TTC Delivers Faulty Arguments to the Superior Court to Justify Random Drug/Alcohol Testing

Update: April 12, 2017 Court Denies Injunction and forces issue back to arbitration where the Union’s challenge to the TTC’s policy has been in arbitration since March 8, 2011 before Arbitrator Maureen K. Saltman.”

The Supr Court of Canada. On June 14, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that random drug/alcohol testing in the workplace wasn’t justified in the workplace, even in dangerous workplaces. See: Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 30 v. Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd., [2013] 2 SCR 458, 2013 SCC 34. photo by
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The TTC’s workforce has a substance abuse problem that could put passengers and the public at serious risk if it’s not immediately addressed, according to a court document filed by the transit agency.

But a representative of the union that represents TTC workers calls the allegations of substance abuse “absolutely false.”

In a factum the TTC submitted ahead of a hearing this week on its proposed random drug and alcohol testing policy, the agency said that between October 2010 and December 2016 there were 291 documented incidents in which employees’ behaviour raised safety concerns. In almost half of those the TTC either suspected or confirmed that drug or alcohol use was a factor.

A transit agency investigator concluded there was a “culture of drug and alcohol use at the TTC” and reported 45 additional incidents of employees using or trafficking alcohol or drugs while at work, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and prescription drugs such as OxyContin.

The agency said that the results of 11,000 drug and alcohol tests of its employees since 2010 “indicate that drug and alcohol use continues to be a significant problem for the TTC, a threat to its safe operation and to the safety of the public… Each day without random testing increases the risk of irreparable harm to employees, passengers, and the public.”

TTC Head Office. The Supreme Court has already ruled that random drug/alcohol testing, even in inherently dangerous work environments, isn’t  justified. Chances are good, that the TTC’s attempt to graduate from their current policy “fit for duty program” to a random drug/alcohol testing policy, will fail and the Union will receive the injunction that they are seeking. photo by

The TTC submitted the 130-page document in response to a notice filed by the transit agency’s union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. The union, which represents over 10,000 transit workers, is seeking an injunction against the random drug testing policy that is slated to go into effect on March 1. A two-day hearing on the issue begins Tuesday at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

In an interview, Kevin Morton, the secretary-treasurer of Local 113, refuted the TTC’s depiction of endemic drug and alcohol use among its employees

“We have the same issues as any organization — be it the police, fire, newspapers — with regards to the normal distribution of people with alcohol or drug problems,” he said.

Morton said the union doesn’t oppose the TTC’s current substance abuse policies, which allow employees to be tested if there is “reasonable cause” to believe they were impaired during a significant work-related incident. Employees who are returning to work after violating the policy or undergoing addiction treatment are also subject to testing.

The new policy, which the TTC board first approved in 2011, would allow management to test employees at random, using a breathalyzer to detect alcohol or an oral swab for drug use. Workers in “safety-sensitive” positions including vehicle operators, maintenance workers and supervisors would be eligible for testing, as would some management and executives.

The union argues the policy would violate employees’ Charter right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure. “We believe in incident-based testing. I shouldn’t have to prove that I am innocent of anything,” Morton said. “I should be able to go to work on the assumption that I’m honest and dependable and clean.”

According to the TTC’s factum, between October 2010 and December 2016 there were 70 instances in which employees either tested positive for drug or alcohol use or refused to be tested following at-work incidents or when management believed there was reasonable cause to suspect impairment.

There were a further 46 incidents in which employees refused to be tested when they returned to work after violating the drug and alcohol policy or undergoing addiction treatment.

Rather than respecting the arbitration process where this issue (a new random drug/alcohol testing policy) was being arbitrated, the TTC decided to bypass it and implement this new policy on March 1/17. This left the TTC Union with no choice but to seek an injunction in the Superior Court. photo by

The factum also states that at least 15 transit operators “that the TTC is aware of” were charged by police with impaired driving while at the wheel of a private vehicle.

Although prospective employees are told that drug and alcohol testing is part of the job application process, 187 applicants to safety-sensitive positions returned positive drug tests.

Agency spokesperson Brad Ross said that despite the statistics, transit riders shouldn’t be afraid to ride the TTC.

“The TTC is safe, of course,” he said in an email. But the new drug policy would ensure it was “even safer.”

“If (the TTC) is aware of incidents of impairment in the workplace, it has a duty to act to protect its employees and the public, which it has done here.”

In messages to the public, the transit agency normally stresses how safe it is, and it’s unusual for it to claim in a public document that it has a potentially hazardous substance abuse problem among employees.

