'Unprecedented': Staffers drown out reporters by clapping at Doug Ford news conference - Canadanewsmedia
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'Unprecedented': Staffers drown out reporters by clapping at Doug Ford news conference

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When reporters tried to ask Ontario Premier Doug Ford questions at a Tuesday news conference about new funding to prevent gun violence, they were once again intentionally drowned out by applause.

The premier's government was criticized last week when staffers applauded Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod's announcement to scrap Ontario's basic income pilot program. 

Cynthia Mulligan, a reporter for CityNews, attempted to ask the government employees whether they were instructed to clap. She spoke to As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway about what she learned.

Describe what's going on there. Why are those staffers applauding?

Essentially, what they're doing is drowning out reporter questions.

We are being kept under a very strict protocol, and even today I noticed it more so than usual.

A Doug Ford spokesperson telling us over and over again, "You are only getting five questions in," and there are way more reporters than just five questions.

At the end of the five questions — and this started during the campaign, actually — but at the end, when they say last question, staff at the back of the room start clapping.

Reporters are still trying very hard to get more questions in … but the clapping drowns it out for any live news feed, so it's not heard in the background.

And again it happened today, but with way more staff in the back than I've seen before. I counted about 50. All young staffers and I'm told that they work in the different ministers' offices.

Ford speaks as Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney looks on during a press announcement at Queens Park. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Who's telling them to do this?

I was trying to find that out today. They wouldn't answer the question. They sort of hurried away and didn't really want to talk to me, as you can see from the video. 

I was asking Attorney General Caroline Mulroney — she had acknowledged that some of her staff were there — but she said that she has not instructed any of her staff to do so, but she was not answering questions as to who is, you know, instructing them.

How different is this from political announcements that you have covered in past?

This is unprecedented. No government has done this before. I've never seen this before.

There's always a testy relationship at times between media and governments. Governments don't want to answer a lot of hard questions. Media want to ask a lot of hard questions. So, there's always a little bit of a tussle in terms of finding a balance.

But this is a different way of managing media.

How does it affect your work in terms of being able to ask those questions that you want to ask?

It makes it much tougher. There are always way more reporters than questions allowed, so you sort of have to try and weasel your way in to try and get your questions.

I wanted to ask him about [the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy] and I did. But he didn't answer the question, so I asked the follow-up question and his spokesperson said, "Well, that counts as a second question." 

And the rest of the media got quite upset because a follow-up has never really been considered question No. 2 before.

Your colleague, the journalist and host Steve Paikin, has suggested that these staffers who are applauding overtop of the journalists' questions should be named and shamed. Is that the way forward?

I personally would rather find out who is instructing them, one, to be there, and two, to clap.

I think that is far more pertinent to this issue because, look, they're young. These might be their first jobs — certainly at Queen's Park. They're probably trying to make their mark and work really hard for their bosses.

I think it's the people who are instructing them that need to be held to account.

The other element here is that as Premier Doug Ford recently unveiled something called Ontario News Now, which is a series of taxpayer funded videos, almost like it's own channel, that pushes the government's agenda. … How does that all fit in with what you're describing happening in the room this morning?

It's so easy now for laypeople to create their own news video that I think what they're trying to do is skirt around us. Because they know we're critical. 

They know we're going to ask the tough questions and they want to reach their base unfiltered with their own message.

Journalists might be upset about this but for the average voter, whoever that happens to be, does it matter to them? Should it matter to them?

It should matter. I really, truly believe it should matter.

I do think that journalists are supposed to hold politicians to account and if no one is holding them to account, who is watching to see how they are spending money and what policies and reforms they are making?

I think that it's an important part of democracy to have journalists asking questions.

Written by Jason Vermes with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Ashley Mak.

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Ontario allows retailers to operate up to 75 cannabis stores each amid lack of clarity over rules

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Part of cannabis laws and regulations

Cannabis retailers in Ontario will be allowed to operate as many as 75 stores each, the province said in an update on its rules governing how marijuana will be sold in bricks-and-mortar outlets this spring.

But the industry is still waiting for clarity on whether companies owned in part by licensed growers can open more than one.

Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney-General published a news release on Wednesday evening that spells out rules for how long stores can be open, where they can be built and when retailers can begin applying for licences.

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However, the province did not clarify exactly how it will limit the reach of cannabis growers. Ontario’s cannabis law, which came into effect on Oct. 17, said producers and their affiliates “may not between them hold more than one retail store authorization,” but did not explain what is meant by “affiliate.” It is still unclear whether a grower could take a minority stake in a retailer as a way to have more than one store.

The government’s news release said the official regulations would be published online. It is possible the text will address the affiliate issue. At the time of publication, the rules had not been posted, and spokespeople for the government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

James Burns, chief executive of Alcanna Inc., which operates five NOVA Cannabis stores in Alberta, said he is still waiting for clarity on whether his company can enter the Ontario market, because Alcanna is 25-per-cent owned by licensed producer Aurora Cannabis Inc.

“For us, what’s important is the definition of an affiliate,” he said. “We certainly intend to be full participants in the industry. … I don’t think I’ll be signing any leases tonight, because we still don’t know the rules.”

Growers are the most cash-flush players in the industry: They can afford to get into bidding wars and overpay for coveted space. Many of Canada’s largest legal producers of cannabis want to get into retail in what could be the country’s most-lucrative market to push their products and gain consumer insights.

