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Father says lack of internet access at rural home hurting daughters’ education

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Gord Hiebert says he’s tried to get the internet installed at his house — roughly 18 kilometres outside of Saskatoon — numerous times.

But because he’s in a rural area, it has either been too slow or too costly. 

While some service providers, including SaskTel, have said the installation is possible, Hiebert says he was told it would require the installation of a 20-foot tower on his house — something he worries may be toppled by the Saskatchewan wind, which blows fiercely around his Valley Road home, or cause damage to his roof.

The installation also comes with a hefty price-tag. Hiebert said it would have cost him hundreds of dollars, as he would have to cover the cost of equipment, travel and installation.

Using the hotspot on his cell phone, he’s been able to circumvent the issue, allowing his two daughters to access the internet when he gets home from work. But now, with some students across Saskatchewan continuing their education remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he says the lack of internet access is hurting his daughters’ education. 

“It makes me feel like my kids are being discriminated against, really,” said Hiebert, whose children attend the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.

Hiebert said he wants his children to take advantage of the remote learning framework but he has concerns about making his daughters start their school days in the evening, a time he says is usually reserved for family.

“I want to spend a little time with them,” he said. “If they’ve got a full day of school work to do, I don’t want them to start it at 6 o’clock when I get home from work. So yeah, it’s tough for them.” 

Hiebert said he would be open to seeing technology, like internet-enabled laptops, deployed to families who want to participate in the province’s voluntary learning framework, but don’t have access to internet or technology.

“There should be one for every kid and there should be internet available for every kid,” he said. 

Gord Hiebert’s eldest daughter, 16-year-old Leyton, can be seen in this photo with former Saskatchewan Roughrider Duron Carter. Hiebert says he’s been able to hotspot his cellphone to provide his daughters with internet while he’s home from work, but he has concerns about getting them to start their school day in the evening. (Gord Hiebert)

Hiebert said he’s recently received emails from the Catholic school division detailing what his children’s education plan will look like. These included an email asking parents what kind of access they have to technology. 

In a statement from the GSCS, the division said while supplemental learning plans do have a “heavy online component,” it recognizes that “access to the internet is a barrier for a significant number of students.” 

“That is why plans include multiple modes of communication and access to learning. Teachers and staff are in the process of determining access and needs of each student and developing plans accordingly,” said the statement. “We’re in the early stages of this and don’t have solutions for every scenario yet.” 

In the statement, the GSCS said paper copies of lesson plans and assignments are an option for those without internet access, noting they are working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority to ensure safe handling of physical copies.

The division notes it has already started lending out tablets and Chromebooks to some students, and is working with service providers to ensure families without Internet access are able to go online. 

“If parents have concerns about access to learning, we ask that they contact their teacher or school directly to find solutions and ensure all students have access to learning,” the GSCS said in the statement. 

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools says it’s working on plans to ensure students have access to educational materials during the COVID-19 pandemic and is gauging how much access families have to technology and the internet. (James Hopkin/CBC)

The Saskatoon Public School Division, the province’s largest, has also started to gauge how much access its students have to technology, with teachers already reaching out to families.

“That is the first-order of business that we are doing,” said the division’s deputy director of education, Shane Skjerven. 

Using data collected by teachers, Skjerven said the division hopes to have a solid idea about access levels by early this week and will be working with its staff in education technology to develop a plan around access for students. Skjerven said while the internet is important to education, the division is still examining alternative methods for delivering education. 

“We don’t want to get into a situation where we are unable to provide learning to families that don’t have access to technology,” he said, noting the school division is examining how to safely deliver different learning methods while following recommendations from health officials.

This includes “paper and pencil” learning materials.  

“It may not be as fancy,” said Skjerven. “But it can still be effective in terms of getting at the learning outcomes that are in our curriculums.” 