But it may have had little choice. A 2013 Supreme Court decision prohibited random testing unless employers could prove there was an existing drug or alcohol problem in the workplace.

This week’s legal showdown comes at a time when the leadership of the TTC union has been thrown into disarray by an affiliation dispute that saw the executive board pass a no-confidence vote against Local 113 president Bob Kinnear last week.

Morton, the local’s secretary-treasurer, said the schism hadn’t affected the union’s ability to fight the policy.

The random drug testing issue has been tied up in labour arbitration for years. Citing the slow movement of that process, the TTC decided last March to implement the policy without waiting for the arbitration outcome.

What’s in your chicken sandwich? DNA test shows Subway sandwiches could contain just 50% chicken

Update: see previous post – February 29, 2016 Subway: A Footlong Sub, Will Now Mean A Footlong Sub

Subway's over roasted chicken sandwich patty contained about 50 per cent chicken DNA, according to Marketplace's tests.

Subway’s over roasted chicken sandwich patty contained about 50 per cent chicken DNA, according to Marketplace’s tests. (CBC)

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Marketplace had chicken from 5 major fast food restaurants tested

If you’re one of many Canadians who opt for chicken sandwiches at your favourite fast food restaurant, you may find the results of a CBC Marketplace investigation into what’s in the meat a little hard to swallow.

A DNA analysis of the poultry in several popular grilled chicken sandwiches and wraps found at least one fast food restaurant isn’t serving up nearly as much of the key ingredient as people may think.

In the case of two popular Subway sandwiches, the chicken was found to contain only about half chicken DNA.

Will Mahood, a loyal customer who considered Subway chicken sandwiches a lunchtime staple, was alarmed by the findings. To Mahood, messages from fast food companies can make it sound like “you’re taking it straight from a farm and it’s just a fresh piece of meat.”

DNA researcher Matt Harnden at Trent University’s Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory tested the poultry in six popular chicken sandwiches.

An unadulterated piece of chicken from the store should come in at 100 per cent chicken DNA. Seasoning, marinating or processing meat would bring that number down, so fast food samples seasoned for taste wouldn’t be expected to hit that 100 per cent target.

The Peterborough, Ont.-based team tested the meat in:

  • McDonald’s Country Chicken – Grilled
  • Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich
  • A&W Chicken Grill Deluxe
  • Tim Hortons Chipotle Chicken Grilled Wrap
  • Subway Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich
  • Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki (chicken strips) NOTE: The tests were on the meat samples alone, without sauces or condiments.

In the first round of tests, the lab tested two samples of five of the meat products, and one sample of the Subway strips. From each of those samples, the researchers isolated three smaller samples and tested each of those.

They were all DNA tested and the score was then averaged for each sandwich. Most of the scores were “very close” to 100 per cent chicken DNA, Harnden says.

  • A&W Chicken Grill Deluxe averaged 89.4 per cent chicken DNA
  • McDonald’s Country Chicken – Grilled averaged 84.9 per cent chicken DNA
  • Tim Hortons Chipotle Chicken Grilled Wrap averaged 86.5 per cent chicken DNA
  • Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich averaged 88.5 per cent chicken DNA

Subway’s results were such an outlier that the team decided to test them again, biopsying five new oven roasted chicken pieces, and five new orders of chicken strips.

Those results were averaged: the oven roasted chicken scored 53.6 per cent chicken DNA, and the chicken strips were found to have just 42.8 per cent chicken DNA. The majority of the remaining DNA? Soy.

“That’s misrepresentation,” Irena Valenta, a Toronto resident who participated in a Marketplace taste test, said after seeing the test results.

Subway said in a statement that it disagrees with the test results.

“Our recipe calls for one per cent or less of soy protein in our chicken products.”

“We will look into this again with our supplier to ensure that the chicken is meeting the high standard we set for all of our menu items and ingredients.”

What else is in there?

On the whole, Marketplace‘s testing revealed that once the ingredients are factored in, the fast food chicken had about a quarter less protein than you would get in its home-cooked equivalent. And overall, the sodium levels were between seven and 10 times what they would be in a piece of unadulterated chicken

tim hortons wrap

Grilled chicken products are often marketed as the healthy alternative, but consumers may not always know what they are biting into. (CBC)

Ben Bohrer, a food scientist at the University of Guelph,  doesn’t know exactly how the chicken products Marketplace tested are made, but he’s very familiar with what the fast food industry calls “restructured products”.

