Safety and Security

Des Ryan, a retired Toronto police officer and author of the Mike O’Shea Crime Fiction Series, is a CRA board director and our volunteer safety and security lead.

Did you know that your chances of being involved in a road accident are 30 per cent higher from June to August than at any other time of year?

Hard to believe, but it is true.

“The three-month period following spring marks the beginning of an unofficial ‘trauma season’ for both children and adults,” says Dr. Neil Merritt, a paediatric surgeon and a board director with the Trauma Association of Canada (TAC), a multidisciplinary society focused on the care of the injured patient and family. “Sadly, we see increased deaths and traumatic injuries, which we define as an injury of sudden onset and severity that requires medical attention.”

Why is this? Our driving patterns change. Kids are out of school, and we are driving long distances to cottages or vacation destinations. The volume of traffic increases, and we become impatient, driving faster on roads that we may be unfamiliar with.

Tired, anxious, and our minds wandering often result in our attention drifting—and our cars as well!

And then there is that Weekend Warrior factor: the increased use of alcohol or drugs during summer months.

As drivers, we need to take responsibility for our driving habits. Driving well-rested and sober is a no-brainer. Following the rules of the road and being mindful of speed limits is easy enough. Remembering that everyone else is as eager to get to where they are going as you are is another important step in road safety.

With that in mind, drive safely this summer!

Des Ryan, a retired Toronto police officer, is a CRA board director and our volunteer safety and security lead.

It seems there has been an increase in porch thefts in our neighbourhood recently. Neighbours are advising that their Amazon packages have been taken, strollers have been snatched away and, it would seem, any item that can be left without a signature is up for grabs.

What to do?

Arrange to have the package left with a neighbour who can receive it or consider picking up your package from Purolator or FedEx or at Penguin PickUp, the package-delivery service that has sprung up on Parliament.

If you can opt for “signature required” on packages, it should not be left at your door but returned to a courier depot for pickup. (In my personal experience, that’s not always the case, though.) If you can choose a delivery courier – often you can’t, as it’s shipper’s choice – remember that Purolator is run by Canada Post and a package that cannot be delivered to the recipient goes back to the nearest Canada Post outlet: for most of us, that’s the Shoppers Drug Mart on Parliament Street.

If none of these work for you and your package gets stolen from your porch, report to police. Whether the package taken contained a $5 children’s book or a $380 attaché case, it is still a theft, and police need to be notified.

If the person or persons are stealing your package(s) or property right now (or you see them leaving your porch with your property), call 9-1-1. This is a Theft in Progress. The call-taker will want to know what the person looks like (i.e. height, weight, clothing description, anything unusual/remarkable about their appearance) and last known direction of travel, and whether they are on foot, bicycle, or hop into a vehicle.

If you have been notified by the delivery company that the parcel was delivered, and it is not on your porch, file a report online.

Again, the value of the property stolen is immaterial when considering whether to report or not. What is important is that our local police are aware that thefts are taking place so that, hopefully, they will increase patrols in the area.

If you have security footage, please provide it to the police. Some people have been posting the images from their footage on social media. While stating that the individual captured on the footage is a thief may not be appropriate (morally or legally), suggesting that they may be a person of interest in relation to the thefts in the neighbourhood could be helpful in alerting us to be aware.

If you see the individual who you believe may be of interest in these thefts, call 9-1-1. Advise the call-taker that you are calling regarding a suspect for the porch thefts in the area. Again, you will be asked to provide descriptors such as height, weight, and clothing.

Simply put, it is imperative that we alert the police about this criminal activity. While we may believe that having officers respond and/or investigate such a minor crime is a waste of their time, it is not. Patrols are report-driven. If there are no reports of criminal activity in Cabbagetown, we cannot possibly expect we will see officers on our streets or bicycling through our parks in the summer.

Des Ryan is a CRA board director and our safety and security lead. Photo of Beckett by neighbour Michael Rowe.

Winter has arrived.

I know: Thank you, Captain Obvious.

If this winter is anything like previous winters, we will be lulled into a false sense of security with a few warm days, and then, BAM. The bitter cold will hit again.

A few quick reminders for those brutally cold days.

When you have to go outside, bundle up — really bundle up. And that goes for your dog as well. If your dog is like most, it will take one sniff of the cold air and turn around, leaving you standing there, all set for the “as required” walk. Your dog is not a fool.

But your dog still needs to piddle, so just bear in mind that, as cold as it is for you, it is cold for your dog as well.

