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Irish Real Live Festival focuses on alternative ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up — and with it, a whole bunch of stereotypes about Irish culture. The organizers of the Irish Real Life Festival in Kitchener wants to move beyond the usual narrative towards a deeper understanding of Irish culture in the broader world.

The eight-day festival is in its 9th year and celebrates all elements of Irish culture and not just those which, in 2019, led to a party that at its peak saw 33,000 students converge on Ezra St in Waterloo.

The Festival kicked off last weekend in Kitchener amidst local and international tensions. Organizers of the Irish Life Festival spoke with CKMS News about how they are working to expand people’s understanding of the Irish story by, if not detaching it from the association with heavy drinking, at least showcasing another side of Irish culture.

Within this year’s program, various events draw on Irish storytelling, spirituality and history to demonstrate similarities between different cultures and how, even in the face of war, peace is possible.

Waterloo Region Paramedic Services exceed response time targets, but off-load delays remain a challenge

MP Holmes
Kitchener, ON

High patient volumes and staffing shortages within local hospital emergency rooms are impacting the ability of local paramedics in the Waterloo Region to respond to critical calls.

The preliminary Paramedic Services Annual Report was presented to the Community and Health Services Committee at Regional Council (item 8.2 on the regular agenda) this week reporting response statistics, off-load delay mitigation, and changes to the categorization of system alerts and patient acuity.

Although call volumes requesting paramedic help increased only by 1% in 2023, in 2022 call volumes increased by 11% over the previous year, and the paramedic service is still adjusting to these high call volumes.

While the local paramedic service exceeded all of their provincial and regional response time targets, the challenges posed by off-load delays, which happen when paramedics are held up in hospital emergency departments waiting for patients to be transferred to the care of a hospital, are a significant factor in response time.

Kitchener demonstrators demand immediate arms embargo on Israel

MP Holmes
Kitchener, ON

Early Wednesday (Feb. 28), about 50 demonstrators in Kitchener blocked the entrance to local arms manufacturer Colt Canada on Wilson Avenue, demanding that the Canadian government impose an immediate and total arms embargo on Israel.

The demonstration is part of a broader protest across the country which is demanding a Canadian arms embargo on Israel and highlighting military exports from Canada to Israel. It was organized by Labour 4 PalestineLabour Against the Arms Trade, and World BEYOND War, in response to the call by a coalition of more than 30 Palestinian unions and worker organizations to end all complicity and stop the flow of weapons to Israel.

CKMS has more on the story.

Protestors demand change after fatal police shooting, some Black community members question demonstration

MP Holmes
Kitchener, ON

About 60 people gathered in front of the Waterloo Region Police Services (WRPS) building in Kitchener on Friday to protest the fatal shooting by police of Nicholas Nembhard, a 31-year-old Black man.

Nembhard was killed in the evening of Feb. 19, the third such fatal shooting in the region since 2007. Police confirmed Feb. 20 that the Special Investigations Unit was investigating the shooting.

The next day, on Feb. 21, the African, Caribbean, and Black Network (ACBN) put out a statement condemning the WRPS’ killing of Nembhard, a “Black man in distress due to a mental health crisis.”

Organizers of the Friday demonstration explained why they felt the gathering was necessary and explained their demands of police, including changes to responses to mental health calls.

But some people felt organizers had not done enough to include the Black community and had used the killing of a Black man to push their own agenda.

CKMS has more on the story.

New report sounds alarm that Ontario taxpayers’ money is being diverted from public hospitals to private health care

MP Holmes Kitchener, ON

Public hospitals in Ontario have been starved of billions of dollars under the Ford government while private health clinics have received a windfall of taxpayers’ funds, according to a new report by the Ontario Health Coalition.

“Robbing the Public to Build Private: the Ford Government’s Hospital Privatization Scheme” was released by the Waterloo Region Health Coalition, in part with the larger Ontario Health Coalition, at the Waterloo Public Library on Feb. 21.

According to the OHC report, over the last few years, private clinics in Ontario received a 212 per cent increase in funding in one year, rising from approximately $38 million in 2022-23 to over $120 million in 2023-24. At the same time, public hospitals received an increase of 0.5 per cent to their operating budgets. In Kitchener alone, this underfunding has manifested in 140 vacant RN positions due to lack of funding.

CKMS has more on the story.