The Saskatoon Public School Division, the province’s largest, has also started to gauge how much access its students have to technology, with teachers already reaching out to families. (Google Street View)

He said the change has been a difficult one for everyone involved, including the division’s front-line staff and teachers. 

“Our teachers want to be in the classroom. They want to be working with students. They cherish the opportunity to get to do that everyday,” he said. “Now that they don’t have the opportunity to do that face-to-face, I think it is something our folks are a little bit disappointed [about].” 

However, the division understands the public health orders are in place for everyone’s protection and says they want to make sure they’re following the recommendations fully.

For Hiebert, he says the dispatching of technology to students might address issues around accessibility in the short-term, but SaskTel, a Crown corporation, should be doing more to ensure all of Saskatchewan’s residents have access to the internet.

“We — as a province — we own SaskTel. Why do we not have better infrastructure for our rural communities? It’s terrible,” he said. “A lot of the rural communities, they paid the bills to build SaskTel.” 

SaskTel said in a statement to CBC that it understands how important internet access is for its customers during this time. The statement said since 2010, it’s invested roughly $3 billion in its networks, technologies and services, noting its internet coverage reaches 99 per cent of the population using both wired and wireless technology. 

While SaskTel offers wired access to 450 communities in Saskatchewan, there are some areas where wired internet is still not an option. In these cases, SaskTel will use its wireless network for internet access, but this requires “line of sight” between the customer and a tower. 

“In cases where there are obstacles between the end customer and the tower (such as terrain, trees, and/or man-made structures) it could be necessary for a customer to erect a small tower to ensure their equipment can acquire and maintain ‘line of sight’ with the tower,” the statement said. 

The Crown corporation also said it will waive domestic data overage fees for all wireless services from March 17 to April 30, because the pandemic has caused customers to rely heavily on home internet connections.

In a statement, the Ministry of Education said individual divisions are responsible for developing supplemental learning plans for their students. 

While the Ministry of Education says models of delivering instruction could include anything from paper and phone calls to “sophisticated online environments,” the divisions will determine what methods will be used to meet the needs of their students. 
 

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18 residents of Woodbridge long-term-care transported to hospital due to COVID; Province’s regional health units report total of 29,586 confirmed and probable cases

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The latest novel coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Sunday (this file will be updated throughout the day). Web links to longer stories if available.

5:12 p.m.: Ontario’s regional health units are reporting another 381 new COVID-19 infections, according to the Star’s latest count.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, the health units have reported a total of 29,586 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,328 deaths, as the daily counts have fallen from a spike that saw the totals above 400 cases per day most of last week.

In May, the growth of new infections has not been felt equally in the province. The daily numbers have been falling outside of the GTA. Meanwhile, new cases inside the region have remained relatively high.

Sunday’s tally included 150 new cases in Toronto and 139 more in Peel Region; together, the two health units accounted for more than three-quarters of the province’s new infections.

According to a provincial database of COVID-19 cases, nearly 80 per cent of the 3,783 Ontarians with an active case of COVID-19 reside in the GTA, with nearly 85 per cent of those in living in Toronto or Peel Region.

In many parts of the province, only a handful of patients still have an active illness. Eighteen of Ontario’s 34 regional health units — including all six in Northern Ontario — have fewer than 10 active cases.

Meanwhile, the 12 fatal cases reported in the province since Saturday evening represented the lowest single-day total since April 5. The rate of deaths has fallen considerably since peaking at more than 90 in a day in early May, about two weeks after the daily case totals hit a first peak in mid-April.

Because many health units publish tallies to their websites before reporting to Public Health Ontario, the Star’s count is more current than the data the province puts out each morning.

Earlier Sunday, the province reported Ontario’s COVID-19 testing labs completed 17,014 tests Saturday, marking the third consecutive day above the target total of 16,000 daily.

