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‘This tragedy forced the light out:’ Toronto marks anniversary of van attack

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TORONTO — As family members, friends and strangers braved the rain Tuesday to honour the victims of the Yonge Street van attack, one man stood by the memorial marking the one-year anniversary of the horrific event making sure the flowers laid…


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  • TORONTO — As family members, friends and strangers braved the rain Tuesday to honour the victims of the Yonge Street van attack, one man stood by the memorial marking the one-year anniversary of the horrific event making sure the flowers laid there looked pretty.

    Omar Hassan couldn’t help it.

    The 25-year-old student didn’t witness the attack on April 23, 2018, and he didn’t know any of the 10 people killed and 16 others injured when a white rental van plowed into pedestrians along the busy street in north Toronto. But he took it upon himself to keep a growing makeshift memorial that popped up after the attack clean and tidy.

    With the help of a few friends, he would spend time every night in Mel Lastman Square making sure flowers and tributes the wind had blown away were back where people had laid them. That went on for 40 days until the impromptu memorial was removed by the city.

    “Even in the darkest of times, there’s some light that comes out,” he said. “This tragedy forced the light out.”

    That hope and positivity was everywhere Tuesday as dozens of people wrote messages about love and inspiration in chalk on the sidewalk at the site of the attack. Others painted canvases with messages about peace, growth and restoration.

    Esther Linetski placed an orange carnation by a temporary plaque. Linetski, who works in the area, said she meant to go out to the square for lunch on the day of the attack but was too busy to escape her office.

    “I could have been out here,” she said, fighting back tears. “Thankfully I wasn’t one of the unlucky ones.”

    Alek Minassian, now 26, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. He is set to face trial next February.

    For the neighbourhood of Willowdale, where the attack took place, the tragedy led to people like Hassan and others banding together to help the community with its healing process.

    One woman donated hundreds of flowers so others could place them at two main memorial sites. Another woman came by every day to keep the candles lit and replace the ones that had burned down.

    A year later, members of the community hope they can keep that small-town-style spirit going, which can be difficult in a busy city like Toronto.

    Jesse James, a longtime community organizer, said he and his family have committed to learning languages spoken in the area in an attempt to further bring the neighbourhood together in the aftermath of the attack.

    The 31-year-old had been sitting at a nearby library when last year’s attack took place. After hearing the news from the friend, he went to pick up an 11-year-old boy he was mentoring. As the pair walked home they agreed on one thing — they needed to get everyone together.

    They put out a call out to various churches and Christian groups in the area. Seven of them got together that night and eventually started a Facebook group called “We Love Willowdale,” deciding to make music a central theme.

    “We framed it as helping turn our cries of sorrow into songs of healing,” said James.

    They asked Melissa Davis, the chair of the music and worship arts department at nearby Tyndale University, to co-ordinate a 100-strong choir that would get together for a vigil in six days. She also organized the choir for the one-year commemoration of the incident.

    “I hope through music people will receive that hope and healing they’ve been longing for and wrestling with the last year,” Davis said. “I really believe that music is able to inspire, console and heal and really speak to the soul of human beings.”

    Marion Goertz, a psychotherapist with the nearby Family Life Centre that provides counselling and mental health support, said she and her colleagues have spoken to many who were affected in one way or another by the events that day.

    Eight therapists went out the next day and each day for the next two weeks to makeshift comfort stations. Most who stopped by were witnesses, she said.

    “Many people just wanted to talk and tell us where they were that day,” Goertz said. “People like order in their lives and this has made people ask questions: How safe can I be? Can this happen to me?”

    That feeling was so prevalent that the group decided to organize an event dubbed “Reclaim Yonge” — about 6,000 people walked Yonge Street six days after the tragedy to a vigil held at Mel Lastman Square.

    On Tuesday, many continued to reclaim Yonge Street, determined not to let last year’s devastating attack hold them back.

    Jim Ba was one of them. He credited the community with giving him strength to deal with ongoing visions of the dead and injured — lingering effects of what he saw in the wake of the attack. 

    “It’s important to be strong,” he said. “Not afraid.”

    Liam Casey and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press




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    National

    Unions increasingly at odds over replacing troubled Phoenix pay system

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    OTTAWA — Government officials say the Trudeau government will be presented with options for replacing the troubled Phoenix civil service pay system within the next few weeks. 
    And a spokesman for the department overseeing the projec…


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  • OTTAWA — Government officials say the Trudeau government will be presented with options for replacing the troubled Phoenix civil service pay system within the next few weeks. 