Housing or Heritage? Kitchener struggles with tough questions

February 2, 2024

Much of the six-hour Kitchener City council meeting on January 29, focused on delegates’ opposition to the City’s proposed Growing Together Plan.  

One of the objectives of the plan is to increase affordable housing stock close to the ION stations and major transit areas.

Most of the delegates to Council were in various ways associated with property development and opposed the recommendations in the report.

There were others, not related in a financial capacity to issues of rezoning, who also disagreed with the recommendations.

Some of the objections raised were about the challenges of preserving the integrity of heritage neighbourhoods during a housing crisis in which the city wants intensification.

Gail Pool of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario North Waterloo Region branch was one of the people who presented opposition to the Report’s recommendations for the Victoria Park Heritage District.

Sandbag structures may provide a safe and warm refuge for encampment residents this weather

Tent fires have become a common occurrence in the winter at the Victoria Street encampment in Kitchener and a local housing advocacy group is helping find solutions.

FightBack KW, thinks it might have found an answer. The organization is building temporary sandbag structures that two people can live in and up to six can congregate in.

Fire is a problem because the tents used at the encampment were not designed for winter use. In order to survive the winter outside, people must insulate or warm their tents, which carries huge risks and can be a difficult balance to achieve.

FightBack KW is looking for community partnerships with relevant businesses to fund and help build the structures. The next build day that individuals are welcome to participate in is February 3, this Saturday from 11-dark.

Wren Wombwell of FightBack KW talked to CKMS News about the situation and the sandbag structures.

City of Kitchener votes to repurpose instead of recycle old computers

Kitchener City Council voted unanimously on Monday to divert city-owned end-of-life computer equipment from the e-waste stream.

Instead, the City will donate this equipment to the Working Centre’s Computer Recycling program, which already accepts technology donations and provides low-cost computer equipment to the community.

The city examined the possibility of running this program in-house, but collaborating with the Working Centre provides benefit to the community and makes sense logistically and financially.

The Computer Recycling Program at the Working Centre, at 58 Queen St. in downtown Kitchener, is open two days a week to provide the community with access to affordable technology.

Chief Medical Officer warns of potentially deadly disease on the rise in Waterloo Region

MP Holmes

Invasive Group A Streptococcus (IGAS) – which can cause afflictions from a sore throat to flesh-eating disease – is on the rise in Waterloo.

Chief Medical officer of Health Dr Hsiu-Li Wong presented the respiratory disease update at the Region of Waterloo council meeting on Wednesday evening.

While the overall number of people infected is still low as of early January, the Public Health Agency of Ontario noted that 540 infections were reported in Ontario alone from October 2023 to the end of December. Within this data were 6 children under the age of 9 who succumbed to the disease.

Dr .Wong described symptoms of a severe IGAS infection, which include fever, sore throat, neck pain and rash that continue to worsen.

Epidemiologists do not yet understand why the disease has spiked and recommend taking precautions including proper hand hygiene and staying home when sick.

Region opts for wait and see approach for Erb’s Road outdoor shelter closure

The debate over the future of the outdoor shelter at 1001 Erb’s Road was reignited at the Region of Waterloo Community and Health Services Committee on January 16.

The Region must either find a solution to the wastewater management problem at the site or move the shelter altogether before April 2025. While some councillors wanted staff to begin to work on a wind down plan, others thought it could wait.

The site, at 1001 Erb’s Rd, sits beside the landfill just west of the Wilmot line, making it primarily a concern for Wilmot Township.

Councillor and Wilmot mayor Natasha Salonen’s motion was a response to the admission at the November 7 Community and Health Services Committee meeting in which regional staff told council there was no plan in place for the shelter to draw to a close. Regardless, Councillor Salonen’s motion was defeated.

Birds of prey numbers fall in recent Christmas bird count

The 2023 Christmas Bird Count in Kitchener recorded a decreased number of birds of prey, such as american kestrels and rough legged hawks, compared to previous years, according to Ethan Gosnell, the local coordinator for the international project.

The Christmas Bird Count takes place across North America, allowing for tracking of winter bird populations and distributions. It is organized by Audubon in the USA, and the in Canada by Birds Canada. In 2023, the Christmas Bird Count marked its 90th year in Waterloo Region.

Ethan discussed the rising numbers of some more typical summer birds in the Christmas count, in particular, the green winged teal, and what happens to these warmer weather birds when the seasonal freezing weather sets in.