This is not the time for that Trim-to-the-Wood grooming. If you do have to shave your dog down, or if your dog is a short-haired, think about getting a warm sweater or coat that covers from tail to neck and around the belly.

And then there are the booties. Seriously. The salt on our public sidewalks can be intense. If your dog is not the boot-wearing type, consider any number of protectants that can be massaged into paw pads. Be aware that ice can build up between the pads during the walk, causing irritation and/or pain. A cloth or your warm fingers to defrost the ice will help.

After the walk, be sure to wipe your dog’s paws off thoroughly to ensure that the salt and chemicals and whatever else they use on the ice doesn’t soak into your pup.

And, just as we burn up a little extra energy during winter months (some of us less than others, of course…), your dog burns up more trying to stay warm, even if you do just go for the Speed Walk around the block. Might want to give Sparky a little extra food during these cold months.

Finally, we all know that ethylene glycol (antifreeze) can be lethal if ingested. Knowing that dogs eat snow to hydrate during a walk, be sure to clean up any spills you may have when you fill up the antifreeze in your car. A very small amount is extraordinarily toxic for animals.

More cold weather tips for dogs are available at http://www.toronto.ca/petsinthecity. Pets are also welcome at all 24-Hour Respite Sites. More information about services, including the 24-Hour Respite Sites, is available at https://www.toronto.ca/homelesshelp.

Des Ryan, a retired Toronto police officer, is a CRA board director and our volunteer safety and security lead.

As you have noticed, we are seeing a lot less the sun these days, which means that little ones are going to and returning home from school in varying degrees of darkness. As motorists and cyclists, that means that we have to be extra careful because we, too, are driving in the dark, and we’re not yet used to watching for kids when it isn’t daylight out.

The roads are now getting a little slippery, too. If it’s not wet leaves, it’s that early-morning ice that we are starting to experience. We’ve already had a bit of a snowfall, which should be a reminder that we need to make sure that we have our winter tires on our cars and the windshield wiper fluid topped up before we head out.

Cyclists have likely figured out that dressing for the weather is a non-negotiable as the winds get colder.

And, as you know, we love our dogs in Cabbagetown. Mother Nature may be on a winter schedule, but Skipster likely has the same bio-break schedule, which means that you’re out before the sun comes up (although, from my own observations, a lot of you already are!) and out at least a couple of times after dark. I am confident that you are taking all precautions to keep your dog(s) safe when on the roads.

Be sure that you, too, are safe. Consider reflective gear such as a high-visibility vest (very popular in Ireland, btw!) and/or gloves or, at the very least, a reflective leash or collar for your pup(s).

As drivers, again, we need to remember that there will be people out walking their dogs in the dark before and after work and consider that even the best-trained pooch can be coerced into run across the street by a squirrel or other fun-looking moving object. Slow down!

Finally, there are those of us who just enjoy going out for a walk. No dog(s). No kid(s). Just a warm jacket and a good pair of boots. Consider that drivers of cars and bicycles may not be looking for you as you hop across the street between intersections or they may not be able to stop as quickly as you might think they should be able to. Take an extra look and another moment before you step out. When it is dark out, whether you are dropping off/picking up kids, walking dogs, or just out enjoying the scenery, be sure to See and Be Seen.

Des Ryan, a retired police officer, is the volunteer safety and security lead and board director for the Cabbagetown Residents Association.

By the time you read this, you have probably been inundated with Halloween safety tips for the little ones.

You can probably recite them off by heart by now:

– Wear a highly visible costume
– Use make-up instead of wearing a mask
– Be really careful crossing roads
– Travel in groups with at least one adult (maybe you, maybe someone else’s parent)
– Wait until a responsible adult checks the candy before devouring it
– Don’t go into anyone’s house or car

And so it goes. We know all of this.

But what about you? What if you’re the one who is going to be hosting or going to a party?

Here are some quick tips that might come in handy.

If you are hosting, consider host liability. While I am sure there are enough lawyers among you who know what this means, let’s be really clear: if a guest drinks (or smokes—welcome to the new world of legalized cannabis use) to excess and that guest is involved in a car crash or stumbles and injures themselves on their way home or is involved in any nasty situation that can be directly linked to their excessive consumption of alcohol or cannabis while at your party, you may be civilly liable.

If you are going to a party, don’t drive. Seriously. Chances are you’re going somewhere local and can walk home. Or take public transit or a taxi or Uber. Even if you are a responsible drinker, consider that the roads are filled with people who are not. Do you need the hassle?

