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Toronto medical marijuana advocates ‘stonewalled’ after city framework debate delayed

Advocates for medical marijuana left a Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee meeting at Toronto city hall frustrated on Thursday, after debate on a possible framework for licensing dispensaries was deferred until the end of June.

“We have been stonewalled by city hall to give any input on solutions to this problem,” said Marko Ivancicevic of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association.

Councillor Jim Karygiannis tried to challenge chair Cesar Palacio and allow the medical marijuana advocates to speak, but his request was denied.

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“This is an issue that’s affecting a lot of our vets, a lot of our first responders,” said Karygiannis.

“These people need this medicine.”

Giorgio Taverniti, owner of Frank’s Pizza House, wrote a hand-written letter stating his support of Nature’s Touch Dispensary, which sits several doors down from his restaurant. But councillors never heard of his support due to the deferral.

“My mom has been diagnosed with stage four cancer. I suffer from glaucoma, and my sister also suffers from cancer,” he told Global News, adding that ingesting edible marijuana has given his ailing mother her appetite back.

“Today’s she’s in the hospital getting some treatment. At this point you’re willing to try anything out there and this is an option we have.”

READ MORE: Toronto mayor calls for urgent action on ‘Wild West of medical marijuana distribution’

Canada’s federal government promised to introduce legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by next spring, but until then it’s still considered an illegal substance for recreational purposes.

The city began cracking down on Wednesday by sending letters to landlords of buildings where dispensaries were operating. They warned that the buildings were running afoul of zoning by-laws and that they must come into compliance by Saturday.

It’s expected many will shut their doors until the law is more clearly defined, but other say they’re digging in their heels.

“If they fine us we’ll take them to court,” said Brandy Zurborg, co-owner of Queens of Cannabis.

“This is a human rights issue.”

Daniel Montlouis, owner of Nature’s Touch Dispensary, says around seven dispensaries are considering launching a class action lawsuit against the city.

“It would be on the basis of, basically we’re in the dark, we don’t know what to do,” he said. “We need  some kind of direction.”

Advocates fear cracking down on dispensaries will push patients underground.

“Do we want to have these people in compromising scenarios where they are forced into a back alley to consume and purchase and run the risk of getting robbed?” said Ivancicevic.

READ MORE: Canada’s move to legalize marijuana violates international law, experts say

But others maintain it’s the sheer number of dispensaries in Toronto, now believed to be over 100, that is posing a threat to the public.

“The source of marijuana going into dispensaries is all illegal and there is no testing,” said Adam Saperia of GrowWise Health, a website providing information on medical cannabis to doctors and patients.

The issue will return to committee on June 27, but some worry many dispensaries will have closed their doors by that time.

Handwritten letter supporting medical marijuana dispensaries.

Peter Kim/Global News

Community rallies behind Vaudreuil senior facing eviction

VAUDREUIL-DORION – People in Vaudreuil-Dorion are rallying around 81-year-old Peder Mortensen, who’s being threatened with eviction.

Mortensen has lived in his hand-built house in the community for more than 60 years.

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    READ MORE: Vaudreuil resident heartbroken over city’s plan to demolish his home

    Now, the mayor is calling it a fire hazard and insists he has to go.

    Global News’ request for access to the documents outlining the problems with Mortensen’s house was denied.

    Without a doubt, the 81 year-old’s home is quite unique.

    “I’ve been living here for so long, it can’t be such a bad house,” Mortensen said.

    He’s got bags full of leaves hanging in his yard, which he says reduce sound.

    He also has homemade insulation: a retractable window covered in tin foil.

    “I’m not able to tell how long I’m going to live – I’m 81 – but I’m going to hang on as long as I can,” Mortensen said.

    Some would consider his home odd, but the retired engineer says everything has a reason for being there.

    His neighbours say they know and love him for that.

    “I’ve been in this community for 40 years and I remember seeing Peder ride his bicycle around all over town,” said Jamie Nicholls, a former MP for Vaudreuil-Dorion.

    “He was really a symbol of sustainability for our community.”

    After Global News reported that the City of Vaudreuil-Dorion is seeking an injunction to demolish his home – citing fire hazards – the neighbours rallied behind Mortensen.

