Firefighters battling structure fire in west end of Wasaga Beach

A massive fire in a shoreline neighbourhood in the west end of Wasaga Beach destroyed one home and did significant damage to another. Lia Velez said her husband started to yell for her to get out of their home in Blue Water on the Bay off Beachwood Road, after their neighbour’s home became engulfed in flames. “I didn’t realize how big the fire was,” Velez said. “I came out and (my neighbour’s house) was already engulfed. We’re thankfully all OK, but where do you begin now? You’re watching your home burn down in front of your eyes — you can’t even imagine.” She grabbed the family dog and safely evacuated before the fire burned started to burn through the second floor of their home. The resident of the home where the fire originated declined to comment to a reporter. Emergency crews were called to the neighbourhood at 12:17 p.m. Crews arrived to find one home engulfed, and the fire jumping from the first single detached dwelling to the second. Wasaga Beach Deputy Fire Chief Craig Williams estimated the damage to both homes, as well as to neighbouring buildings, at around $2 million. Across the street from the fire, the radiant heat melted the siding of buildings, including the neighbourhood’s club house. Williams said the one resident arrived home and “could see embers from the eaves of the garage.” Everyone was able to evacuate safely, he said. Two firefighters were assessed by paramedics on the scene for heat-related complications, as neighbours brought bottled water for the crews fighting the blaze. Approximately 20 firefighters from Wasaga Beach, and four from Collingwood were on the scene with that department’s aerial truck. Firefighters from Clearview and Springwater fire departments were called in to provide coverage for the two Wasaga fire halls. Williams said it took 90 minutes for crews to bring the fire under control. Russ Giffin said he was in a back room of his house when he saw thick smoke. He stepped outside and saw a neighbouring home’s garage engulfed. “It’s gotten bigger, by far,” he said, adding he watched a neighbour attempt to use a garden hose on the flames. The Ontario Fire Marshal has also been called because of the dollar value of the loss. OPP are also on the scene and while Beachwood remains open, police are asking people to avoid the area. The Town of Wasaga Beach has mentioned on social media that this fire is requiring the department to use a significant amount of water and residents may experience discoloured water due to the ongoing water demands.

Who’s behind the Justin Trudeau protests? This Newmarket mom is among the influencers urging people to show up and speak out against the ‘segregation of humanity’

