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Newsstand: July 22, 2014

Happy birthday, Prince George. Here's to another year of bashing other kids on the head at playgroup as the most popular member of the Royal family. In the news: a company challenges the City’s private parking ban, Scarborough residents unite against a TTC bus garage, the Toronto Time Bank offers helping hands, and the Canada Revenue Agency targets PEN Canada.

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A decade-old City of Toronto bylaw makes it illegal for any company without a proper licence to demand payment for parking on private property. It has not stopped Parking Control Unit from trying—the company has been charged with violating the private parking ban 75 times. Now it is disputing the validity of the ban in the in court. A lawyer for Parking Control Unit argues that the company provides a valuable service for its customers who they claim are regularly inundated by illegal parking, and that issuing their tickets does not actually break any bylaw. It all hinges on signage. Parking Control Unit’s methods rely on signs it posts at the entrances of parking lots, which lay out the terms of use and enters people into a payment contract. A previous ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal makes it completely legal for a lot operator to demand payment for use when it has consent from the driver. Parking Control Unit believes their signage constitutes consent. The City begs to differ, and argues that these signs are not legible to drivers.

The Coalition Against McNicoll Bus Garage is comprised of a group of Scarborough residents who live near the McNicoll Avenue and Kennedy Road area, and who oppose the construction of a planned Toronto Transit Commission bus garage. The group says that storing 180,000 litres of petrol and diesel in the garage for bus refuelling is a health risk, and could result in an explosion. TTC Chair Maria Augimeri dismissed the concerns, saying the site has been properly zoned for this use, and that the project has already been designed to make the garage suitable to area residents, with fuel lanes moved to the east side of the building to keep them away from the surrounding community.

An organization called Toronto Time Bank is encouraging people in the city to help each other out by exchanging skills and services instead of money. Anyone can join the bank by simply offering to do odd jobs for others, or by offering more specialized services like legal advice and sports lessons. Participants earn credits each time they lend a hand, which they can use to “purchase” help from other members. And so, like a little metaphorical Möbius strip of helping, people continue to get what they need by helping others. Some participants say it has been a slow start for the time bank, but it has 60 members already, and is still growing. Overall, time banks have been gaining popularity, with an estimated 40,000 members enrolled in almost 400 registered time banks in the United States.

The Canada Revenue Agency has launched a political-activities audit of PEN Canada, the Toronto-based charity that presses for freedom of expression at home and abroad. The audit is part of a blitz announced back in 2012, and according to critics is a thinly veiled attempt by the Stephen Harper-led federal government to muzzle organizations that are critical of his administration. According to The Canadian Press, charities targeted with these types of political-activity audits range from environment to international aid and human-rights groups. The Canada Revenue Agency denies this, saying that the process for selecting charities for audit is outside of political direction. Regardless of what the CRA says, it still has not assuaged the feeling for many groups that they are walking around with a target on their back thanks to the Harper Conservatives. Some charities are considering a joint abuse-of-power lawsuit, while the NDP has called for an independent probe into the political-activity audits.

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