The province also reported 781 patients are now hospitalized with COVID-19, including 118 in intensive care, of whom 90 are on a ventilator — numbers that have fallen sharply this month. The province also says nearly 22,000 patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus have now recovered from the disease — about three-quarters of the total infected.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths — 2,247 — may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

5:06 p.m.: Public Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting three new cases of COVID-19 near Campbellton — in the north of the province — bringing to 12 the number of cases in a local cluster being blamed on a local doctor.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says the three new cases Sunday and one reported Saturday are all seniors at the Manoir de la Vallee in Atholville, a long-term care facility, and are all reported directly related to the outbreak in the area.

Last week, a health-care worker at the facility also tested positive. The outbreak began after a local doctor contracted the virus in Quebec and returned to New Brunswick, and then failed to self-isolate. The incident has been referred to the RCMP for review.

4:01 p.m.: Toronto Public Health provided updated local COVID-19 totals on Sunday, including 150 new cases and five new deaths. The number of active cases crept up to 1,905 from 1,899.

The total number of deaths listed for the city is now 823.

1 p.m.: Eighteen residents of Woodbridge Vista Care Community were transported to hospital on Saturday night after testing positive for COVID-19, York Region said.

York Region spokesperson Stephanie Crowley confirmed that paramedics transferred the 18 patients from the long-term-care home near Steeles Avenue and Martin Grove Road to hospitals outside York Region. Crowley did not specify the conditions of the patients.

To date, 80 residents and 20 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at Woodbridge Vista Care Community, according to provincial figures. Twelve have died.

12 p.m.: The Ontario government is asking for Ottawa’s help to expand broadband internet access for students as schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, in a letter to the federal government, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott requested “immediate, urgent support” to address gaps in broadband access in areas of rural and Northern Ontario.

“While most residents in Ontario have access to the internet, the speed, quality, and cost vary significantly across the province,” the ministers wrote.

“Existing internet connectivity gaps prevent many elementary and secondary students from accessing the same learning made available to all other Ontario students, affecting education equity.”

The letter states that, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, every Canadian should have an internet connection with access to broadband speeds of at least 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload and access to unlimited data.

The Ford government has committed to spend $315 million in the next five years to expand broadband access province-wide, and is asking the federal government to help speed up the effort of bringing almost 3,000 schools across the province, including 99 in Northern Ontario, online.

11 a.m. Ontario’s regional health units are reporting a total of 29,227 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,316 deaths.

The total of 314 new confirmed and probable cases reported since the same time Saturday morning was down from the previous day, as the daily totals continue to fall from a spike that saw the health unit totals above 400 per day most of last week.

The Sunday-morning tally includes the 123 new cases in Toronto and 114 more in Peel Region reported Saturday afternoon; together, the two health units accounted for nearly three-quarters of the province’s new infections.

According to a provincial database of COVID-19 cases, nearly 80 per cent of the 3,783 Ontarians with an active case of COVID-19 reside in the GTA, with nearly 85 per cent of those in living in Toronto or Peel Region.

In many parts of the province, only a handful of patients still have an active illness. Eighteen of Ontario’s 34 regional health units — including all six in Northern Ontario — have fewer than 10 active cases.

Meanwhile, the 18 fatal cases reported in the province since Saturday morning were below recent days. The rate of deaths is down considerably since peaking at more than 90 deaths in a day earlier this month, about two weeks after the daily case totals hit a first peak in mid-April.

Because many health units publish tallies to their websites before reporting to Public Health Ontario, the Star’s count is more current than the data the province puts out each morning.

Earlier Sunday, the province reported Ontario’s COVID-19 testing labs completed 17,014 tests Saturday, marking the third consecutive day above the target total of 16,000 daily.

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The province also reported 781 patients are now hospitalized with COVID-19, including 118 in intensive care, of whom 90 are on a ventilator — numbers that have fallen sharply this month. The province also says nearly 22,000 patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus have now recovered from the disease — about three-quarters of the total infected.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths — 2,247 — may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

11 a.m. When Kathryn Butler Malette learned her younger sister was diagnosed with COVID-19, she was confronted with a waking nightmare: that her beloved sibling might die alone.

