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Newsstand: May 14, 2014

A wise person once said, “You’re not a real Torontonian until you’ve been to Jilly’s.” In the news: David Soknacki wants to investigate Mayor Ford’s use of taxpayer-funded resources on the campaign trail, Oliva Chow wants to create jobs for young people, the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board wants to spot-check police officers, and Pam McConnell wants to know why the Sony Centre's renovations budget has been mismanaged.

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With Adam Vaughan’s departure from City Hall, a vacant position exists as the resident thorn in Mayor Rob Ford’s side, which David Soknacki seems at least temporarily set on filling. After calling for an expanded investigation into possible conflicts of interest involving Ford and his brother Councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), the mayoral candidate is also seeking to determine if Ford used taxpayer-funded resources to benefit his bid for re-election. On Tuesday, the Soknacki campaign team sent out to supporters a message soliciting donations, in order to pay the $460 it would cost to obtain more than 2,000 pages of documents from the City—documents that may indicate whether or not the mayor spent office funds on his campaign. A freedom of information request filed by Soknacki’s campaign manager, Brian Kelcey, requested emails, memos, and schedules from the mayor and his staffers, including his chief of staff, his spokesman, and his policy advisor. Councillor Ford called Soknacki’s request for information petty, although he did not comment specifically on whether or not the mayor used office resources in his campaign.

Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow was also busy yesterday, as she announced plans to create 5,000 jobs for youth over a four-year span through Community Benefits Agreements (CBA), which provide jobs and benefits to local residents. The Vancouver 2010 Olympics used a CBA, and the Regent Park revitalization projects also used the program, to create 500 jobs for youth. Chow said that, if she is elected, youth job or apprenticeship creation will be become a requirement for companies that bid on City contracts worth $50 million or more.

On Thursday, Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, will recommend that police Chief Bill Blair further examine how and when officers conduct strip searches, by using random spot checks at all police divisions. Even though revised policies have been put in place to ensure that strip searches cannot be employed as a routine arrest tool, they still persist in one out of every three arrests, according to 2013 statistics. Last year 20,152 people were strip searched, with police finding evidence in just 1 per cent of those searches. While Mukherjee feels that conducting spot checks on police will help examine how the revamped policies and procedures are carried out in day-to-day use, critics think this will simply generate more reports that will fail to address the overuse of searches. John Sewell, head of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, favours the idea of making less invasive pat-down searches mandatory before the decision to use a strip search can take place. Next month, Blair is expected to return to the board with a report on the possibility of using technology, including airport-style scanners, to replace strip searches.

Another day, another instance of construction costs soaring astronomically out of control in Toronto. This time, Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) says police may be asked to step in and investigate after the City’s auditor general revealed that nearly $23 million in construction contracts for renovations to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts were awarded without proper competition or documentation. McConnell says the board responsible for oversight on the project has failed to keep budgets in line as the renovation costs have exceeded the anticipated cost of $28 million. So far, the project has cost $40 million, with another estimated $4 million still required to see it through to completion.

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