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YEAR IN REVIEW, Part 5: Crime and Christmas generosity pack December

In Bradford West Gwillimbury, December was a month filled with police activity, but also the spirit of the season and help for those less fortunate
Vanessa, nine, chats with Santa Claus. Miriam King/Bradford Today

Protests. Caroline Mulroney was MPP for York-Simcoe for barely five months, when she saw the first protesters in front of her constituency office in East Gwillimbury. The protests on Dec. 1 focused on the decision of the Doug Ford government to slash funding for French-language services, including a French-language university in Toronto that was to open in 2020. The province has more than 600,000 Francophone residents. 

Enough is enough. After seeing a steady increase in impaired driving - South Simcoe police laid 15 impaired charges during the 2016 Festive Season R.I.D.E. campaign, and 26 charges in 2017 - South Simcoe police announced that they would be releasing the names of those charged with Impaired. “We feel we have no choice but to take a tougher stand,” police said in a press release. The names can be seen on the South Simcoe police website, posted every Monday. 

A Nutcracker Christmas. Twelve-year-old Ava Saracino had a very special Christmas. The young Bradford West Gwillimbury dancer landed three roles – a rich girl, unicorn, and lady-in-waiting – in the Nutcracker Suite, performed at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Dec. 8-30. Saracino, who started dance lessons at the age of three with the Bradford School of Dance, is now a student at the National Ballet School. 

In ruins. After the owners of 108 Moore St. failed to comply with three separate building code orders to make the fire-damaged structure safe and secure, the Town of BWG stepped in. The July 1 blaze in the home, weeks before it was designated as a heritage site, was deemed by the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office to be “criminally suspicious.” Town staff indicated in November that the municipality would take the necessary steps “to secure the building in order to allow for reopening of the Frederick Street sidewalk,” with the costs to be recovered from the owners - but the work wasn’t carried out until December. 

Sworn in. On Dec. 4, the newly elected Bradford West Gwillimbury council – consisting of all of the incumbent candidates of the previous council – was sworn in at an inauguration ceremony, held at the Bradford and District Memorial Community Centre. Priorities of the new/old council for the coming term of office were identified as transportation and traffic congestion, economic development and jobs, community and traffic safety, housing affordability, and community centre master plan. 

Tip of the iceberg. The Provincial Strategy to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation on the Internet brought together OPP and 26 local police agencies during the month of November, for an extensive investigation. The result was announced on Dec. 6: a total of 551 charges laid against 122 persons, including 11 youths. The charges included sexual assault, sexual interference, possession of child pornography, and production of child porn. A 30-year-old Bradford West Gwillimbury man, Alexander C. Testa, identified as a teacher at four York Region schools, was arrested and charged with two counts of luring a person under the age of 16, sexual interference and attempted sexual assault. The investigation also identified 55 victims, who were referred to agencies for assistance, and 17 firearms were seized. Police called the numbers “the tip of the iceberg,” when it comes to child sexual exploitation in Ontario. 

Guilty plea. Back on Aug. 30 of 2017, Ryan Walker and 55-year-old Tahir Ali were charged with manslaughter, in the April death of 23-year-old Shawn Kelly Jr. of Innisfil. Police argued the pair knowingly sold Kelly a lethal mix of fentanyl and heroin, leading to a fatal overdose. Initially charging the accused with trafficking, South Simcoe police set a precedent by re-arresting the drug dealers on a manslaughter charge – and on Dec. 7, Walker pleaded guilty to negligence causing death and trafficking in a controlled substance. He will be sentenced on Jan. 23, 2019. Ali has a court appearance on Jan. 18, continuing a preliminary hearing. 

Intolerance. A local rabbi was shocked after a large menorah, set up in front of the Bradford Courthouse to mark the eight days of Hanukkah, was partially covered with a garbage bag on Dec. 8. On the two previous days, someone had unplugged the electric menorah. “The act does not reflect the Town’s values of inclusion,” posted the town of BWG on Facebook. 

No support. The Town of BWG asked staff to look into the feasibility of separating from the County of Simcoe. Bradford West Gwillimbury’s concerns included rising tax assessments, currently the highest in the county, and the lack of county support for affordable housing projects in the municipality. BWG Deputy Mayor James Leduc decided to run for warden of Simcoe County on Dec. 11 - but his nomination had no seconder at county council. Tiny Township Mayor George Cornell was elected county warden; Clearview Township Deputy Mayor Barry Burton was elected deputy warden. 

Christmas giving. December was filled with Christmas concerts, bazaars, craft shows, breakfast with Santa – and a tremendous outpouring of generosity from the community. Residents were invited to Stuff the Command Post with new toys and gifts, for children and families receiving services from Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions – and responded, donated 1,781 toys valued at about $32,000, and 1,417 gift cards. The gifts were delivered to Family Connexions in time for Christmas. 

More giving! CrossTrainers Ministries granted Christmas wishes for clients of A Hand-Up Clothing Room, at a Christmas Dinner held at the old St. Mary’s School, schools, Town of BWG employees, police, firefighters, local companies and grocery stores held food drives for the Helping Hand Food Bank, and delivered mountains of food. Even pre-schoolers got into the spirit. The Simcoe County Paramedics collected more toys for Family Connexions, and there were events celebrating the festive season. On Dec. 20, a small army of volunteers handed out Christmas hampers and toys specifically purchased to meet each family’s wishes, through the food bank. 

Pot decision deferred. The new town council held its first regular meeting on Dec. 18 – when it decided to defer a vote on whether or not to permit retail cannabis stores in BWG. The vote was deferred to Jan. 8, to allow more public input into the contentious issue. The town has until Jan. 22 to come to a decision – although the province has already stated that no municipality under a population of 50,000 will receive a licence for a retail pot shop at this time. Coun. Raj Sandhu was concerned that the county might get a share of the limited funds promised by the province “for doing nothing,” while the lower tier municipalities are faced with the cost of enforcement. Location of pot shops was also a concern for Coun. Gary Baynes. The province has not allowed the municipalities to set the rules; the only restrictions imposed are a 46 metre distance from a school property line, and the requirement to install security cameras. Deputy Mayor James Leduc said it would be "hypocritical" to ban pot shops, when BWG is home to MedReleaf, a large marijuana producer. 

Open at last. The Highway 400-Line 5 interchange in Bradford opened overnight on Dec. 18-19, without fanfare. In the works since 2010, pre-construction of the interchange began in 2016, while actual demolition of the Line 5 bridge and the construction of a new bridge began in 2017. 

This month and 2018 wrap up with Family First Night at the BWG Leisure Centre – a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration taking place Dec. 31, from 6-9 p.m., with inflatables, free swimming and skating, live music, free hot chocolate, and a mini-fireworks display.

And a final reminder from police, not to drink and drive: the Festive Season R.I.D.E. campaign continues into January.