While Ontario’s government has said facilities can allow end-of-life visits, Butler Malette said she was told the Ottawa-area long-term-care home where her sister lives didn’t want to chance it, given the magnitude of the outbreak they were experiencing.

Experts and insiders say that palliative care, which focuses on comfort, has become less of a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily due to visitor restrictions and even bans born out of staffing shortages and a need to limit exposure to the virus. But some say it’s time to loosen those restrictions and find a balance between keeping everyone safe and allowing dying patients to say goodbye to their loved ones.

Butler Malette would have done anything to be able to be with her sister through her sickness, worn any personal protective equipment, taken any precautions, she said — especially if her sister were to have reached end of life.

It didn’t get that far — after a few dips, Butler Malette’s sister has recovered, though the two have yet to be reunited — but the predicament is playing out in long-term care homes and hospices across the country, said Sharon Baxter, executive director of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.

While many provinces are loosening their policies on visiting dying family members, Baxter said, the facilities caring for patients are not always following suit. She said it’s time for that to change.

“We’re wanting to call attention to the issue that we could do much better with compassionate protocols. And now that things are starting to loosen up … now’s the time for us to look at, can we provide PPE for family members?” she said. “Can we make sure that family members can get in and say their goodbyes?”

She said that during this crisis, palliative care has been put on the back burner.

9 a.m.: Pope Francis cheerfully greeted people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, as he resumed his practice of speaking to the faithful there for the first time since a coronavirus lockdown began in Italy and at the Vatican in early March.

Instead of the tens of thousands of people who might have turned out on a similarly sunny day like in pre-pandemic times, perhaps a few hundred came to the square on Sunday, standing well apart from others or in small family groups.

Until June 3, people aren’t allowed to travel between regions in Italy or arrive from abroad for tourism, so the people in the square came from Rome or places in the region.

Noting this was the first time he could greet people in the square for weeks, Francis said that “one doesn’t emerge from a crisis the same. You either come out better or you come out worse.” He said he’d be back to greet them next Sunday in the same place at noon, smiling and pointing down to the vast square far below his studio window.

8 a.m.: India reported more than 8,000 new cases of the coronavirus in a single day, another record high that topped the deadliest week in the country.

Confirmed infections have risen to 182,143, with 5,164 fatalities, including 193 in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

Overall, more than 60 per cent of the virus fatalities have been reported from only two states — Maharashtra, the financial hub, and Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The new cases are largely concentrated in six Indian states, including the capital New Delhi.

There are concerns the virus may be spreading through India’s villages as millions of jobless migrant workers return home from cities during the lockdown. Experts warn that the pandemic is yet to peak in India.

7:45 a.m.: Russia reported 9,268 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, the first time in a week that the daily tally exceeded 9,000, but the lowest death toll in several days: 138.

Overall, Russia has recorded 405,843 cases and 4,693 deaths from COVID-19. The relatively low mortality rate compared with other countries has prompted skepticism domestically and abroad.

7 a.m.:Ontarians who rely on prescription medication will hopefully see an onerous COVID-19 precaution lifted by the end of June.

A 30-day limit on prescriptions was brought in by the Ontario government in the early days of the pandemic in an effort to prevent drug shortages. Spokespeople for Ontario’s seniors community and the province’s pharmacy industry say they expect the limitation will be lifted within the month, returning to the usual 90-day maximum by July 1.

“It’s been a difficult policy,” said Justin Bates, the chief executive officer of the Ontario Pharmacists Association. “We stand by the policy, we think it was the right thing to do, but I think everybody’s hopeful that we can get back to 90 days and to a normal cycle of quantity.”

Saturday, 7 p.m. Ontario’s regional health units are reporting 320 new COVID-19 infections, according to the Star’s latest count.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, the health units had reported a total of 29,212 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,316 deaths. The daily counts have fallen from a spike that saw totals above 400 cases per day most of last week.