Restructured products are essentially smaller pieces of meat or ground meat,  bound together with other ingredients  to make them last longer, taste better and, as Bohrer puts it, “add value” — restaurant speak for cheaper.

The sandwiches tested contain a combined total of about 50 ingredients in the chicken alone, each with an average of 16 ingredients. The ingredients run the gamut from things you would find in your home such as honey and onion powder to industrial ingredients — all of which, Bohrer insists, are safe and government approved for human consumption.

McDonald’s, A&W and Wendy’s wouldn’t break down exactly what ingredients are used in what proportions, citing proprietary information. Tim Hortons had no comment and directed Marketplace to their website.

Healthy alternative?

Nutritionist and registered dietitian Christy Brissette notes that most products in that alphabet soup ingredient list are simply variants on salt or sugar, the latter of which can elevate the carbohydrate level of a chicken breast to well above where it should be: zero per cent.

Before they saw the test results, both Valenta and Mahood said they chose chicken because they thought they were making a healthier choice — “the chicken is supposed to be the healthier type of meat,” as Valenta put it.

But Brissette says it’s important for consumers to not allow themselves to buy into the “halo” of health around such products.

“People think they’re doing themselves a favour and making themselves a healthy choice,” she says. “But from a sodium perspective you might as well eat a big portion of poutine.”

marketplace chicken test

Marketplace also did a taste test, comparing six popular grilled chicken sandwiches against a home-cooked piece of pure chicken breast. (CBC)

Based on an investigation by Kathleen Coughlin, Eric Szeto and Charlsie Agro


Update: March 1, 2017 – Subway defends its chicken after CBC Marketplace report

Royal Canadian Mint struggles to make money: documents


The Royal Canadian Mint is struggling to make a profit, as revenues fall and once-reliable business lines falter, a CBC News investigation has found.
The Royal Canadian Mint is struggling to make a profit, as revenues fall and once-reliable business lines falter, a CBC News investigation has found. (Royal Canadian Mint)

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Internal documents reveal financial troubles and weak sales at Royal Canadian Mint

The Royal Canadian Mint. photo by

The Royal Canadian Mint just isn’t making the money it used to.

Revenue is down sharply, jobs have been chopped, morale is in the tank, and formerly successful lines of business are being shut down — even as the mint spends millions of dollars on new executive offices.

Once a cash cow, the mint — which actually lost money in 2015 — is struggling financially.

Latest figures for the third-quarter of 2016 show that revenues were down by $208 million, or about 27 per cent, and profits were down by $6.5 million, or 61 per cent.

The north end of the Canadian Mint, photo by
2014 $20 fine silver Superma coin
The mint has been marketing collectible coins, such as this Superman coin from 2014, but recently decided to end some offerings in its so-called Face Value series because of poor sales and high returns. (The Royal Canadian Mint/The Canadian Press)
photo by

The weak financials mean the mint’s 1,200 employees likely won’t get their general annual bonus, which is based on meeting corporate profit targets. In April 2016, each worker took home an average of $8,204 in bonuses.

President Sandra Hanington told employees in November that a bonus for this year was “unlikely” given the troubled balance sheet.

A 24K Gold Bar, cast at the Royal Canadian Mint. Visitors are encouraged to lift the bar, if they are able. The bar weighs approximately 28 pounds. photo by

A silver collectible coin series — so-called face value coins, including last year’s silver $20 Star Trek coins — was ended on Jan. 1 this year because of poor sales.

“At Oct. 1, 2016, the market price of silver was significantly less than the face value of these coins,” the mint said in a release Friday, explaining its weak third-quarter sales. “Effective Jan. 1, 2017, the mint is no longer selling face value coins.”

The Royal Canadian Mint. photo by

Full refunds

Droves of customers have been returning these coins for full refunds, forcing the mint to revise the way it reports such revenues to better account for the high returns. Those complex accounting revisions are part of the reason the mint was almost three months late in reporting its third-quarter results, which were due Nov. 30.

CBC News obtained dozens of internal Royal Canadian Mint documents under the Access to Information Act, which reveal an institution — literally in the business of making money — that’s losing its lustre.

Hard times began under the Conservative government, which told the mint in 2012 to stop producing pennies; in 2014, to sell its digital currency start-up MintChip to the private sector; and in 2015, to stop taking a profit on production of Canadian circulation coins for the federal Finance Department.

