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14 of the week’s best long reads from the Star, Feb. 27 to March 5, 2021

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From the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Ontario to new modelling warnings, we’ve selected some of the best long reads of the week on thestar.com.

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1. Enjoy it while it lasts. Modelling warns another mass lockdown may be needed to control Ontario’s looming third wave

Ontario could soon be headed into a third lockdown to rein in a third wave of COVID-19 driven largely by variants of concern, new projections show.

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In the worst-case scenario, Ontario could see as many as 5,000 cases per day by early April, mostly made up of new variants, according to modelling by Scarsin Corporation, a Markham, Ont.-based company specializing in disease forecasting for global pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead, Bayer and Jansen.

2. With COVID-19 vaccines finally flowing into Canada, Ontario has been caught scrambling to give them out

Shipments are ramping up, more COVID-19 vaccines are getting approved, and expert advice to stretch the gap between doses means millions of Canadians could get the protection of a first dose sooner than expected.

Taken together, those changes represent a significant shift from the delays and consternation that marked Canada’s national vaccine campaign in recent weeks.

But they have also left Ontario scrambling to keep up with the pace.

3. How is each Ontario region rolling out COVID vaccines? We contacted all 34 public health units to find out

In York Region, Canada’s Wonderland will be transformed into a mass vaccination site.

At Huron Perth Public Health, home to many rural communities, officials are thinking about how to get shots to Mennonites who travel by horse and buggy.

And in Peel, the vaccine rollout is being tailored for the large South Asian community.

How ordinary Ontarians get their coveted COVID vaccines will depend on where they live. To better understand what the rollout will look like, from downtown Toronto to remote northern Ontario, the Star contacted all 34 public health units to get the vaccine plans they are responsible for developing, based on provincial guidance.

4. Is your boss watching you? Widespread computer surveillance of remote workers ‘worrisome on a bunch of levels’

When the pandemic sent much of the world’s workforce home last March, Jerry Davis feared a dystopia of computer surveillance would emerge — a corporate secret police state in our kitchens and dens.

So, almost a year into COVID-19’s new normal, is such widespread spying taking place?

“My sense is yes,” says Davis, a professor of business administration at the University of Michigan. “But it’s harder than you think to get the kind of detailed (information from those who might be surveilling us.) Companies don’t report just how horrific their monitoring practices are,” he says.

5. For victims and their families, the Toronto van attack guilty verdict means ‘we can finally breathe’

After three long years, Catherine Riddell will finally have a good night’s sleep.

For her, and many of the people left physically and mentally shattered when a man driving a rented van rampaged along a Yonge Street sidewalk in April 2018 trying to kill as many people as he could, the guilty verdict came with a wave of relief.

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“It’s like holding our breath for three years, we can finally breathe,” said Nick D’Amico, flanked by his parents and sister. They all wore purple jackets adorned with the name of his sister Anne Marie D’Amico, one of the 10 people murdered on the sunny spring afternoon in North York in the worst mass killing in Toronto’s history.

6. ‘It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my 16-year career’: Human rights complaints detail racism, toxic culture at Toronto South jail

Glendon Thomas — a Black manager at the Toronto South Detention Centre — says he faces reprisals for advocating for fair treatment and advancement for staff in a workplace where “racialized personnel bear the brunt of the rather sick work environment.”

Another Black manager at the jail says he was punished after opposing a short-lived “social experiment” that saw Black rival gang members placed in the same jail unit. A South Asian sergeant says he was attacked by a white officer he says the jail has protected. And a Black Indigenous correctional officer says he was suspended over “fabricated” allegations.

Conditions are so bad at the Toronto South that Thomas — who previously worked at the notorious and now-closed Don Jail — would in a “heartbeat” return to the old jail and its problems.

7. Little Jamaica’s 50 years of economic power in Toronto is far from little. Neglect for the area is deeper than LRT construction

On Eglinton Avenue, west of the Allen Expressway, the familiar and comforting smell of coco bread and patties is interrupted by the sight of saw dust and heavy machinery. This is the tail end of a neighbourhood that has long been forgotten by the city of Toronto — Little Jamaica.

The disturbed look of owners from behind the smoggy storefront windows don’t reflect the vibrant faces that once palanced down the road for Kiddie Carnival years ago. The painted murals in the neighbourhood offer light in what is now a gloomy neighbourhood where conversations full of Jamaican patois have been silenced by loud construction trucks.

In recent years, as Little Jamaica has made headlines, the focus of the conversation has centred on how the LRT construction, gentrification, and ensuing pandemic have impacted area businesses. However, what’s often overlooked is how years of neglect has led to the demise of a vibrant Toronto neighbourhood that has contributed tremendous economic and cultural value to the city since the ’70s.

8. Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, who rose from humble beginnings to become the patriarch of this country’s most legendary hockey family, died Thursday. He was 82.