But, if you do have to drive, be ultra-vigilant, particularly during the early evening on Halloween. Expect little ones to come popping out from between parked cars. Anticipate sudden stops and drive accordingly. Consider, after you see a group cross right in front of you, that there might be one or two more who will come darting across to join their friends.  

If you’re going to a party that has a lot of people you don’t know, consider that not everyone is like you. If you’re going with friends, check in on each other now and again. Don’t put your drink down. Seriously. And remember that wearing a costume doesn’t give you a licence to be a jerk. People really don’t like uninvited touching and it could lead to criminal charges, even if you are dressed as Eros.

Finally, consider your sugar intake. Pound back a few drinks and a half-dozen or so chocolatey-ooey-good candy bars and you’re likely looking at a nasty hangover in the morning. Just putting it out there.

After all of that, have a good night, and don’t forget to bring your pumpkin to Riverdale Park West on Thursday, November 1 for the Cabbagetown Pumpkin Walk. All the rules above still apply!

Des Ryan is a retired police officer who volunteers as a CRA board director and leads our safety and security portfolio.

One of the privileges of living in downtown Toronto is being able to take public transit or ride a bike pretty well anywhere you need or want to go. The increasing numbers of Bike Share locations makes cycling a very favourable mode of transportation, especially for people like me who don’t own a bike (shhh…don’t tell anyone!). And, as you’ve likely been reading (and seeing and experiencing), there are a lot of safety concerns about cycling in our beautiful city, including enforcement by our local constabulary.

While I would like to be able to click my heels and make some of the car drivers in this city stop driving like…well, you can probably fill in that blank…I cannot. So, let’s look at a few ways to be safe(r) while riding your bike.

First of all, what is a bicycle?

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act, which governs the movement on our roadways, defines a bike as a vehicle that has one, two or three wheels (a unicycle, bicycle or tricycle), has steering handlebars and pedals, and does not have a motor (motor-assisted bikes such as electric bicycles or scooters and mopeds are a whole different story!). You don’t need a licence to own one or have any sort of liability insurance on it. And you don’t need a driver’s licence. Having so said, you DO need to know the rules of the road because whether you are operating a motor vehicle or a bike, the law requires you to follow them.

For example, whether in a car or on a bike, you have to stop at stop signs and when streetcar doors open or school bus stop lights flash. Unless otherwise indicated, cyclists must follow one-way street signs. And the list goes on.

Assuming you ride according to the rules, what else can you do to keep yourself safe out there?

Wearing a helmet helps. A lot. Public Health Ontario published the results of a study that looked at the impact of mandatory bicycle helmet legislation and found that, for children 0-14 years of age, wearing a helmet significantly reduced serious injury and death. The difference in mortality rates were not such an issue for adult riders in this study but believe me when I tell you—it is a VERY good idea to wear one. By law, anyone under 18 must wear an approved helmet. It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that riders under 16 years of age wear their helmets (READ: you, parent, will receive the offence notice if your child is not wearing a helmet, even if Junior is on a tricycle).

And be aware that, if you are in an accident, regardless of who is at fault, you are on a bike. You are vulnerable. If anyone is going to get hurt, you are much more likely to receive significant injuries than someone in a car. Be aware of your surroundings. Drive defensively (but not like a jerk!). All of the reflective clothing and bells and whistles in the world won’t help you if you’re not fully engaged with your journey.

And, just to clarify a common misunderstanding, you DO have to identify yourself to a police officer who stops you for breaking any HTA rules (or any municipal by-law that regulates traffic). Section 218 of the Act makes this pretty clear. If you don’t ID yourself (verbal is sufficient), you can be arrested. And, if you are convicted of any HTA offences that you were charged with while riding your bike, where applicable, the points on your driver’s licence will be affected.

All of this is to say, wear your helmet, follow the rules of the road, and be aware of your surroundings. Aside from the helmet part, this is likely how you drive your car. There is nothing like the smell of the summer breeze on your face as your ride through the various neighbourhoods that surround us and, whether it is on a bike, motorcycle, or with the windows (or top) down on the car, now is the time to enjoy it. Drive carefully.

By the CRA’s Safety and Security Expert, Board Director and retired police officer Des Ryan.

Now that the nicer weather has arrived, many of us are looking forward to getting away from the city, whether for just a few days here and there, or every weekend (and beyond!)