    And a spokesman for the department overseeing the project says those options will likely include multiple pilot projects.

    The plan could pit at least two of the three potential bidders on the projects against each other in a competition to see which system works better, either independently or in tandem with one another.

    But the proposal is laying bare divisions among the unions representing the roughly 300,000 federal employees who have been living under the Phoenix pay cloud for more than three years.

    One of those unions, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the move is wrongheaded and could result in another bungled pay system.

    The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents about 60,000 of those employees and has been working closely with the government to find a new pay solution, doesn’t share PSAC’s concerns.

     

    The Canadian Press


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    Unions increasingly at odds over replacing troubled Phoenix pay system

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    OTTAWA — The federal team charged with finding a replacement for the government’s troubled Phoenix pay system will present the Liberals with options within weeks that are expected to include “multiple pilot projects,” government official…


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  • OTTAWA — The federal team charged with finding a replacement for the government’s troubled Phoenix pay system will present the Liberals with options within weeks that are expected to include “multiple pilot projects,” government officials say.

    The plan could pit at least two of the three potential bidders on the projects against each other in a competition to see which system works better, either independently or in tandem with one another.

    “In the coming weeks, the next-generation team will present options to the government for next steps, which will likely include multiple pilot projects to test possible solutions beginning later this year,” Treasury Board spokesman Farees Nathoo told The Canadian Press in an email.

    The proposal is laying bare divisions among the unions representing the roughly 300,000 federal employees who have been living under the Phoenix pay cloud for more than three years.

    One of those unions, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the move is wrongheaded and could result in another bungled pay system.

    Testing separate pay systems through individual government departments, or in groups of departments, could produce problems for federal employees similar to those being experienced under the current, flawed system, warns PSAC national president Chris Aylward.

    “That is very concerning because they have no clue about the way forward,” Aylward said.

    When issues began to surface shortly after the IBM-built Phoenix pay system was launched in 2016, the government initially, in part, blamed the problems on segregated, antiquated departmental human resources systems that were incapable of properly communicating with each other and the Phoenix system, he noted.

    “It concerns me if they say, ‘We don’t know how many providers we are going to use, we may have to use more than one,'” said Aylward.

    “It sounds like we’re starting Phoenix all over again…. They need a system that works. One pay system that works for all 300,000 employees that currently get paid out of Phoenix.”

    The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents about 60,000 of those employees and has been working closely with the government to find a new pay solution, doesn’t share PSAC’s concerns.

    “I think that, so long as those are compatible systems and they are connected through some sort of internal cloud, then there shouldn’t be a problem between systems,” said union president Debi Daviau.

    “But at this point we’re just trying to determine what is going to be the best system.”

    Daviau suggested a pilot project at the Canada Revenue Agency, for example, could see about 50,000 people properly paid within a year, as opposed to implementing an entirely new software product, which could take several years.

    PSAC, which represents the vast majority of federal workers, recently rejected an agreement supported by 13 other unions that will see federal employees who’ve been impacted by the failures of Phoenix provided an extra five days of paid leave over four years.

    It has also walked away from contract talks with Treasury Board affecting more than 100,000 workers, turning down proposed pay increases amounting to 1.5 per cent annually.

    The government last week invited “qualified respondents” to submit proposals to enter a third stage for developing a new HR and payroll system to replace Phoenix, after narrowing the field of potential bidders to three companies: Ceridian, SAP and Workday.

    Bob Conlin, the public services lead in Canada for Germany-based SAP, suggested the government should tread carefully if it ultimately decides to contract more than one system provider and test their programs in different departments.

    SAP already provides human resources systems for the Canada Revenue Agency and the Customs and Border Services Agency.

    Those departments would benefit more from combining HR and payroll services under an existing service provider, said Conlin.

    “If they were to extend (HR) with payroll, it would not be a Herculean leap for them,” he said in an interview.

    “They would benefit in a big way from the opportunity to upgrade to modern technology.”

    But Conlin cautioned that CRA, CBSA and the Department of National Defence, in particular, must be treated carefully.

    “Those are some of the clients that absolutely have to get done right,” he said. “They are also some of the more complex civil service pay environments.”

    On Thursday, the Parliamentary Budget Office told the House of Commons the government could expect to pay about $57 million dollars to buy, test and implement a new pay system. The price tag did not include annual operating costs estimated to reach almost $106 million.

    The PBO also estimated it will cost taxpayers $2.6 billion to stabilize the existing pay system until a new one is fully adopted.

    The former Conservative government had estimated Phoenix would save $70 million annually.

     

    Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press


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