The mint’s troubles date back to 2012, when the Conservative government directed it to stop producing pennies. Two years later, it was told to sell its digital currency start-up MintChip and in 2015 to stop taking a profit on production of Canadian circulation coins for the federal Finance Department. The Royal Canadian Mint. photo by


The timing was bad. The mint had just spent $62 million beefing up its Winnipeg plant — an amount the mint’s board later decided was not likely to be recouped through increased sales. It recorded a $65.5-million writedown of the Winnipeg assets, leaving the mint with a loss of $500,000 in 2015.

‘Change can be difficult for employees.’– Christine Aquino, Mint spokesperson

This is the front entrance for visitors who enter the Mint for guided tours. photo by

The previous loss was recorded in 2003. Since becoming a Crown corporation in 1969, the mint has lost money in only six years.

The mint was also stung by a 2014 report from the auditor general of Canada, which found hospitality and travel expenses were poorly managed. And a CBC Fifth Estate story in June 2015 reported on a pricey trip to a luxury Mexican resort by 11 mint employees, prompting the Conservative government to crack the whip.

In a July 2015 order, the Conservative government directed the mint to tighten its travel and hospitality rules to match those of the government. Among other things, the order led directly to the cancellation of company-sponsored Christmas parties beginning in 2015.

An April 2016 employee survey, commissioned from consultants Aon Hewitt, found a large drop in morale in Ottawa and Winnipeg, placing the mint at the bottom of a national scale comparing Canadian corporations.

“One of the most vocalized topics was the cancellation of the annual Christmas party,” says the Aon Hewitt report. “This was perceived with significant impact to employees who had faced a difficult year.”

Job losses may also be part of the morale problem: the mint chopped at least 60 positions in 2015, the first year of Hanington’s five-year presidency.

$6.5 million for executive suites

In the meantime, the mint is spending about $6.5 million on renovations to two suites of executive offices at its Ottawa headquarters on Sussex Drive. Officials justify the spending as a money-saver over the long run.

All is not bleak: the sale of MintChip in December 2015 brought in $5 million, with another $11 million due in 2022. And the new Liberal government in December reversed the Conservative government’s profit prohibition on minting Canadian circulation coins, allowing the mint to start making a profit again on manufacturing nickels, dimes, quarters, loonies and toonies this year.


Christine Aquino, director of communications for the mint, says recent changes to the business strategy mean the organization is poised to improve profits. (Jeff Semple/CBC)

Despite the problems, the mint’s sales of gold bullion are strong, as are sales of circulation coins to foreign governments, according to spokesperson Christine Aquino.

“[The] Canadian circulation program continues to be delivered below budget,” she said.

“Currently, all three plating lines [at the mint’s Winnipeg plant] are fully operational, and 70 new full-time positions have been added in Winnipeg as a result of increased foreign sales.”

Aquino says major revisions in the mint’s business strategy are setting up the organization for improved profits in future.

“Change can be difficult for employees, and we know it can take some time to adjust to a shift in approach,” she said.

“The mint is full of talented people, and we will continue to succeed — in fact, we are already encouraged by the results that our new customer-driven strategy has produced and look forward to improved profitability and achievements.”

photo by
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Province gets ‘kickback’ from inmates’ collect calls, lawyer says


A phone inside the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. Inmates can only make outgoing collect calls inside provincial jails, and the province gets a commission from each one of those calls.
A phone inside the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. Inmates can only make outgoing collect calls inside provincial jails, and the province gets a commission from each one of those calls. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

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Michael Spratt may launch a charter challenge against Ontario policy of ‘punitive’ calls

A wall-mounted phone by the steel doors of a jail cellblock is a precious lifeline to the outside for inmates, but in Ontario, calling their loved ones comes at a price.

Inmates can only dial out by placing collect calls. There are no free calls, even if they are local.

Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt has obtained documents that show the government gets a commission from every collect call made from provincial jails.

“This is a kickback,” he told CBC News. “What I find unconscionable is that the government and corporations are making money off the backs of people who are presumed innocent and in custody.”

Michael Spratt, Criminal Defence Lawyer

Michael Spratt holds up his firm’s telephone bills, which run between $1,000 and $5,000 every month. Most of the costs come from collect calls made by clients in jail, he said. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Through a provincial freedom of information request, Spratt obtained contracts related to Ontario’s “offender telephone management system” and shared them with CBC News.

The documents detail a seven-year agreement between Bell Canada and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The contract shows Bell has agreed to pay the Ontario government a commission based on a percentage of all gross monthly revenue generated by the telephone management system until 2020.