Amidst a tainted drug supply, drug testing in Waterloo Region saves lives

In early January, Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) in Kitchener announced through Instagram that 18 out of 30 – or 60% — of fentanyl samples tested also contained the animal sedative, xylazine.

Leigh Wardlaw of CTS talked to CKMS news about xylazine, why it is added to the supply, the health impacts, and the wider problem of adulterating drugs.

Leigh also explains the importance and impact of testing, and how to access the service. Although, that access may be limited as CTS’s current funding ends at the end of March, leaving the service with an uncertain future.

Some research cited in the story:

Singing for peace in Waterloo and across North America

Over 200 people went to Waterloo City Hall on Tuesday December 19  to sing for peace. The  ‘Mennonite Day of Action Hymn Sing for a Ceasefire’ was put on by the group Mennonite Action, which says it is a movement of Mennonites who believe they have a responsibility to speak out for peace and justice.

Sam Ramer of Mennonite Action talked about the purpose of the hymn sing and why they are focusing on Palestine.

But Mennonite Action’s event was not only in Waterloo. On December 19, over two thousand people came to sing hymns in 42 cities and towns across North America.

Thank you to A.S. Compton, for permission to play their recording of the hymn sing  on the show.

Homelessness organization obtains funding amid accusations of unfairness and inequity

Tensions simmered when the topic of A Better Tent City (ABTC) came up at the last Waterloo Regional Council meeting of 2023. ABTC is tiny home community in Kitchener that currently houses 50 chronic homeless people.

On one side were those who supported the motion from Councillor and Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic which granted $236,390 for the next two years to ABTC. On the other side were those who said the grant was unfair and inequitable.

Several Councillors insisted the wording of Councillor Vrbanovic’s motion be removed as they felt it was insulting to staff. Another criticism arose because six other groups had been denied original funding but did not afterwards ask Council for money, some councillors felt this was unfair and inequitable

Despite the criticism, Council carried Councillor Vrbanovic’s motion granting ABTC $236,390 for the next two years

CKMS News – 2023-12-22- Cambridge council votes against investigating affordable home builds above city parking lots

CKMSNews-2023-12-22-Cambridge Rejects Affordable Housing in Parking Lots Study

by: dan kellar

Cambridge – Joined by 4 city councilors on December 19th, Cambridge mayor Jan Liggett voted against a motion to investigate the plausibility building affordable housing in raised buildings above city owned parking lots.

The motion, brought forward by ward 7 councilor Scott Hamilton was supported by all the delegates who presented at the meeting including resident Matthew Rodgers, the advocacy groups “Citizens for Cambridge”, “For the City”, and “Waterloo Region Yes In My Backyard”, and as stated by councilor Earnshaw, the Cambridge Business Improvement Association was also on board.

Despite strong support for the motion from delegates, and the voting support of councilors Kimpson, Earnshaw,  Roberts, and Hamilton, the motion was ultimately defeated, wIth Mayor Liggett suggesting churches should be converting their own parking lots for housing.  Before calling the vote, Liggett stated that voting “no” does not mean that a councilor is against building affordable housing.

Cambridge MP leads the right-to-repair revolution

On October 18 of this year, the House of Commons unanimously passed the right to repair amendment under the Copyright Act (Bill C-244). The bill, originally tabled by Cambridge MP Bryan May, will allow the circumvention of a technological protection measure (TMP) so long as it is for diagnosis, maintenance, or repair purposes.

TPMs are meant to protect proprietary information or software, but they also inhibit an individual’s right and ability to repair any device that they own, and so often devices end up in landfills. Waste diversion concerns are among the key reasons for this amendment, as is the expense that repair places on people.

Murray Zink is the founder of 4RepairKW and the UW Repair Hub and has been promoting repair for many years. CKMS News talked to both Bryan May and Murray Zink.



New Waterloo Region hospital site to be announced in springtime

Waterloo Region residents will know the site of their new hospital by spring, according to the presidents of local hospitals.

The presidents, Ron Gagnon, Hospital President and CEO, Grand River Hospital, and Mark Fam, President, St. Mary’s Hospital, updated Kitchener City Council on the plans for a new hospital and new hospital system in Waterloo Region.

They are waiting for site selection to be finalized and for approval from the Ministry of Health before proceeding to the next phase of planning in spring 2024. The next phase will consist of functional programming, which determines what programs and services will be accommodated in the new facilities, and what resources are required to make that happen.

The main priorities currently are to identify the preferred site for the new hospital and to create a vision for working together in shared facilities.