The retired Bell telephone technician was often referred to as Canada’s most famous hockey dad. Son Wayne, “The Great One,” tweeted the news of his death on behalf of the family late Thursday: “He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years but he never let it get him down … He was truly the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know. We love you Dad.”

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Wayne honed his skills in a backyard rink Gretzky built for his children and neighbourhood kids. It was dubbed “Wally Coliseum.”

When most fathers were resting in bed at night, Gretzky was running a hose over his backyard rink. It was his hockey academy, the classroom where he taught his sons the basics of the game.

9. Started a side hustle in 2020? Newly self-employed? Here’s what you can claim to reduce your taxes

When When the pandemic hit, Shakithyan Puvithasan had what many would call a “normal” job, working 9 to 5 at a telecommunications company.

He was luckier than many, and was able to keep working despite the pandemic’s devastating effect on the economy. But many of his family and friends weren’t as lucky, and seeing people losing previously steady incomes made Puvithasan realize he wanted a change.

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For a while, Puvithasan, 26, had wanted to become self-employed. He wanted to have control over his own hours and to feel secure knowing he couldn’t be laid off during tough economic times.

So in the middle of last year, he finally made the leap.

10. When the shower curtain rises: How St. Michael’s Choir School keeps kids singing — and safe — amid COVID-19

Forty boys walked into two rehearsal spaces at St. Michael’s Choir School expecting to sing. Instead, they found piles of PVC pipes, fittings and transparent shower curtains spread out on the floor.

On that day in November, the high-schoolers were tasked with assembling 75 individual singing pods for three of the downtown Toronto school’s rehearsal spaces. In the process, they learned about the science behind aerosol transmission of COVID-19 as they wrapped shower curtains around pipes to form three plastic walls.

“It was really fun. By the next day, we were using them,” said Teri Dunn, dean of choral studies and one of the school’s conductors.

11. Why Andria Boyd shuttered her Toronto boutique and moved to Jamaica to open a hotel

“The kind of person who will come and stay at our inn will want to immerse themselves in the feeling of the island,” Andria Boyd says of the North Coast property she and her husband Chris Saunders are working to build from the ground up, which is slated to open in about six months. “You won’t be hemmed in behind the gates of a property.”

Though the inn is still nameless — Boyd is toying with Casa Bosa, marrying the couples’ last names — the vision is clear: the white-walled and luminous rooms will tend more toward the modern, with pale floors and washed linens. (Four will even have fully equipped kitchens.) And if the dream for the inn is that it will feel like a fresh, tropical home for its guests, it’s also a homecoming for Boyd, who moved back to Jamaica last fall. Boyd was born in Jamaica and moved to Calgary with her family when she was 5 years old. “It doesn’t matter when I left: it’s who I am,” she says. “In Jamaica, they call me ‘Foreigner,’ but I am Jamaican more than I am anything else.”

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12. The rise of ‘conspirituality’: When ‘spiritual’ people embrace conspiracy theories, it can spell trouble

Yolande Norris-Clark has left the country.

She made the announcement on her website, on YouTube and on Instagram, where she posts a regular stream of videos and writings, mostly about giving birth without use of the medical system, a practice she calls “free” or “wild” birth.

Her family, she tells her followers, no longer felt physically safe in Canada, because of the trolls who were coming after her.

Over the past year, she’s taken up a message that’s exploded among those in New Age, spiritual and wellness circles. It’s about the coronavirus. More specifically, that pandemic “drama” has been “designed” by shadowy corporate elites working behind the scenes to wrest control from individuals through pandemic-related restrictions.

13. Inside the ‘Indigenization’ of Canada’s universities: Progress — but also accusations of tokenism, broken promises and ‘ethnic fraud’

A Carleton University professor recently accused administrators of failing to honour a funding commitment so she could fulfil her dream of building an Indigenous ecology institute.

“I trusted an organization that does not value me,” she wrote on Twitter.

Around the same time, a University of British Columbia sessional instructor came under scrutiny over what she says is her Mi’kmaq ancestry, accused of being a “white woman masquerading as ‘Indigenous’” — an accusation she steadfastly denies.

On the surface, these two incidents might not appear to be related. Yet they underscore what some Indigenous scholars say has been a troubling outcome of the push in recent years by post-secondary institutions to “Indigenize” — that is, to bring Indigenous people and ideas into all facets of university life, from governance to academics.

14. ‘He stood out’: The art, life and struggle of Hamilton artist and outcast Philip Stone

He was born on Feb. 29, an unusual day for an unusual man.

Philip Stone would grow to become both a gifted visual artist and a flamboyant outcast — known as much for his ability to stand out as for his coveted art.

Stone saw magic in the world. He delighted in birds and butterflies, flaming flowers and swirling clouds. He explored femininity on the pages of drawings, as if femaleness was a side of him that needed to emerge. He found fantasy even in the surreal ways the mixture of colours change their hues. It all came out through paints on his palette, or the inks of the ballpoint pens he used.

“His passion was expression,” a friend recalls. “A sheet of paper, on a canvas, on his person.”

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