Redacted Offender Telephone Management Systems contract

This is part of the contract between Bell Canada and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The percentage commission that Bell pays the Ontario government each month is redacted. (Freedom of Information Request)

The value of the contract isn’t disclosed, but the deal states: “There shall be no charges payable by the ministry under the contract to the supplier unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties in writing.”

The documents include about 1½ pages of redactions, with the exact percentage of the monthly commission Bell is to pay the province scrubbed from public view.

The phone rate Bell charges is also hidden. But the contract does stipulate that Bell will charge the same rates and connection fees it provides to its residential customers.

“The redactions are telling,” said Spratt, who is concerned about the lack of transparency.

“What we often say in law is that it looks like a consciousness of guilt when you hide something … I wonder if the government feels a bit guilty about this revenue system.”

stats ontario jail phone calls

Here are some statistics on phone calls made from inside jails in Ontario. (CBC)

Commissions aren’t new

Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Marie-France Lalonde wasn’t available for an interview Friday.

In a statement, Lalonde said the current contract expires next year and they’ll “take these issues into consideration” when talking about its renewal.

She added the department is looking at ways to make it more “cost-effective” for inmates to communicate, especially when they’re far from their support network, and one solution could be to introduce pre-paid calling cards for collect calls.

In an earlier email, ministry spokesperson Brent Ross wrote that commissions have been collected since 1997.

Inmates in Ontario’s 26 provincial jails make an average of 239,000 local calls and 50,000 long distance calls while incarcerated each month. Ross said the commission collected goes into the province’s general revenue and is “used to offset tax-based expenditures.”

The ministry refused to answer CBC’s question about how much money it has made from collect calls from jail, but the phone bills sent to Spratt’s law firm paint a revealing picture.

Spratt said Bell sends his firm a bill each month ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. The tally of collect calls runs across 30 pages. His clients are usually calling from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, but because of overcrowding many inmates are transferred and call long distance from out-of-town jails.

Phone bill for law firm Abergel Goldstein and Partners

The Ontario government will not disclose how much money it receives from collect calls made in provincial jails, but this bill is an example of how much Bell charges for collect calls from inmates. The province gets a commission from each call. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

His firm is charged $1 per local call, but a 20-minute long distance call costs $25. Most of the time the inmates call to speak to their lawyer, but sometimes clients will call Spratt’s firm so they can be forwarded to the cell phones of family members.

The phones from jail can only make collect calls to landlines, and Spratt said many families can’t afford the added cost.

That hardship is part of the reason why Spratt is considering using this access to information request as a basis for a future constitutional challenge.

“This was the first step in what I feel could be a constitutional challenge to punitive and unfair rates that disproportionately impact poor and vulnerable people in jail,” Spratt said.

In an emailed statement, a Bell spokesperson wrote that Bell does not discuss details of any business or government contracts.

Terms of Agreement between Bell and Ministry of Correctional Services

According to this document, Bell is expected to pay the province commissions each month. A ministry spokesperson said the government has been collecting commissions from collect calls since 1997. (Freedom of Information Request)

Toronto Real Estate Lawyer Receives 3.5 years Sentence in $2M Condo Fraud Case

Update: see previous posts – September 24, 2016 Ontario Law Society Raises Compensation Fund to $500,000, December 10, 2013 Ontario: Does the Law Society of Upper Canada Have To Raise the Maximum Compensation to Victims Under the Compensation Fund?

Meerai Cho, 66, has been sentenced to 3.5 years in jail after pleading guilty in a $2 million condo fraud investigation.
Meerai Cho, 66, has been sentenced to 3.5 years in jail after pleading guilty in a $2 million condo fraud investigation.  (Toronto Police handout)

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Meerai Cho, 66, pleaded guilty to criminal breach of trust

A Toronto real estate lawyer has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison after pleading guilty of defrauding condominium buyers of over $2 million.

Meerai Cho was charged in August, 2014, with 25 counts each of fraud over $5,000, possession of property obtained by crime and breach of trust.

Cho, 66, was working as a lawyer on behalf of the Centrust Group, and accepted deposits from buyers during the pre-construction of a residential building at 5220 Yonge St. that was never built. The money wasn’t returned and the loss is in excess of $2 million, police say.

Cho pleaded guilty to criminal breach of trust and was sentenced Wednesday to three and half years in custody.

Police are urging victims in this case to contact the The Law Society of Upper Canada compensation fund if they haven’t already.