Your home insurance company probably has a clause stating that someone must physically enter the premise every 48 hours or so to make sure that some calamity has not befallen your home, such as pipes bursting. While they’re at it, perhaps whomever you have drop by can bring your mail, newspapers, and/or fliers in.

Maybe you have an alarm system on your doors and/or windows. If not (or even if you do), consider setting up some lights and/or a radio on a timer to give your place that lived-in look and sound while  you’re away. And don’t forget to ask a neighbour to have an eye while you’re away.

All this is great, but what can we do proactively?

I can’t really speak to any potential plumbing issues you may have, but I would strongly suggest you check your social media posts (and those of your children). As exciting as it all is, posting a countdown until your three-week vacation on Twitter is like taking an ad out in the newspaper advising that your house will be empty. Or, at the very least, you won’t be there. And the Facebook photos that you are posting while you  are away are great, until someone who may not have your security settings reposts them.

We all know that packing the car the night before is a thing of the past. If you are like me and recall those days fondly, having everything that has to go packed and ready by the door for the morning works. Even if you have an enclosed trunk space in your vehicle (which, increasingly, most of us don’t),  packing the night before can be risky business. Popping a trunk is easier than it looks.

Oh, and while we’re on it – the notion that keeping your car key fobs in the freezer will prevent thieves from disabling the auto-locking system? Not true. Read this article if you’re not convinced.

Which leads me to another thing: when you are away, do not leave your valuables lying around. Like the keys to your car. Or your laptop. Or jewelry. Or cash.

If someone should happen to break into your home while you are away and you have a security alarm, there is a five-to-10 minute delay from the time your alarm is activated and the company calls the police. Depending on the number of outstanding calls, there could be another 10-to-who knows? minute delay before officers arrive. In most cases, a burglar is in and out of a home within five minutes, grabbing whatever they can get their hands on as they go.

Best bet? Keep your vacation plans off social media, have a neighbour keep an eye on your place  make sure your alarm is set, pack your family jewels away, and enjoy your holiday.

Are you experiencing/witnessing an ongoing, non-emergency such as trespassing or other nuisance issues? Toronto Police Services Divisions 51 (that’s us in Cabbagetown) and 55 have set up an easy online reporting form.

Choose “Division 51” on the online form and try to provide as much detail as you can (descriptions, clothing, make, model, colour, etc.) and include your full contact information so that an officer can follow up with you if they have questions.

By using this form, says Staff Sergeant Brian Maslowski, “you are helping Toronto Police Services in 51 Division better understand our community and our needs. Keep in mind that TPS resources are allocated according to calls, so the more you call or submit complaints, the more officers will be allocated to your area!”

Police Division 51 online reporting form

As well, in a recent with local Business Improvement Area leads, including the Cabbagetown BIA, Maslowski said the division will be taking a “less in the cars, more on the street” approach with our local officers who are out on patrol and not responding to emergencies. Crew Officers will be spending less time in their cars and more time walking, biking or travelling by TTC.

By Des Ryan, a retired police officer, CRA Board Director, and the CRA’s safety and security lead.

As we begin to reconnect with neighbours, who, like ourselves, have been bundled beyond recognition for the past few months, that sweet smell of spring is in the air. And, with that comes the urge to purge. No basement or shed is immune.

What to do with all of the old paints, primers, and stain? Or the aerosol cans, household cleaning products, and quarter-containers of bleach that we don’t want? Or those pesticides, partial bags of old fertilizer, and other stuff that doesn’t meet the criteria for the green, grey, or blue bins?

Well, for a fee that can be paid by cash, debit, or credit card, you can take it all down to the “Orange Drop” at the Commissioners Street Transfer Station, located at 400 Commissioners St.

Or, you can have the City of Toronto pick up your Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) for free (except for florescent lights) by calling 311 or registering online for what’s nicknamed the “Toxic Taxi” – city pickup of hazardous waste.

There are rules around pick-up and this city website gives detailed instructions both on what’s considered hazardous waste, and how you can get the city to take it off your hands (it should never be put in regular garbage). The HHW has to be placed in front of your home, on your property (not at the curb or on the sidewalk), on the day of pickup. If you don’t have a front-of-home suitable for pickup, you can leave the items on an open front porch or veranda.

If you’ve got liquids to be picked up, they have to be labelled and sealed in a non-leaking container. And don’t stack all of your different Hazardous Household Waste together. Batteries, paints, and fluorescent light bulbs do not mix well together.