Waterloo Region all-councils meeting ends a difficult year on a note of hope

This year has been another year full of frustration, if not outright despair, for housing in Waterloo Region. But at the all-councils meeting on December 15, Build Now Waterloo Region offered some hope.

Build Now Waterloo Region is a new local collaboration of for-profit and not-for profit groups which was announced back in July.  The objective of the coalition is to build 10,000 non-market and perpetually non-profit homes by 2030.

Philip Mills, the chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region, one of the central players in this initiative, updated the all-council’s meeting on this ground-breaking project.

Of these 10,000 homes, 7,000 will be available for purchase and 3,000 will be available for rent.  A one bedroom home is set to sell for $280,000, a two bedroom for $330,000 and a three bedroom for $400,000. This project will specifically prevent ‘flipping,’ investment property acquisition, or other profit-seeking schemes.

Increased number of firework-related complaints sparks concern and action on Kitchener City Council

Of the three firework celebrations allowed in Kitchener in 2023, Diwali fireworks drew the most complaints, leaving Mayor Berry Vrbanovic to speculate if this reflects less tolerance in the community towards the Hindu festival.

Other councillors believed it was more of a lack of education by both those setting off the fireworks and those calling the bylaw office to complain.  To counter this, new fireworks regulations include a comprehensive education campaign to educate residents and an increase in the number of bylaw enforcement officers on duty from two to eight for firework days.

Councillor Ayo Owodunni announced that 184 complaints were made to the bylaw office regarding fireworks in 2023, with Diwali accounting for 63 of these, Victoria Day, 54 and Canada Day, 32. Complaints are likely underreported as email/phone complaints after the fact are not included in these totals.

The motion introducing these new regulations about non-compliance with city’s fireworks regulations was carried.

CKMS News -2023-12-15- First stage of approvals for housing development on former Kraus Flooring factory site

CKMS News – 2023-12-15 – First stage of approvals for housing development on former Kraus Flooring factory site

by: dan kellar

Waterloo – On December 11th, following discussion, presentations, and legal clarifications, the first stages of a 12-tower development on the former Kraus Flooring factory lands in North Waterloo were approved through a unanimous vote from city councilors. With support for the project and the necessary changes to the site’s zoning and by-laws, the developer can move further into project planning.  

This show features clips from the council meeting, focusing on updates to the original 2021 site plan, the status of a pedestrian bridge over the adjacent highway, and questions about promises for affordable and attainable housing in this purpose built rental development which features a proposed total of 5,452 bedrooms in 3,353 residential units.

Delegates included site owner Richard Boyer of 65 Northfield Drive Inc, consultant Chris Pidgeon of GSP Group, and Waterloo resident Ashwin Annamalai. Councilors Hanmer, Bodaly, Roe, Freeman, and Vasic also spoke, as did Mayor McCabe.

Waterloo resident battles the perfectly manicured lawn

Waterloo City is moving closer to loosening restrictions on front lawn grass, making way for increased naturalization.

After three years of responding to neighbours’ complaints about the length of her grass to bylaw, Waterloo resident Masha Kuznetsova asked Waterloo City Council on Monday night  for changes to Bylaw No. 2011-123, the Lot maintenance bylaw.

She asked the city to increase grass height of up to 40 cm (15.7 inches) and to reduce the requirement for a buffer strip around a naturalized area. Currently in the city of Waterloo, the maximum allowed grass height is 20 cm (8 inches). While the current buffer strip regulation is 1 metre, proposed changes to the by-law would reduce the buffer strip to 30 cm (11.8 inches).

Staff explained they receive about 400-800 long grass complaints per season.

Also in the meeting the city’s transportation services presented new boulevard garden guidelines which will allow for increased naturalization in lawns and on boulevards throughout the City of Waterloo. In addition, the city parks department kicked off the park’s urban forest management strategy by examining rules regarding trees on private property.

Listen to the story above:

The people versus a developer: Kitchener City Council defers tough decision

The rental housing crisis was on full display in front of Kitchener City Council on Monday night.

A proposed 13-storey mixed-use building at 93-99 Benton Street and 39-43 St. George Street, within the Cedar Hill neighbourhood in Kitchener, would offer 96 new units but would also demolish the 13 current affordable units, evicting the current tenants.

Eric Schneider, Senior Planner at the City of Kitchener laid out what the developer is asking for and the arrangements with the current residents.