    WATCH: Vaudreuil tries to evict senior

    “I was shocked, he’s been living here since the 60s all through,” said Ed Schiller, who has been Mortensen’s neighbour since 1971.

    Thursday morning, they started a petition and plan to bring it to the mayor once it reaches 2,000 signatures.

    By 5 p.m. the same day, they had collected 373 signatures.

    “We’ll do whatever we have to do make sure we’ll make him happy,” said Charlie Berkovitz, a neighbour across the street.

    Nicholls is also crowdfunding to build Mortensen a sustainable house. if need be.

    READ MORE: Montreal senior who faced home eviction can stay for another year: Quebec Rental Board

    “It was important for me because he has lived so frugally, so simply, so light on the Earth, that perhaps we should recognize that fact,” he said.

    Guy Pilon, Vaudreuil-Dorion’s mayor, said pressure from the community doesn’t change things.

    “I don’t think people would let an animal live in a place like that,” Pilon said.

    “I wouldn’t let an 82 year-old man live on that.”

    The mayor said he’s received one phone call so far and a couple of Facebook messages – one all the way from Alberta – speaking out in support of Mortensen.

    He insisted people simply aren’t aware of the danger Mortensen is, in as he showed Global News pictures of the interior of the home, which included piles of pasta and juice boxes.

    READ MORE: Elderly Montrealer takes eviction fight to rental board

    Regardless, Pilon said he’s open to finding a solution.

    But he insists keeping Mortensen’s home as is is not an option.

    Sylvan Schneider, a real estate lawyer, said it is a tricky situation.

    “An old man shouldn’t be kicked out of his home and the city has their rights in order to ensure the safety of the municipality,” he said.

    Schneider pointed out the city is within the law, but wondered if there could be a different approach.

    “I think sitting down and both parties amicably resolving this matter would be, in my opinion, the best interest for the resolution of both parties involved,” he said.

    The city says it’s arranging a meeting with Mortensen for next week.

Manitoba politicians spar over women generals

WINNIPEG —; A Manitoba politician says the world wars of the last century might not have happened had there been women leading countries and militaries.

Flor Marcelino, the interim leader of the Manitoba New Democrats, made the statement in question period while asking the Progressive Conservative government about its gender balance.

Marcelino was pressing Premier Brian Pallister on why he did not appoint any women to his treasury board — the five-member cabinet committee that oversees government spending.

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Marcelino said women can bring a different perspective, and the two world wars might have been avoided had there been women presidents and generals.

Pallister fired back, saying women played key roles in both wars.

Marcelino was recently chosen to lead the NDP until a more-permanent successor can be chosen to replace former premier Greg Selinger, who decided to step down after last month’s election loss.

READ MORE: Manitoba NDP collapse after nearly 17 years in power, Greg Selinger resigns as leader

Marcelino was reading from a prepared text about the provincial treasury board during question period when she appeared to deviate from it.

“I wonder — maybe (an) afterthought — maybe if there were women presidents or generals during the time of World War One of World War Two years, maybe we wouldn’t even have those two world wars. Never know, because women weren’t there.”

“I won’t comment on the wisdom of any comments that reference the causes of world wars being gender-based,” Pallister replied.

“I would say this though, the member is quite wrong in her assertion that women didn’t play a key role in standing up for freedom and protecting others during both world wars.”

As interim leader, Marcelino is on her feet more in the legislature. She served as a minister for multiculturalism since 2009, but was never a target for the then-opposition Tories in question period.

As for the provincial treasury board, Pallister says he appointed the best ministers for the job.

“I would encourage all members here to make sure that we give every equal opportunity to people — not on the basis solely of gender, race or any other factor — but on the basis of their sincere values and ability to contribute to a better society.”

Calgary woman draws on own experience to fight rising domestic violence

A Calgary woman is fighting back against the city’s rising rate of domestic violence by launching a unique business to educate and support abused Arabic and Muslim women.

Ghada Darwish isn’t a lawyer or psychologist, but instead relies on her own experience. In 2010, she left what she said was an emotionally abusive marriage.