If you find needles or syringes that you want to dispose of, place them in a sealed plastic container (plastic jug, water bottle, etc.) or an approved sharps container and label the container “needles / syringes”.

Let’s say  you call, the by give you a date, you put your HHW out, and it doesn’t get picked  up. Then what? Give the city a couple of working days before calling 311. Sometimes, there are operational issues that cause delays.

Other issues that could affect pickup:
– A container leaked, there was no lid, or the liquids were unlabelled.
– The materials were mixed together into one toxic stew.
– Too many items to pick up at once (i.e. more than 50 litres/50 kilograms or 24 cans, in which case you need to book a couple of pickups)
– The items set out were too large (i.e. a drum full of motor oil)
– Items not accepted under Household Hazardous Waste parameters including:
     – explosives (i.e. ammunition – can be taken to 51 Division of Toronto Police Services at 51 Parliament St.),
     – fireworks (soak them in water, seal them in a plastic bag, and dispose of as waste).

Provided everything has been properly packed and set out, however, there should be no problems. And you’ll be left with a clean, safe, non-toxic basement or shed. And plenty of space to store other things – such as your snow tires.

Des Ryan, CRA Board Director and our safety and security lead, dispels the myths around alcohol consumption and impairment.

Impaired driving. Let’s say the words and call it what it is. We have all been inundated with PSA’s telling us not to do it, that it could cost you more than your licence, that it’s just wrong. And yet….

On behalf of the Cabbagetown Residents Association and in the name of neighbourly concern for you and your family, let me dispel some of the myths about alcohol consumption:

If I pace myself and have a drink an hour, I’ll be fine.

While it takes about an hour for your body to process alcohol, if you continue to drink, you continue to infuse your blood with alcohol, which means that you may not get blisteringly drunk, but you will be impaired.

Water after each alcoholic beverage will stop me from getting drunk.

We all know that alcohol causes dehydration, and drinking water is a good idea to lessen that dry-mouth feeling the next day and/or help with your hang-over symptoms, but it won’t change the level of alcohol in your bloodstream.

A coffee before I leave the restaurant will override the effects of the alcohol we drank.

Nope. The caffeine in the coffee may keep you awake, but it won’t sober you up. Nor will fresh air or a cold shower.

I only drink beer, so I can have more than my wine- or liquor-drinking friends.

Nice try, but no. An average pint of beer (ABV 5%), glass of wine (250ml, ABV 11%), or healthy shot of liquor (70ml, ABV38-40%) all have around 2.8 units of alcohol. The only difference is that you may feel less drunk because or your own expectations. The car you sideswiped or the mailbox you knocked over if you drive home doesn’t care what you drank.

I’m a big guy, so I can drink more.

While your size is a factor, and women will get drunk faster and stay drunk longer, a single drink can cause legal alcohol impairment, regardless of your size, gender, or age.

I’ve been drinking a long time so it takes me longer to get drunk.

The more you drink over time, the more damage your body sustains and the greater the risks become. If you can toss back a few more brewskies this season than last without feeling the same effects, consider that a warning sign that your body may be starting to experience long-term damage caused by alcohol.

What if I wait an hour after my last drink?

While lowering your blood/alcohol concentration, giving yourself an hour after your last drink may not be enough time to make that much difference to your blood/alcohol levels.

We ate dinner with our drinks. That should count, shouldn’t it?

Good food over a glass of wine or two is always nice, but it will only delay the rate of alcohol absorption, which is to say, you will still experience the same level of impairment (whether meeting the legal definition or not), but it will take longer for you to feel the symptoms.

I drink white wine and I never feel impaired at all.

Hopefully, you drink white wine because you like it because it is not keeping you sober. Unless the alcohol level is lower, a glass of white or red wine, a bottle of beer or a shot of liquor can all contain the same amount of alcohol and will give similar readings on a breathalyzer.

How about having a couple of drinks in the afternoon? I’ll be sober quicker.

No. Just … no.

We are fortunate to have a number of excellent pubs and restaurants in the neighbourhood. We are also fortunate to have a number of excellent places to eat and that are easily accessible by public transit or taxi. Most of us are also fortunate to have a family member or friends who would gladly pick us up from such places in the event that we were unable to walk or take public transit or a cab home.

There is no excuse for impaired driving. And there is certainly no excuse for ruining your life and, likely, someone else’s because you figured a drink or two wouldn’t hurt.

Let’s keep it simple this year. If you’re going out for a little seasonal cheer, leave the car at home. You are worth more than you think to the people who love you.

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