Huricane Juan
Toronto Star
  • Ontario same-sex couples no longer have to adopt their own children

    Five years ago, Raquel Grand had to adopt her wife’s newborn daughter — running up $5,000 in lawyer’s fees — to legally become a parent.

    That won’t happen anymore under legislation introduced Thursday to give same-sex parents in Ontario who aren’t biologically related to their children the same legal rights as heterosexual moms and dads.

    Nor will people who are not legally considered parents have to live in fear they cannot make medical and other decisions about their children if a spouse becomes incapacitated.

    That almost happened when Grand’s wife Deanna Djos was hemorrhaging dangerously after giving birth to their girl, Thora.

    “At that time I wasn’t legally the mother of my child. Those were added stresses,” Grand said Thursday after Attorney General Yasir Naqvi tabled the bill in the legislature.

    “It’s quite an experience, parenthood. To add a bunch of legal stuff on top of that is a burden parents don’t need.”

    Naqvi acknowledged the legislation — which he hopes will pass by Christmas and take effect in January — is “long overdue.”

    It has been 10 years since an Ontario Superior Court ruling that couples who use sperm donors and other reproductive technologies should enjoy the same parental rights as people who conceive naturally.

    The province’s failure to act sooner on that ruling prompted a constitutional challenge of parentage laws that was settled in June with a promise to bring this bill forward, allowing same-sex parents to register births in the same was as male-female couples.

    Naqvi said the money and energy LGBTQ families were expending on paperwork and worrying should be going toward diapers and play time.

    “They should be focusing on their new baby,” the married father of two young children told reporters.

    He credited New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) for her private members’ bill to grant equal rights to all parents, which inspired the government legislation.

    “The government was under the gun to get something done . . . it’s a victory for queer families,” said DiNovo, lamenting the years of delay.

    “We’re all in a hurry to get this done because babies are being born as we speak.”

    Kathleen Wynne, the province’s first openly gay premier, signalled last May that the government would introduce legislation this fall.

    “It’s disappointing, of course, that it has taken this long,” said Grand, standing with Djos outside the legislature. They now have a second daughter, Aloe.

    “But we’re happy that it’s being done. It’s a huge step. Hopefully, families after this won’t have that same burden.”

    Toronto family lawyer Joanna Radbord, who represented nine families in the court challenge, said her priority now is to make sure the definition of parent in the 66-page bill is clear enough and broad enough.

    “The intention is to eliminate all doubts around parentage. I want to make sure that we know with certainty that the co-parent is the parent and shall be declared the parent . . . in the same way as biological fathers.”

    Kirsti Mathers McHenry, a lesbian mother who worked with Naqvi’s ministry over the summer as the legislation was drafted, said “if we get this bill right there will be no second-class parents anymore.”

    “We’re making sure the kids are protected. Most of all it’s about the kids.”

    She also ran into a medical emergency when her wife was in childbirth.

    “You’re faced with a situation wondering if your wife is going to be OK and also thinking, ‘oh shoot, what happens if my wife dies or she’s incapacitated, can I take care of this baby?”

  • New Jersey train in crash that killed at least 1 lacked safety technology to slow down

    HOBOKEN, N.J.—A rush-hour commuter train crashed through a barrier at the busy Hoboken station and lurched across the waiting area Thursday morning, killing one person and injuring more than 100 others in a tangle of broken concrete, twisted metal and dangling wires.

    People pulled chunks of concrete off pinned and bleeding victims, passengers kicked out windows and crawled to safety, and cries and screams could be heard in the wreckage at the station just across the Hudson River from New York City as emergency workers tried to reach trapped victims.

    Earlier, a number of news outlets including NBC reported that three people were killed, citing information from the Regional Medical Examiner’s Office in Newark and a Jersey City Medical Center spokesman.

    The New Jersey Transit train ran off the end of its track as it pulled into the station, smashing through a concrete-and-steel bumper. It apparently knocked out pillars as it ground to a halt in the covered waiting area, collapsing a section of the roof onto the first car.