Since then, Darwish has trained or counseled dozens of abused Arabic and Muslim women, on a volunteer basis.

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    Now she’s turning it into a career with her new business, Stand By Her, offering workshops and one-on-one counseling.

    “When something happened, [victims] can’t say, ‘oh I want to end this relationship,’ because she is forced to be with him because she can’t support herself financially,” she said.

    Darwish said there are few resources specifically for Muslim and Arabic women in Calgary, and she believes she can both relate to and support the women in a way that is sensitive to their culture and their faith.

    She promotes reconciliation, but will also help clients who choose to divorce.

    “First I want to talk to the husband about–this is not accepted in Islam,” she said.

    “Not only in Canada, it is not accepted in Islam to abuse your wife.”

    This week, Calgary police said domestic violence calls are up 25 per cent over the five-year average.

    “It crosses all neighbourhoods, age groups, ethnicities, religion and economic statuses,” Staff Sgt. Rob Davidson said.

    Police said the increase is likely because people prone to violence are facing more stress and spending more time at home, adding that there isn’t likely to be improvement this year, unless the economy improves.

    “This is not static, we are not living in a city where this is our new reality and it’s going to be here all the time,” Davidson said. “We will expect that our rates are going to decrease in time.”

    Darwish, who lectures regularly in Islamic studies, hopes she can do her part through education and empowerment, by acting as a consultant to social agencies.

    “I am trying now to help our community to live in peace,” she said.

Woman says she was harassed in Walmart bathroom after being mistaken as transgender

Aimee Toms was washing her hands in the women’s bathroom at Walmart in Danbury, Conn., last week when a woman approached her and said, “You’re disgusting” and “You need to leave.”

The 22-year-old claims she was harassed by the woman after apparently being mistaken as transgender.

Toms’ pixie haircut was covered by a baseball cap when the woman allegedly said, “You are not supposed to be here,” before flipping her off.

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READ MORE: Liberals unveil bill to protect transgender people from hate speech

“She thought I was someone who was transgender. She thought I was a dude who was hiding in the women’s bathroom,” Toms said.

Toms has now responded in a video posted to Facebook condemning discrimination against transgender people.

“After experiencing the discrimination they face firsthand, I cannot fathom the discrimination transgender people must face in a lifetime,” she said.

She hopes her video will help others understand that transgender people deserve to be treated equally.

“It really got my gears turning as to how amazingly ridiculous this is becoming as an issue.”

“I don’t know if many of you know this but you’ve probably used the bathroom with somebody who is transgender before.”

READ MORE: One Montreal family’s fight for transgender rights

Toms believes the incident happened because of the controversy sparked by a law that was passed in North Carolina that mandates bathroom access according to birth sex.

She believes people have developed unjustified fears of being attacked by someone who could abuse transgender bathrooms.

She explained that if someone wants to commit a crime in a bathroom, they are going to do it anyway regardless if it’s a transgender bathroom.

Global News has reached out to Walmart for comment but after 24 hours the request was not returned.

Toms’ video “rant” on Facebook about her experience at Walmart has gone viral and has been viewed more than 180,000 times.

‘It only takes a split second’: victim of distracted driving joins police in long weekend warning

After the recent introduction of three demerit points to Alberta’s legislation, distracted driving has dropped for the first time in five years, but only slightly.

Since the legislation was first introduced in 2011, the number of distracted driving tickets increased annually. Staff Sgt. Paul Stacey attributes this phenomenon to the increase in cell phone usage. The fine increased in 2015 (from $172 to $287 currently). Stacey says it made no difference.

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    “We honestly didn’t see too much of a difference with the fines going up, but so far this year in 2016, with the introduction of the demerit system, we’re down just a little bit in the amount of tickets we’ve written. It’s early but we’re still down a little over 200 tickets from the same time last year,” Stacey said.

    This time last year there were 2,212 distracted driving tickets issued compared to the 1,934 issued in 2016 to date. Though not drastic, the decrease has Stacey optimistic for the future.