The applicant, Ideal Capital Limited from Mississauga, a self-proclaimed ‘premium’ real estate developer, answered Council’s questions and, after their request, indicated he would meet with residents.

Thirteen delegates asked Council to reject this proposal. Delegates included three representatives from a local tenants’ rights group (ACORN WR), several current residents of the townhouses, and neighbours from the Cedar Hill community.

Against several of the delegates’ wishes, City Council chose to defer their decision until the January 22, 2024 meeting.


Listen to the show above:

City of Kitchener must decide how to fill vacant council seat

The election of Aislinn Clancy to provincial politics leaves the Ward 10 seat empty.

At City Council on December 4, Mayor Barry Vrbanovic congratulated out-going councillor and MPP-elect Aislinn Clancy on her byelection win on November 30 and put forward the City’s options.

Once Clancy resigns and the Ward 10 seat is officially declared vacant, Kitchener city council will have 60 days to decide whether by appointment or a by-election to fill the seat.

While the cost of a by-election is a important consideration, with roughly three years still left in the mandate, some residents believe the Ward 10 seat should be decided by the electorate.

The last regular municipal election was on October 24, 2022, and the next election is scheduled for Monday, October 26, 2026, which is just under three years away.

Listen to the story above:

International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people marked by Scotiabank protests in Uptown Waterloo

The UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on Wednesday was marked with a protest outside Scotiabank in uptown Waterloo.

November 29 is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, marks the passage of the United Nations Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947, which partitioned Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

The group was protesting the bank’s involvement with Elbit Systems, which is the primary provider of drones and land-based equipment to the the Israeli military, and called on them to divest from the company.

The protest itself was peaceful and lasted for about 90 minutes during which Scotiabank locked its door and called police. Police questioned protestors but left soon after. Scotiabank refused comment, but in an email to Reuters earlier this week, the bank accused protestors of spreading misinformation and hate speech. Scotiabank stated their exposure to Elbit is via mutual funds managed by their asset management arm.That mutual fund is Scotiabank’s 1832 Asset Management mutual fund which is the third-biggest shareholder in Elbit.

In 2021, Elbit reported revenue of 5.28 billion USD.

This protest against Scotiabank follows several others in recent week, including on November 14, at the Giller Prize ceremony, which celebrates Canadian literature and which is sponsored by the bank, and on November 17 on Bay Street in Toronto.

Listen to the story above:

Kitchener Centre by-election: candidates’ ideas and approaches to the redevelopment of the former Charles Street bus station

In the middle of downtown Kitchener, in between City Hall and Victoria Park, is one of the last pieces of available prime real estate in downtown Kitchener. The former Charles St. bus terminal at Gaukel St and Charles St, which sits on 2.94 acres, has sat empty and for the most part unused, since 2019.

The building, which still stands, was designed by local modernist architect John Lingwood in 1989. The property, which is currently being considered for a number of projects, is owned by the Region of Waterloo (who own 88%) and the City of Kitchener (who own 12%), but regardless of who owns it, the community, including the member of provincial parliament, will be part of whatever comes next.

With the Kitchener Centre by-election this week, CKMS took the opportunity to ask the four front-runner candidates, what do they personally think would be an appropriate use of that space and how would that benefit the people of the region?

The four main candidates are Rob Elliott of the Progressive Conservatives, Debbie Chapman of the NDP, Kelly Steiss of the Ontario Liberal party, and Aislinn Clancy of the Ontario Greens. Many attempts over 10 days were made to contact the Progressive Conservative candidate Rob Elliott, but we did not hear back from the PCs in time for broadcast.

In answer to our question, Kelly Steiss focused on the importance of collaboration and how her experience will lend itself well to the development of the project.

Aislinn Clancy also focused on the importance of collaboration and in addition the need to include and manifest Kitchener and regional-specific values.

Debbie Chapman talked about the property’s split ownership and the suggestions that she has heard, including turning it into an indigenous centre with a drop in centre and affordable housing, or extending Victoria Park into the site, moving the entertainment centre, the Kitchener Aud, to the site, or building a conference centre for the space.

Advance voting has closed, and reports show over 5400 people took advantage of the early voting. You can vote in person on election day from 9 AM to 9 PM (Eastern Time) at your assigned voting location based on your home address.

This is one in a series of shows about the Kitchener Centre by-election and in which we ask candidates some of the less-asked questions that are important to our community.