    “All of a sudden, there was an abrupt stop and a big jolt that threw people out of their seats. The lights went out, and we heard a loud crashing noise — like an explosion — that turned out to be the roof of the terminal,” said Ross Bauer, who was sitting in the third or fourth car when the train was pulling into the historic 109-year-old station for its final stop. “I heard panicked screams, and everyone was stunned.”

    The engineer was pulled from the badly mangled first car of the train and hospitalized in critical condition. He was co-operating with investigators, Gov. Chris Christie said.

    A woman standing on the platform was killed by debris, and 108 others were injured, mostly on the train, Christie said. Seventy-four of them were hospitalized, some in serious condition, with injuries that included broken bones, bumps and gashes.

    “The train came in at much too high rate of speed, and the question is: ‘Why is that?’” Christie said. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said investigators will determine whether the explanation was an equipment failure, an incapacitated engineer, or something else.

    The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators. Among other things, they will want to know what the operator was doing before the crash and whether the person was distracted, said Bob Chipkevich, who formerly headed the NTSB train crash investigations section.

    None of NJ Transit’s trains are fully equipped with positive train control, a safety system designed to prevent accidents by automatically slowing or stopping trains that are going too fast. The industry is under government orders to install PTC, but the deadline has been repeatedly extended by regulators at the request of the railroads. The deadline is now the end of 2018.

    “While we are just beginning to learn the cause of this crash, it appears that once again an accident was not prevented because the trains our commuters were riding lacked positive train control,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y. “The longer we fail to prioritize investing in rail safety technology, the more innocent lives we put in jeopardy.”

    But both Cuomo and Christie said that it is too soon to say whether such technology would have made a difference in this crash.

    The train was not equipped with an inward-facing camera in the cab that could give a fuller picture of the operator’s actions.

    The Hoboken Terminal, which handles more than 50,000 train and bus riders daily, is the final stop for several train lines and a transfer point for many commuters on their way to New York City. Many take ferries or PATH commuter trains across the river to the city.

    NJ Transit service was suspended in and out of Hoboken, all but assuring a difficult trip home for commuters. Christie said engineers were examining the station’s structural integrity and it was too soon to say when it might reopen to NJ Transit trains.

    William Blaine, an engineer for a company that runs freight trains, was inside the station when the train crashed and ran over to help. He walked over to the heavily damaged first car with a transit employee to check on the train’s engineer and said he found him slumped over the controls.

    The train had left Spring Valley, New York, at 7:23 a.m. and crashed at 8:45 a.m., authorities said. NJ Transit spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson said she didn’t know how fast the train was going when it crashed through the barrier.

    Jamie Weatherhead-Saul, who was standing at a door between the first and second cars, said the train didn’t slow down as it entered the station. She said the impact hurled passengers against her. One woman got her leg caught between the doors before fellow riders managed to pull her up, Weatherhead-Saul said.

    Michael Larson, an NJ Transit employee who was working in the terminal about 30 feet away (nine metres), said he saw the train come in fast, go over the concrete-and-steel barrier called a bumper block, and lift up into the air, stopping only when it hit the wall of the station’s indoor waiting area.

    As the train hurtled into the depot amid concrete dust and dangling electrical wires, “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said.

    Half the first car was destroyed, with some passengers crawling to try to escape, Larson said. He said he helped a few riders get out before emergency works arrived.

    More than 100,000 people use NJ Transit trains to commute from New Jersey into New York City daily.

    A crash at the same station on a PATH commuter train injured more than 30 people in 2011. The train crashed into bumpers at the end of the tracks on a Sunday morning.

    The Hoboken Terminal was built in 1907 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Durham parents ?infuriated? after kids? lunches, snacks taken away for being unhealthy

    As any parent with young kids will attest, packing school lunches and snacks is no easy task.

    There are allergies to think about and picky eaters to appease. Food should be easy to eat, mess-free and, of course, healthy.

    But who decides what “healthy” means?

    Increasingly, parents in Durham say schools are policing the food in kids’ backpacks — from telling students they aren’t permitted to eat snacks that are deemed unhealthy, to entire lunches being withheld and sent home.