    “I’m hopeful, let’s put it that way…We’ve written less tickets and, anecdotally, I’m hearing from my officers that they aren’t seeing quite as much of it. That’s inspiring for me. And personally I haven’t seen as much either, but we still see some and we still are doing the enforcement,” Stacey added.

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    There’s little way of knowing how many crashes are directly the result of distracted driving. It requires drivers to self-disclose whether or not they were distracted at the time of the crash, which is rare. But Stacey said he does expect that roads are getting better.

    “Would I say the roads are a bit safer? I hope so.  And I hope the trend continues, I really do.”

    Kevin Smith’s truck was written off when his vehicle hit a driver he alleges was distracted who went through a red light on Country Hills last January. He echoes Stacey’s sentiment.

    “It happens so quick and people don’t understand. It only takes a split second.”

    Witnesses told police they saw the 17-year-old driver that went through a red light texting before the accident. Kevin Smith’s truck was totaled.

    Smith suffered from broken ribs, whiplash, and extensive soft tissue injuries after the crash. He deals with pain and soreness on a daily basis.

    The impact from the collision extends further into his life as well, as he owns a fitness studio and is a personal trainer who is expected to keep up with his clients. He also has two young and playful children at home. He says despite this lasting effect, he knows that he is lucky to have survived the crash.

    “I know I’m lucky. Pain will subside, the discomfort will subside. But I’m lucky that I’m still walking, playing, and here for my family,” Smith said.

    READ MORE: Cell phone jammer that could stop you from distracted driving 

    Stacey likens the adjustment to distracted driving legislation to seatbelt legislation and  suggests it may take some time.

    “When that [legislation] came in in the 80s almost nobody wore their seatbelt and there was a lot of resistance to that legislation. Now a whole generation or two later, we’re seeing a 95 per cent compliance rate with seatbelt usage.”

    This week is the RCMP’s road safety week. They’re launching an online campaign called “Leave the Phone Alone” and are asking Canadians to commit publicly, with an online pledge, to avoid all distractions while driving.

    Editor’s note: Global News was contacted by someone who claims to be the other driver in the case referenced above. While he admitted to making an unsafe left turn, he denies being distracted.

AHS reinstates air quality advisory as smoke drifts into Capital Region

Just one hour after dropping an air quality advisory for the Edmonton Zone, Alberta Health Services reinstated it after heavy smoke quickly drifted into the Capital Region Thursday afternoon.

Fire crews in the Edmonton area were fielding a lot of reports of smoke Thursday afternoon. Residents were calling Global News as well, reporting significant smoke in the air and asking about any local fires.

The Stony Plain Fire Department said it was also receiving a lot of calls, but said there were no fires in its jurisdiction.

“We are aware of the heavy smoke in the air,” the fire chief said in a Facebook post. “We currently do not have any active fires in the area. The changes in the atmosphere are bringing smoke from the Alberta wildfires. Please continue to be vigilant watching for fires.

“If you see flames from a wildland fire, contact 911. If you have health concerns contact Alberta Health Services and close your windows and stay inside.”

Smoke from Fort McMurray drifting south, May 19, 2016.

Nancy Carlson, Global News

A thick haze of smoke hangs over Edmonton’s skyline on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Nancy Carlson/ Global News

Smoke from Fort McMurray drifting south, May 19, 2016.

Nancy Carlson, Global News

Smoke from Fort McMurray drifting south, May 19, 2016.

Smoke from Fort McMurray drifting south, May 19, 2016.

Smoke from Fort McMurray drifting south, May 19, 2016.

Smoke in Edmonton drifting in from the northern Alberta wildfires, May 19, 2016.

Wes Rosa, Global News

“We had northeasterly winds for most of the day here and what that actually did is it moved a bunch of the smoke from the Fort McMurray fires into Edmonton which around four o’clock, started to reduce some visibility and give bad AQHI (Air Quality Health Index) readings for the city of Edmonton,” Eldon Albrecht, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said.

“It moved into the Cold Lake area early this morning and later this afternoon it moved right into us.”

Albrecht added that he expects the smoke to clear out sometime overnight as precipitation is expected and winds are expected to come predominantly from the west on Friday.

