in an investigation.

The ministry worried that disclosure of the information could prompt offenders to go underground out of fear of vigilantism.

On average, more than 24,000 people live in the “forward sortation area” identified by the first three digits of a postal code.

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Toyota Camry does poorly on new crash test; fails to get insurance group’s highest rating

DETROIT – The Toyota Camry, the bestselling car in the U.S., performed poorly this year in a new crash test and failed to get the best safety rating from an insurance industry group.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Camry a “Poor” rating on a test that measures how well people are protected when the front corner of a car hits another car or an object.

The Camry still did well on the institute’s other four tests and earned a “Top Safety Pick” designation. But it failed to get a “Top Safety Pick-Plus” rating because of the bad performance on the new “small overlap” test of corner crashes.

Ten moderately priced midsize cars got the institute’s highest rating. They include the Honda Accord, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy and Outback, Suzuki Kashai and the Volkswagen Passat.

Toyota’s Prius v gas-electric hybrid wagon also performed poorly on the new test, but still earned a “Top Safety Pick” designation.

“Toyota’s engineers have a lot of work to do to match the performance of their competitors,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in a statement Thursday.

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Toyota said in a statement that IIHS has raised the bar with the new test, exceeding U.S. government requirements. But the company said it will respond to the challenge. “We are evaluating the new test protocols and can say that there will not be one single solution to achieve greater crash performance in this area,” the statement said.

Through November, Toyota has sold more than 373,000 Camrys in the U.S. It is the top-selling car in the U.S. almost every year.

Both the Prius v and Camry performed well in moderate front-end crash tests, as well as side impact, roof strength and rear impact tests, the institute said.

Moderately priced midsize cars outperformed midsize luxury cars in the new test, the institute said. The only midsize luxury cars to earn a “Top Safety Pick-Plus” award were the Acura TL and Volvo S60.

IIHS is a non-profit research group funded by auto insurance companies. It develops crash tests to cut deaths, injuries and property damage losses from car and truck crashes.

UPDATE: Alberta NDP releases memo on home care changes

EDMONTON – The Alberta NDP has released documents it says reveal the extent of cuts to home care services by way of reducing the amount of time home care providers spend with some seniors.

Details of the changes to the $500-million home care program were announced Monday by a government agency in response to a release by the opposition NDP, which said the cuts could endanger some people.

Kerry Williamson of Alberta Health Services said the changes, which are designed to make the system more efficient, won’t hurt anyone.

“We are not reducing the level of care for any of our clients. We will be reducing the amount of time spent with them in some instances,” Williamson said.

“For example, administering medication can take as little as two minutes, however, the way we are doing it at the moment, we have 15 minutes set aside for that.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how many seniors would be subject to the changes that were put into effect earlier this month.

Williamson said there has been an increase of about 5,000 home care clients in the past two years.

“In order to provide the service to all of the clients within the budget that we have, then we have to do things a little bit differently.”

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NDP Leader Brian Mason said it doesn’t make sense to cut a program that helps seniors in their homes that is already cost effective.

Mason said he has been told that some seniors are now receiving 25 per cent less home care services than they were before.

“Home care is a way of reducing health-care costs by having people leave hospitals and be cared for in their homes. It is not only better for them, it is also a very good way to control costs in the health care system,” he said.

“To cut home care is very counter-productive.”

Edmonton resident Cathy Taylor says her home care provider was already struggling to fit her care into the hour and a half sessions.

Taylor says now it’s cut to an hour and 15 minutes.

Mason called on Health Minister Fred Horne to take immediate action to remedy the cuts.