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Newsstand: August 26, 2014

The latest edition of the Farmers’ Almanac goes on sale this week, and it calls for yet another frigid, snowy winter. Let joy be unconfined. In the news: Stiffer penalties are en route for texting while driving, a doctor says that medical professionals should be able to report drunk drivers, several cyclist injuries on Lake Shore Boulevard, and tainted dog treats found in an Etobicoke park.

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Provincial Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca (Vaughan) confirmed yesterday that tougher distracted driving penalties are on the way for Ontarians. When legislature resumes on October 20, the Liberal government will introduce new measures to curb the growing problem of texting while driving by increasing the fine range to between $300 and $1,000 and adding three demerit points. This should not surprise drivers, since similar legislation was under consideration at Queen’s Park earlier this year but was ultimately killed by the provincial election. The Ontario Provincial Police thoroughly support the new laws—which would be the stiffest penalties in the country—saying that distracted driving deaths (78 in 2014) have now surpassed deaths attributed to impaired driving (57). Police crackdowns against distracted driving will also continue until the end of the year, with a Labour Day long weekend blitz planned on the 400 series highways. Since 2013, the OPP has been aggressively targeting distracted driving in an effort to control the problem. Last year it laid 19,000 distracted driving charges, which was up from 16,000 in the previous year. Under this new legislation, similar penalties will also be introduced for drivers who hit cyclists with their car doors.

Toronto emergency room doctor Brett Belchetz thinks that new laws should be written to address what he calls a loophole in the justice system, which currently prevents doctors from reporting suspected impaired drivers to police. Belchetz says that patient confidentiality laws currently tie doctors’ hands from reporting suspected impaired drivers, while some experts contend that it is possible for them to report incidents where they feel the driver will leave the hospital and potentially cause harm to themselves or others. Similar legislation already exists that allows doctors to report gunshot wound victims to police.

Several cyclists have reported that rubber covering railroad tracks along Lake Shore Boulevard West and Carlaw Avenue has caused major injuries. On Sunday, two cyclists fell after their wheels got caught in the rubber, with one man being taken to hospital. Cyclist Mohamed Mirahssani says he broke his collar bone there, and while he was waiting to be picked up and transported to hospital he witnessed another woman have the exact same accident in the very same spot. In a twist that highlights bureaucracy at its absolute finest, the City of Toronto says that repairing the rubber tracks is not its responsibility. Mirahssani’s request for an urgent repair was forwarded by City officials to Canadian National Railway—which is great, except that CN Rail is not responsible for the tracks. According to Global News, Toronto Portlands Company maintains the railway. However, they they claim it may not be their responsibility to fix the tracks, either. Since the railway intersects with City-owned bike lanes, a rep for Toronto Portlands Company says it may be up to the City to fix them in the end. And so, the eternal circle of responsibility evasion completes itself.

Toronto police say that a small quantity of dog biscuits that smelled of gasoline were found at Maria Curtis Park in Etobicoke. The treats were found at the south entrance of the leash-free park. While no animals have been injured from ingesting the tainted items so far, police urge dog owners to be on alert.

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