An air quality advisory was also issued in the AHS North Zone for Bonnyville, St. Paul, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, Smoky Lake and Elk Point.

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    Late Thursday afternoon, a post appeared on the Edmonton and District Soccer Association’s Facebook page to say all of its Thursday evening games were being cancelled because of the change in air quality.

    The Edmonton Amateur Baseball Association said it will be up to each team to determine whether to play Thursday. Due to the air quality, some Rookie teams have cancelled their games. The Edmonton Minor Soccer Association is also having individual referees make the call on the fields.

    After issuing an air quality advisory for the Edmonton Zone May 12, AHS lifted that advisory Thursday before reinstating it shortly after.

    Alberta Environment had the air quality health index at a Level 7 as of 4 p.m. Thursday.

    Edmonton Fire Rescue Services was also receiving numerous calls about the smoke. It was sending out crews to confirm there were no fires in the Edmonton area. A spokesperson for the EFRS said the smoke was blowing in from outside the city, specifically from the Whitecourt and Fox Creek areas.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Day raises awareness as new medication approved

Inflammatory Bowel Disease day took place across the world Thursday to raise awareness and create more understanding about IBDs.

In the Maritimes, there are over 17,000 people suffering from IBDs, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. According to the most recent study from Crohn’s and Colitis Canada (CCC), Canada has the highest rate of Crohn’s in the world, with 129,000 Canadians suffering from the disease. Data suggests 5,700 new cases of Crohn’s disease are diagnosed annually.

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READ MORE: New study to see if diet can help people with Crohn’s and Colitis

Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital’s gastroenterologist Dr. Mark MacMillan says the day is a great way to increase awareness.

“There are lots of resources for our IBD population to gain knowledge about their disease, and that’s probably my biggest thing about World IBD Day, is it’s a way to enhance knowledge and understanding of this disease,” he said.

MacMillan says he treats about 10 to 15 patients per week who live with Inflammatory Bowel diseases. He says there’s hope and a variety of treatment options for people who are just finding out they have Crohn’s or colitis.

“It’s definitely not the end of the world for a diagnosis like this. It’s definitely something that you need to spend time with your specialists and ask lots of questions. There are some great resources out there like Crohn’s and Colitis of Canada–they have a great website.”

READ MORE: Crohn’s patient urges others not to be embarrassed about the disease

Kevin Bourque is one of the quarter of a million Canadians who has an IBD.  He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when he was three months old.

“I ended up having a lot of surgeries as a young kid and ended up with one of those things they call an ostomy, or one of those things they call ‘a bag’,” Bourque said.

“I was always aware I had distinct challenges, but I was a very young, energetic and spry little guy, so I was able to overcome some fairly significant challenges.”

Bourque says there has been a shift in the industry since he was young, and more people are able to use medications to treat their IBDs, instead of surgery as a first resort. He says that for some people, it’s the best choice, but he’s happy to see more options available.

READ MORE: Crohn’s disease sufferer pens brutally honest account of living with the condition

Bourque says having good doctors and a good support system is important to everyone’s well-being.

“Anyone who has this will have challenging days, but the equal and equally important reality is that there is also a lot of hope, too,” he said.

“Having a good perspective and some medication options and some good people around you can go a whole long way in the direction of health and wellness, and living an awesome life.”

MacMillan says treatments currently range from oral medications to injections and infusions.

Crohn’s and Colitis Canada alerted Canadians to a new treatment for people diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and colitis Thursday. Health Canada has approved a biologic treatment called Entyvio (vedolizumab) that is said to directly target inflammation that causes the symptoms of Crohn’s and colitis.

MacMillan says it’s more good news in the advancement of treatment.

“What it does is it helps us and our patients gain control over the inflammation over the GI tract which is what causes their symptoms and the underlying symptoms for the disease,” he said, adding new medications such as Entyvio are additional tools to give patients hope.

“If something hasn’t worked in the past, we have something new to try,” MacMillan said.

According to CCC, symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, several internal cramps and weight loss.

Landmarks across Canada will be lit-up in purple on Thursday evening to further raise awareness-  including the CN Tower in Toronto, and city hall in Halifax.