Saturday’s tally included 123 new cases in Toronto and 114 more in Peel Region; together, the two health units accounted for nearly three-quarters of the province’s new infections.

According to a provincial database of COVID-19 cases, nearly 80 per cent of the 3,933 Ontarians with an active case of COVID-19 reside in the GTA, with nearly 85 per cent of those in Toronto or Peel Region.



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Wanted: Second-hand computers for N.W.T. students

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Kirby Marshall knows outside of the larger, urban centres in the North, not only is access to the internet limited — so is access to computers.

When COVID-19 hit, Marshall said it was clear to him that schools would be one of the first things to shut down. That would mean kids would be learning remotely, posing a challenge for the hundreds of students in the Northwest Territories without a computer.

Marshall, who owns Global Storm IT in Yellowknife, says there are roughly 500 kids in the N.W.T.’s Tlicho and Dehcho regions that don’t have one.

“This is a big problem and it’s one that’s only going to get solved by people working together,” he said during an interview with Lawrence Nayally, host of CBC’s Trail’s End.

Marshall has been reaching out to companies across the North to see if they would be willing to donate any second-hand machines to equip students with the tools they need to continue learning.

According to a press release from Northern News Services Ltd., the media company is donating a drop-off point where they will “log and sanitize your donation” at no cost. The company will also give a free electronic subscription with each computer.

Ile Royale Enterprises Ltd. is also getting involved. According to the release, the company will be providing strategic advice for the program.

Marshall said because of the pandemic, the global supply chain for computers virtually dried up overnight. Factories shut worldwide and people gobbled up what was left of a dwindling stock so they could improve their work-from-home setups.

Hopes to collect 500 computers

Marshall hopes to receive 500 computers. He has about 50 so far. He sanitizes them, wipes their hard drives and installs software used by schools. He plans to start shipping them out next week.

The business owner hopes it will help keep kids in school, even if they can’t physically be in the classroom.

Schools across the territory will remain closed for the remainder of the school year, and Marshall worries that will mean more students will drop out.

Roughly 40 per cent of Grade 11 and 12 students fail or dropout, according to a recent audit of the territory’s education system.

“With the pandemic, those figures are going to go way up,” Willis said.

He said some educators he talked to suggest the numbers could climb to 80 or 90 per cent — or higher.

“That’s unfathomable,” he said.

“They need help. And so let’s all get together and do what we can to help them.”

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CBC photographer Michael Wilson shares his favourite photos

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Toronto-based videographer and photographer Michael Wilson came to work at CBC Toronto last August, and since that time, his work has been all over our web page and social media accounts. From triumph to tragedy, his photos have helped shine a light on life in Toronto.

As Michael’s time with CBC Toronto comes to an end, we asked him to highlight some of his favourite photos, and explain what they mean to him. Here’s the list:

Rainbow magic

My first assignment with CBC was to take pictures of the food on display at the CNE. This was my favourite picture I took on that day because in addition to one of the foods, it shows someone having fun with it. 

Scheer love of politics

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer launched his 2019 federal election campaign in Vaughan, Ont., by speaking in front of hundreds of supporters. Senior reporter Mark Gollom and I were there to interview and photograph the attendees, but this picture of Scheer after the speech gives a great sense of his interaction with the crowd. 

Ballet school

For the first time ever, Canada’s National Ballet School’s 2019 graduating class had more boys than girls, a remarkable time in the school’s history.

Green gathering

This climate change protest was an incredible experience as I witnessed and photographed tens of thousands of people protesting a worldwide crisis.

High-tech trade

Construction workers are using a project-based application called Procore on their phones, tablets and other devices to help with their projects. For this story I went to a construction site with CBC Business writer Brandie Weikle and took portraits of workers who are helping to bring high tech to their trade.  