A loose network of COVID-19 vaccine and lockdown protesters is using digital tools to make the federal election campaign one of the most vitriolic in recent memory, congregating in encrypted chats to track Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s whereabouts and organize disruptions of his public events. The protesters are posting the schedule for Trudeau’s public events the night before, including the addresses and times of his campaign events. In one chat, a member suggested that they received the itineraries from “a media person.” Another well-known GTA anti-lockdown protester bragged that he’s been sharing Trudeau’s itinerary online. The Star has been monitoring a group with more than 500 members, which uses the encrypted messaging app Telegram, since Saturday — the morning after dozens of angry protesters prompted Trudeau to cancel a campaign rally in the village of Bolton, Ont. The group is not explicitly partisan. While its chat is filled with expletive-laced rants against the Liberal leader, its members also criticize Premier Doug Ford over vaccination passports and Education Minister Stephen Lecce over back-to-school rules. Once Trudeau’s location is known, some group members organize carpools, while others meet up at the events and post live video from the crowd. Afterwards, they celebrate their efforts. “Looking to car pool with whom ever is going to be in Cambridge I’m in Bolton,” wrote one user, posting Trudeau’s itinerary for Sunday. “Just tried to get into the campaign office … Big crowd here of patriots. I think it’s Montreal tomorrow (but) even his own people don’t know,” wrote another, before an event on Sunday in Cambridge, Ont. That protester claimed to have successfully eavesdropped on Liberal volunteers discussing upcoming campaign stops in Montreal and Iqaluit. “If it is (Montreal) let me know my hometown and I will send many people,” another user replied. The Trudeau campaign did not expect this. While the Liberal leader preaches compassion and understanding in response to the protesters’ anger, his campaign did not anticipate either the level of anger being expressed nor the protesters’ apparent ability to co-ordinate. It is not known if other like-minded groups are mobilizing to disrupt Trudeau’s campaign, but the Telegram channel provides a window into how the small-scale protests that have greeted Trudeau on the campaign trail have morphed into angry, co-ordinated crowds. ‘For anyone who wants to know where Trudeau is going to be at next or who wants to partake in these rallies and these protests and show our forces, then send me a message and I’ll send you the link for the Telegram group. Enough. We got to let them know that wherever he comes, he is not welcomed,’ said Samantha Denuzzo, one of the channel’s most prominent promoters, in a video posted to Instagram on Aug. 28. “And what’s crazy is that he looks like a f—— fool, like he looked like a mad man just waving to the air, like waving to the people. I was there.” Denuzzo told the Star she has promoted the channel and the protests to her nearly 10,000 followers on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, because people are afraid and angry. In an interview on Monday, the 32-year-old Newmarket resident and mother of three said Trudeau and other politicians are pushing for a “segregation of humanity” between those who are vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who are unvaccinated. It is for that reason, she said, that she has also advised her followers to join survivalist “be prepared” Instagram accounts in case unvaccinated people are barred from grocery stores in the fall — despite the fact that there have been no credible reports that any such move has been contemplated. “It’s going to be very, very dark times,” Denuzzo said in another video posted to Instagram in mid-August. “You’re going to need people to lean on and you’re going to need people within your community that you can lean on. But, like, are we just going to wait for that time to come? Are we just going to sit back and just wait for that time to roll in?” The Telegram channel monitored by the Star had 510 members as of Monday afternoon. It is owned by Ryan Michalowski, who frequently posts COVID-19-related conspiracy theory memes on his Facebook and Instagram channels. In a message to the Star late Monday, Michalowski said he did not “know or control what anyone talks about in there. The chat is for people standing up for the kids.” “These small, kind of micro-communities are