Vancouver’s Trump Tower denied nightclub liquor licence in surprising vote

In a startling turn of events, Vancouver City Council has denied the Trump Tower a liquor licence, prohibiting them from operating a bar or nightclub.

The development was planning to bring Las Vegas’ legendary Drais Nightclub to Vancouver in a move that recently irked nearby residents of Coal Harbour concerned about noise and disruption in their neighbourhood.

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All councillors voted in favour of the first recommendation to allow the Trump Tower to operate a liquor-primary establishment as a lounge, but only three supported the second recommendation for a nightclub, including Councillors Meggs, Affleck, and De Genova. Councillor Louie and Mayor Robertson were absent from the meeting.

“As a resident downtown you learn to live with a lot of different kinds of sounds,” said councillor George Affleck in support of the recommendation to allow licences for both a lounge and a nightclub.

“I have the utmost confidence that they will actually be a good neighbour and a great addition to our city. I think their biggest challenge will be getting people to go there at all with the name ‘Trump’ on the building.”

Despite the ‘No’ vote, Trump Tower is able to resubmit an application with the option of being a food-primary establishment with a special occasion licence for events or minimize the seating capacity for a liquor-primary licence within a smaller setting.

READ MORE: Job interviews begin at Vancouver’s Trump Tower

Approximately 3,000 to 3,500 people would be directly affected by this development, according to Director of Coal Harbour Residents Association, Alex von Kleist, who spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting. Surrounding residents, like von Kleist, were concerned with loud music and noise disruptions, smoking and littering around the building, drunk behaviour, and increased traffic in the area.

Trump Tower has been advertising the addition of a Drais Nightclub since early 2015, long before a licence application had been submitted.

As of Thursday, the building’s website was still promoting Drais as the city’s first pool bar and nightclub.

“Drais has reinvented the nightclub and this lavishly designed space will entertain the most coveted VIP parties and draw celebrated DJs from across the globe creating the preeminent entertainment venue in Vancouver,” the web page’s description read.

The nightclub would have accommodated 280 people inside and another 103 on an outdoor patio, with the hours extending to 2 a.m. on weekends. The seasonal patio would close at 11 p.m. nightly.

“Liquor establishments of this size and structure such as hotel lobby lounges and bars located within hotels, generally do not generate complaints or negative issues with the surrounding residents and business operators,” said the report from the deputy chief licence inspector. This nightclub, in particular, would have been located on the third floor and only accessible from inside the hotel, limiting the disruption to the outside street area.

Prior to the vote, the public was consulted with 3,687 notices mailed to area residents with 66 in total responding. Only two supported the plan for a nightclub on the tower’s third floor.

The unique feature of the Trump Tower nightclub was an indoor pool, which prior to 5 p.m. would be open and used for swimming and family use, after which it would convert to a nightclub. The pool floor would also be able to rise up and become a multi-use floor for dancing and other activities. Liquor would only be served when the pool was covered.

Animal sculpture displays generate a buzz in Dorval

DORVAL —; It wasn’t intended to be a tourist attraction, but that’s exactly what a new outdoor Dorval exhibit has become.

Two new animal sculpture displays made of Spanish moss and plants have been installed on Lakeshore Road, just east of Dorval Avenue.

The animal replicas have two different themes: a tropical park of exotic animals such as giraffes, flamingos and a chimpanzee, and a more traditional farm with a cow, dogs, a rabbit and ponies.

The animals are life-like in size.

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    “The cow spoke to me,” Allan Nicholls, visiting from Vermont, told Global News.

    “Well he didn’t speak to me, but he wanted to speak to me.”

    The two displays are the brainchild of local business community leaders who wanted to do something to give back to their customers.

    “Our idea was to find something that would bring us together and businesses and the city,” Julie Cardinal, president of the Dorval Main Streets Business Association, told Global News.

    Creating the project cost the business community $16,000, and the City of Dorval will help pay for maintaining the sculptures and plants throughout the summer.

    While the displays are only a few days old, organizers are already thinking about the future.

    “This is really year one and we’re planning to do it next year on a larger scale if possible,” Béatrice Cuzzi, the association’s communications director told Global News.