Despite a lack of clarity from Ontario, would-be retailers have already been snapping up prime real estate despite not knowing whether they will qualify to open a cannabis store. Another wrinkle is that Ontario municipalities have until Jan. 22 to opt out of allowing cannabis shops, potentially putting in jeopardy store leases already signed in those markets.

Other regulations were spelled out more clearly on Wednesday. The province said it will start accepting retail applications on Dec. 17. Shops can be open daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. once the new cannabis retailing regime is launched on April 1. Outlets across the province have to be at least 150 metres away from a school.

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Until April, Ontarians can only buy legal recreational cannabis online. Physical stores have opened in other provinces, such as in Alberta and Quebec.

The launch of Ontario’s government-run digital store has been chaotic, with customers waiting weeks for their orders and the store blaming everything from the Canada Post strike to mislabelled packages. The shop – called the Ontario Cannabis Store – said Monday it has cleared its order backlog, processing 220,000 sales since legalization.

The regulations come nearly a month after the start of legal sales and three months since the Progressive Conservatives announced their plans to scrap the retail model planned by the Liberals. The previous government gave the Liquor Control Board of Ontario a monopoly on the sale of recreational cannabis, planning to open 40 shops in the first year. Instead, the province is turning to the private sector for in-store sales by April and plans to continue to run the online shop.

With a report from Marcy Nicholson in Calgary

Available now: Cannabis Professional, the authoritative e-mail newsletter tailored specifically for professionals in the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Subscribe now.

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Toronto police investigate alleged assault involving St. Michael's students

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Police are investigating an alleged assault involving students at a prestigious Toronto private school that is believed to have been videotaped.

The Toronto police force’s 13 Division and Child and Youth Advocacy Centre – a specialized unit in the police’s sex-crimes department that looks into issues of child abuse – released a statement late on Wednesday saying they believed a video of the alleged assault was being circulated and should be considered child pornography. They advised anyone in possession of the suspected video to delete it without sharing it.

The warning came after St. Michael’s College School said it expelled multiple students.

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“This week, to our shock and dismay, we learned of two incidents that were in clear violation of our Student Code of Conduct,” the midtown all-boys school wrote in a posting on its website on Wednesday afternoon.

Toronto Police Service spokeswoman Katrina Arrogante said the force learned about the alleged assault from “numerous inquiries” from media outlets on Wednesday. Those inquiries were prompted by social-media posts about the incident in question.

St. Michael’s declined to answer questions from The Globe and Mail about why it hadn’t involved police, and how it had spoken to students about what was going on. A spokesperson did, however, confirm that the junior football season at St. Michael’s had been cancelled.

St. Michael’s conducted an internal investigation, the school’s statement said, and met individually with the students involved and their parents. “As a result, swift and decisive disciplinary action has taken place, including expulsions. We are deeply sorry that these incidents occurred.”

The statement noted the school wouldn’t be making any further comment on the case, citing police involvement and privacy issues.

“Because of the fact that there’s young people involved, we can’t release much more information than what we’ve already given,” Ms. Arrogante said, stressing that all events are allegations at this point.

St. Michael’s College has a long history in Toronto, opening in the fall of 1852 to provide a combination of what would now be considered high school and university education. The school moved into its current location at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West in the 1950s. Now, St. Michael’s students range from Grade 7 to 12, and the school describes its program as “an enriched, Catholic, Liberal Arts education” that aims to filter its students into university.

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Regulations take effect for licensing, operation of private pot stores, attorney general announces

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The Ontario government passed new regulations aimed at protecting children and youth, keeping communities and roads safe, and combating the illegal cannabis market, the attorney general's office announced Wednesday evening.

The province said this is the latest phase of its planned response to the federal government's legalization of cannabis.

Recreational cannabis became legal on Oct. 17.

The new regulations establish a minimum distance of 150 metres between cannabis retail stores and schools, including private and federally-funded First Nation schools off-reserve.

A news release from the attorney general's office said this distance buffer will help protect students and keep communities safe, while other regulations will combat the influence and participation of organized crime in the legal licensed framework.

"The purpose of these regulations is to keep kids safe and to ensure all people operating in this tightly-regulated retail system behave with integrity, honesty, and in the public interest," Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said in the news release.

"The application process for private cannabis retail store licences will begin on Dec. 17, 2018, and we will be ready with laws and regulations to protect Ontario's youth and to combat the criminal market in response to the federal government's legalization of cannabis."

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said in the new release that the application process for private cannabis retail store licences will begin on Dec. 17, 2018. (CBC)

Other regulations established by the province include:

  • Retailers will not be permitted to allow anyone under the age of 19 to enter their stores.
  • Specific instances in which applicants will be denied a licence, including cannabis-related criminal offences.
  • A prohibition of the issuance of a licence to any individual or organization who has an association with organized crime.
  • A requirement that individuals or entities applying for an operator licence demonstrate their tax compliance status to show that they are in good standing with the government.
  • A requirement for all private recreational cannabis retail storefronts to be stand-alone stores only.

Additionally, under the new regulations, individuals with a store authorization, cannabis retail managers and all employees will be required to complete the approved training to ensure that any individual who works in the cannabis retail market is trained in the responsible sale of cannabis.

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