part of a larger movement,” said Elizabeth Simons, a researcher with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network who has been monitoring anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination communities. “So when 50 to 100 people show up to these protests right now on the campaign trail, they’re not all being organized by one single source. They are being given the information from numerous different sources. It may look organized, but it likely very much isn’t.” Simons said she sees similarities between groups protesting against M-103, the federal motion condemning Islamophobia in Canada; the so-called Canadian Yellow Vest movement; and what she calls the “COVID-denialism movement.” “There are influencers, there are main nexuses that share information. But largely these are a number, sometimes upwards of hundreds of groups and forums, Facebook groups, Telegram groups that basically share information back and forth,” Simons said. But protesters like Denuzzo say they are not “anti-anything.” They say they are angry and frustrated with pandemic restrictions, vaccination passports and vaccination mandates. “To be clear, I am not anti-vaccine,” Denuzzo told the Star, saying she was not opposed to childhood vaccinations against diseases such as the measles, because “they have been tested and proven.” She rejects the expert consensus; in her judgment, COVID-19 vaccines are too new. “What I am against is experiments on children,” said Denuzzo, who would not disclose her own vaccination status. “I think it is very strange that people can suddenly think they can ask about your personal medical decisions,” she said, echoing a common talking point among opponents of vaccination mandates and passports. She said the movement has no leaders, just social media pages for “concerned citizens” to share information. Political parties are not funding the protests, she said. Trudeau has had run-ins on the campaign trail with individuals or small groups of anti-vaccination protesters since the federal election kicked off. It started on Aug. 16 in Cobourg, Ont. a day after Trudeau called the snap election. Video made at Trudeau’s event showed maskless demonstrators shouting obscenities as the Liberal leader greeted supporters. Since then, anti-vaccination demonstrators have been a fixture of Trudeau’s public events. Reporters travelling with the Liberal leader indicated that Trudeau’s typical response was to tell them to “please get vaccinated.” But despite Trudeau’s dismissal, videos from the encounters were tense — people screaming at Trudeau, a concerned-looking RCMP security detail, a volunteer getting knocked to the ground, increased police presence. The Liberal campaign also suspects that at least one protester followed the campaign from Ontario to British Columbia. The situation came to a head on Friday. Citing security concerns, the Liberal campaign abruptly cancelled a planned rally in the small community of Bolton, Ont. Trudeau’s campaign had no public events on Saturday. On Sunday, the protests resumed. A member of the Telegram channel posted Trudeau’s Sunday itinerary, which was initially shared on the Telegram page of Chris Saccoccia, a COVID-19 protester with a large following who is also known as Chris Sky. “Give Trudeau the welcome he deserves,” wrote Sky. “Awesome turnout! We found the p—-,” wrote one user after Sunday’s protest in Cambridge. “Amazing work everyone … United we stand against this piece of s—.” “Anyone know if he is attending elsewhere?” At Trudeau’s next campaign stop in Waterloo, a protester carried a sign that accused him of “high treason” and depicted him being led to the gallows. The sign carried the logo of The Line Canada, a prominent anti-lockdown protest group. The vitriol that was evident in Denuzzo’s most recent video — which was filled with expletives, unlike her past calls to action on Instagram — was a result, she says, of high emotion. Asked if there is a line between protesters being angry with Trudeau and calling for his execution, Denuzzo said she would not “judge or tell anyone what they should or should not say.” She went on to further justify the demostrators’ position with a baseless claim. “I think that is a rhetorical question, and I could turn it around and say it goes both ways, and say that Trudeau is killing children by forcing vaccines on them.” Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: Grant LaFleche is a St. Catharines-based investigative reporter with the Standard. Reach him via email:

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? Literacy council storefront in Alliston getting facelift, accessibility upgrade

The façade of the office in downtown Alliston is getting a major overhaul. JUST THE FACTS • The improvement project, which is valued at more than $30,000, will bring a brand-new look to the exterior of the historic building with the addition of new lighting, signage and other upgrades. “We were very pleased that when we removed the siding, the original crown moulding was underneath, and the original brick under the stone facade was in decent shape,” noted executive director Shira Harrison McIntyre. “By restoring the original character of the building, we anticipate a positive effect on the streetscape and a more welcoming entrance for the public.” • The project has been approved for a Community Improvement Plan grant from the town, but the final cost won’t be known until the project nears completion. • The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is also chipping in $8,575 to make the entrance accessible. This will be done by creating a wider entrance, a new door with an automatic opening button and a ramp. • A local contractor, Silvercrest Construction, is performing the work. • The organization remains open during the duration of the construction project. For more details, visit or call .

Barrie council notes: City sitting on $4-million surplus, councillors take aim at payday loan sites

Barrie is rolling in dough, at least for now. The city’s latest economic report shows the municipality is sitting on a $4-million surplus, thanks largely to staffing reductions and a drop in electricity and natural-gas consumption. However, that amount is expected to “normalize” by the end of the year, with an anticipated increase in operational spending and the possibility of further COVID-19 restrictions coming. The city is also still calculating expenses from the July 15 tornado, chief administrative officer Michael Prowse said. “We’re not forecasting a large or significant surplus at the end of the year,” he said during a general committee meeting Sept. 13. “These are certainly times full of ups and downs.” Mayor Jeff Lehman noted the city is doing “a lot better than we were at this time last year, during the first few months of the pandemic.” Restrictions likely coming for payday loan sites Councillors are looking to tighten the rules around non-traditional money lenders. General committee approved a motion Monday that calls on staff to look into regulating payday loan services through the city’s general business licensing bylaw. The intention of the recommendation, which must be ratified by council next week, is to restrict the overall number and concentration of such sites, Coun. Keenan Aylwin said. “They provide loans with exorbitant interest rates, often that disproportionately harm vulnerable people,” he said. “These establishments don’t add much to a neighbourhood.” As part of the plan, staff will also review provisions in the zoning bylaw related to businesses that require minimum separation distances — specifically tattoo and piercing parlours, pawn shops and payday sites. That review will be part of the municipality’s upcoming zoning-bylaw update. Coun. Sergio Morales, who introduced the motion, initially only wanted to stop new payday loan sites from opening along Dunlop Street. , there are actually at least two payday centres on Dunlop right now. “It’s not about shutting businesses down,” he said. “Now is the time to do this, when they’re not prevalent on Dunlop.” Tourism Barrie will continue to receive MAT funding The city’s main tourism marketing agency will be backed by the municipality for the foreseeable future. Council is also expected to approve a four-year municipal accommodation tax (MAT) agreement with Tourism Barrie during its meeting next week. The tentative deal means the agency will continue to collect MAT on behalf of the city. Tourism Barrie will get 50 per cent of total revenue collected, plus a $35,000-per-year collection fee. MAT came into effect in January 2019. It is essentially a four per cent fee charged on stays in hotels, motels and inns. The purpose is to provide stable, predictable, sustainable and performance-based funding for sales and marketing programs. More than $1.2 million was collected through MAT during the first year, though that dropped to less than $700,000 in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Canine unit called to multi-vehicle collision in Innisfil

A canine unit was called in to locate an injured driver after a multi-vehicle collision in Innisfil Saturday Sept. 11, said .  The incident happened on around 3 p.m. Police say a woman driver involved in the collision ran into the woods and was unresponsive when found by the canine team. According to police, the driver of a Nissan Versa travelling northbound on Sideroad 10 struck a Ford cargo van, which was travelling in front of the Nissan. The Nissan then crossed into southbound traffic and hit a Volkswagen Jetta head-on. A southbound Honda CRV then hit the back of the Jetta and went into the ditch, police said.  After the collision, witnesses told police the woman driving the Nissan got out of her vehicle and ran into the woods. Witnesses said the woman, the lone occupant of the Nissan, was injured.  The police canine unit was called and they setup a search zone in the area.  Canine Nitro located the woman a short time later. Police said, the woman was in a wooded area concealed under very thick foliage.  The woman was unresponsive and had to be carried out of the woods by police, firefighters and paramedics, police said.  She was taken to a local hospital. Two people from the Jetta were also taken to hospital. All of the injuries were considered non-life-threatening, police said. The investigation is ongoing.  Police are asking anyone with information to contact South Simcoe Police at , or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477. You can submit information online at . 

Criminal record checks can be done online, Barrie police remind residents

With back-to-school right around the corner, Barrie residents are reminded that criminal record checks can be completed online. Online record checks are quick, easy and secure, and in most cases results are provided electronically, police note. Vulnerable sector checks can also be completed online, but in some cases may require in-person followup or fingerprinting. Launched in 2017, the online service allows Barrie residents to securely apply for a record check 24-hours a day, without having to attend the Barrie Police Service headquarters. All aspects of the process, including verification of identification and fee payment, are handled electronically. Results are now being sent back to applicants electronically, with no need to wait for results to arrive in the mail. Applicants attending police headquarters to apply in person must submit their application using a kiosk in the lobby, with assistance from staff if needed. “With school starting again soon, and more and more recreational activities starting up as COVID restrictions lift, we are encouraging any Barrie resident who needs a criminal record check to complete it easily online,” said Barrie Police Service Records Manager Nicole Lees. “The online process is very easy to use, it’s fast and the information is secured at all stages.” Wait times for record checks is approximately two weeks so applicants should apply as soon as possible. The Barrie Police Service can only conduct records checks for residents of the City of Barrie. For more information, or to start an online criminal record check, visit and look for the “Record Check” button on the home page.