Toronto champs

The day before the Toronto Raptors’ home opener, the Larry O’Brien Trophy was on display at Nathan Phillips Square. Fans had their pictures taken with the team’s first ever NBA championship trophy, and the line stretched all the way around the water in the square. Even Toronto Mayor John Tory had his picture taken with the trophy, and he also went down the lineup and spoke with fans. It was an amazing experience to photograph hundreds of excited fans.

Tailgate party

This was the night the Toronto Raptors unveiled their first championship banner and received their first rings. Jurassic Park was open, so people could watch this on the jumbotron outside Scotiabank Arena.

Labour disruption

ETFO president Sam Hammond gave a news conference about whether or not teachers would go on strike, protesting budget cuts that the Ford government made to the province’s education system. A number of elementary school teachers showed their support by standing with him. For me, this was the beginning of a story I helped cover several times.

So cool

Idina Menzel (Elsa), Kristen Bell (Anna) and Josh Gad (Olaf), came to the Scotiabank Theatre for Toronto’s Frozen 2 Premiere. This event  was one of my most memorable assignments because I have two five-year-old cousins who love Frozen, and I was able to tell them I took pictures of the actors who voiced their favourite characters.

Behind the scenes

Sometimes I took behind-the-scenes pictures of CBC staff members in the field or in studio. For this shoot, I took pictures of Ed Middleton and Patrick Morrell shooting drone footage of cranes in downtown Toronto.    

On Nov. 5, 2019, Margaret Atwood was interviewed at the University of Toronto about her new book, The Testaments, a sequel to her 1985 hit, The Handmaid’s Tale. The interview aired on Nov.18 — her 80th birthday. For this shoot, instead of taking pictures, I shot video of her on a slider. This was a particularly memorable assignment because I met one of Canada’s most famous authors, and helped film an interview that aired on CBC’s The National.

All lit up

After winning the Rogers Cup and U.S. Open in 2019, Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu lit up the Eaton Centre’s giant Christmas tree and was welcomed by hundreds of fans. This was an incredible event to witness and photograph, especially because I had never seen the tree being lit before. Having a Canadian champion be the one to light it made it extra special.

Canadian tennis champion, Bianca Andreescu lights the 108-foot Christmas tree at the Eaton Centre on Nov. 14, 2019. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Hockey hero

Before the NHL season was paused, former Zamboni driver and emergency goalie David Ayres stepped in for the Carolina Hurricanes and helped them beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. Later that month, he donated the stick he beat the Leafs with to the Hockey Hall Of Fame, letting me take pictures of a historic moment in the NHL.This marked the first time that pictures I took made it into Hockey Night In Canada’s website and social media posts.

Trudeau in Brampton

In January, I photographed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visiting ABC Technologies in Brampton. He met the staff members there, and gave a news conference about COVID-19.

Ford in Toronto 

In addition to federal politicians, I have also photographed the premier of Ontario. Here, Doug Ford is speaking at a conference at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada Convention.

Litter problem

During COVID-19, people have been littering personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves.

Market slide

Toronto’s real estate market is one of the many Canadian industries thrown off balance by the pandemic, and this photo has been used in stories both in Toronto and across Canada.

Under the boardwalk

A family of foxes is living under the boardwalk and rocks at Woodbine Beach. This was my favourite story in May because I rarely see foxes, and along with the other people nearby, I was able to spot two baby foxes that ventured out from under the boardwalk.

Off-limits

Part of my job has been documenting how the pandemic has affected Toronto. Due to COVID-19, Cibola Playground on the Toronto Islands is taped off until further notice. Taking pictures during this time was different because there were so many closed places and empty spaces, including playgrounds, that would normally be busy during the day. Almost everywhere you go, there is at least one person wearing a mask.

Fun in the sun

In the last week of May, Toronto’s weather quickly went from somewhat cold to scorching hot. During this time, I shot photos of these people at Balmy Beach.



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