    RELATED:No juice boxes: Green school lays down lunch law

    Whitby mom of two Elaina Daoust says she was “infuriated” last year when her son, then in junior kindergarten at Romeo Dallaire P.S. in Ajax, was told he was not allowed to eat a small piece of banana bread for his morning snack, because it contained chocolate chips.

    Instead he was instructed to eat grapes out of his lunch.

    “He came home with a chart (listing healthy snack ideas) and told me he and the teacher talked about it and healthy choices. She also sent a note to me. I was really, really, really mad for several reasons,” Daoust says.

    She explains that her son is a picky eater, and that she bought the snack-size banana bread because many teachers discourage home-baked treats, and these were labelled as being nut-free and safe for school.

    “It’s not like he had chips or a chocolate bar,” Daoust says, noting that she has sent the banana bread to her children’s new school this year with no issues so far.

    Healthy eating is a big part of Ontario’s health and physical education curriculum.

    Students in Grade 1 are taught “how the food groups in Canada’s Food Guide can be used to make healthy food choices,” while the Grade 3 component encourages students to eat “local, fresh foods.”

    Officials with the Durham Catholic District School Board say there is a difference between lessons on healthy eating, and critiquing what a child brings in a lunch bag.

    “There is nowhere in our policy or procedures that says our staff is allowed to take food away from a student,” says James MacKinnon, a teaching and learning consultant with the DCDSB.

    He adds there is also nothing at the board level that directs teachers to comment on whether food brought to school by a student is healthy — the same goes for lunch monitors who work in the classrooms.

    MacKinnon says class discussions about healthy eating are important, but that individual students should not be singled out.

    “It’s up to students to share that information with their parents, we’re educating and promoting but not dealing with it at snack time,” he notes.

    Durham District School Board officials declined an interview, however Superintendent Luigia Ayotte did issue a statement.

    “We understand there may have been some issues with regard to certain foods students bring for snacks and lunches, but food preferences and choice remain with students and parents unless they pose an adverse allergic danger to other students,” she said.

    More than 30 local parents shared stories with the Metroland Media Group Ltd., Durham Region Division.

    Common examples of food discouraged in their children’s classrooms include Goldfish crackers, Bear Paws cookies, granola bars, string cheese, Jello, juice boxes, pudding cups, gummy fruit snacks, raisins, Animal Crackers, chocolate milk and Sun Chips.

    There is a lack of consistency from school to school, and even from classroom to classroom.

    For example, Pickering resident Avani Chaudhary says her daughter, who is in Grade 2, has been told Goldfish crackers and chocolate chip granola bars are not welcome snacks, while her son who just started junior kindergarten has received no comments after bringing those items.

    “It’s basically the teacher’s opinion,” she says. “Is a muffin more healthy than a granola bar? Maybe, maybe not. It depends what is in them. Is the teacher qualified to make these decisions? It should be up to the parents.”

    Local mom Tami DeVries says when her son was in kindergarten his lunch of kielbasa, cheese and Wheat Thins crackers was confiscated and replaced with Cheerios, while Alicia Nesbitt was “furious” that her stepdaughter, currently in Grade 1 with the Durham Catholic District School Board, had chips removed from her lunch the first week of school.

    “She came home and told me they weren’t a ‘healthy choice,’” Nesbitt says. “That may be true, but the rest of her lunch and snacks were very healthy and it’s up to parents if they want to put a little treat in for their kids. Unless the school wants to provide lunches, I don’t really think it’s their business.”

    Janae Brangman says there were several incidents last year where her daughter, then in Grade 1 at Waverly P.S. in Oshawa, had her entire lunch sent home because it contained pizza outside of the school’s designated pizza days.

    In one instance her daughter was offered an orange in place of her lunch. On other occasions, Brangman says Bearpaws cookies and chocolate chip granola bars were withheld and sent home, because they were deemed unhealthy.

    “I felt it was more unhealthy for a child not to eat at all, than to eat a granola bar with chocolate,” she says.

    Jillian Follert is the education reporter for the Metroland Media Group?s Durham Region Division. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it '; document.write( '' ); document.write( addy_text47079 ); document.write( '<\/a>' ); //-->\n This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Arts & Letters
Sunday, 12 August 2007