Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Regent Park Community Benefits Town Hall

Report of the August 6th, 2020, Regent Park Community Benefits Virtual Townhall

The Regent Park Community Benefits Virtual Townhall meeting was put together as an opportunity for residents in the community to learn about the Community Benefits and Phase 4 & 5 Revitalization, hear from RPNA’s Community Benefits Coalition and Toronto Community Housing and how to get involved and make a difference in the community. The virtual meeting also included interactive components such as polling and Q&A with the panelists.

Some of the panelists included: Walied Khogali Ali, Suzanne El-Makkaw (RPNA), Deany Peters (Regent Park Health Centre), Kelly Skith (TCHC), Jonella Evangelista, Sean Major (TCHC), Marlene DeGenova (RPNA Advocacy Co-Chair), Annisha Abdul, Touhida, Miguel, Wendy Belcourt, Sam Maloney-Lee (TCHC), Ismail Afrah, Daniel Amin (Revite Working Group) and youth from Regent Park.

The Virtual Townhall Meeting started off by giving a history of the various committees that were formed, which led to the inclusion of Community Benefits for Regent Park. From the origins in 2018 to collaborations and conversions in 2019 and community engagement & advocacy in 2019 to 2020. Here is just a brief description of some of the items discussed.

The Forming of the Regent Park Community Benefits Coalition and Network

At the townhall, Ismail Afrah, a resident of Regent Park, recalled being at a workshop in city-hall where he was flipping through some cards and one of them read “Community Benefits”. As he flipped the card around and it said, “when development happens the community should benefit directly”.

Ismail at the time then asked himself, “This was wow, Regent Park is going through a billion dollar revitalization, do we have community benefits?”

During the workshop, Ismail was introduced to the Committee Benefits Network and through those conversations it was decided that Community Benefits are needed here in Regent Park.


What are Community Benefits

During the town hall, Kumsa Baker from the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), introduced himself and explained what Community Benefits are. First, he began with a brief description of the TCBN. The Toronto Community Benefits Network is a coalition of community groups, labor organizations, neighbourhood associations and social enterprises. The goal of the network is to support neighborhoods across the city that are facing redevelopment.

The Toronto Community Benefits Network helps community members explore the ways their community, especially residents, are going to be impacted by new development and how they can really be part of a revitalization process that includes their vision and addresses local priorities and local needs.


So what are Community Benefits? According to Kumsa, community benefits are usually additional physical, social and or economic benefits that are leveraged from major infrastructure and land development projects in the city of Toronto. Toronto Community Benefits Network has many projects that already include community benefits. As way of example, Kumsa highlights the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (Light Rail Transit). A video was later played in the townhall virtual meeting highlighting the great work that was done in incorporating Community Benefits into the development plans of the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit Metrolinx project.

Kumsa explained that the Toronto Community Benefits Network also has other public projects like the West Park Health Care Centre and the Mcdonald Block Reconstruction Project. The involvement of TCBN in these redevelopment projects have helped ensure equitable economic opportunities that promote economic inclusion for people for historically disadvantaged communities and equity seeking groups. Community benefits in these projects have contributed to the development of a system of training and workforce development programs that have enable economic inclusion and will contribute to sustainable communities, neighborhood improvements as well as environmental improvements.

Lastly, Kumsa explained that what he feels is the most important component of Community Benefits, is that it ensures clear commitments targets, monitoring as well as accountability mechanisms from all parties to deliver on Community Benefits.


Kumsa ended his presentation by simply concluding that Community Benefits are financial or in-kind investments made by the selected developer that would be beneficial to Regent Park residents and the overall well-being of the community.

At the virtual town hall, viewers were informed that in March of 2020, The Regent Park Community Benefits Coalition signed a Community Benefits Framework Agreement with Toronto Community Housing for Phases 4 + 5 revitalization in Regent Park. The framework revolves around the following key principals and values:

Outlines key principles and values for the revitalization process

Secures TCHC commitments to the use of the Community Priorities report themes in negotiations with selected developer partner

Outlines roles and responsibilities of TCHC, City of Toronto and Coalition throughout Phase 4 + 5 revitalization

Identifies how the selected developer will engage the community to co-develop a Community Benefits - Plan that will be formalized into a legally binding agreement


After the presentations, participants of the town hall were given the opportunity to ask the panelists questions.

To watch the full Virtual Town-hall Meeting, click the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdyuDNQR6vo

By Tyrone MacLean-Wilson

Tyrone is a staff member of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Community Pods in Regent Park

 Community Pods in Regent Park During the COVID-19 pandemic social distancing has been an incredible success in combating the spread. However, the lack of social interaction is proven to negatively impact people's mental health. During these times it is important for communities to find safe ways to socialize and one effective method is the Regent Park Pods Initiative. Neighbourhood Pods are a safe way to support and meet neighbors online through Facebook groups, WhatsApp and other online chat rooms. Throughout the pandemic people have used the pods not only to socialize but to share resources as well. Whether it be extra food or offering to pick up someone's groceries, pods have been a productive way to grow communities safely during the pandemic. Regent Park residents, Nayeon Kim and Maseeda Majeed, initiated one of three pods currently operating in Regent Park. Both Nayeon and Maseeda are a part of the Regent Park Social Development Planning table which is where the two first met and eventually realized they were neighbors. Coming to the realization that they lived on the same street for a few years without knowing each other, they wanted to find a way to strengthen their community. Thus, giving birth to the pods . Inspired by a similar imitative in Parkdale, Nayeon and Meseeda began spreading the word about the pods to others on their street. Their method for getting the word out was very simple and effective : Maseeda and Nayeon put up flyers on their street with information about the pods including their contact information. When asked if they would recommend other communities starting their own pods, Maseda said, “I definitely would encourage folks as it is a great way to connect to people right now during covid-19 and having a relationship with your neighbors. It’s a very very healthy way to live!” Nayeon went on to mention her own childhood and how she was close with her neighbors and she realized how much she missed having a community amongst her neighbors. This desire inspired the pods. People within the same pod communicate through WhatsApp or Facebook whether it be to socialize or to lend a hand to a fellow pod member. Maseeda and Nayeon touched on a few highlights from their experiences in their own pod. For instance, one woman had made too much for dinner and, since she lived alone, knew she would not be able to finish it. Instead of letting the food go to waste, she put out a message on WhatsApp informing pod members that they were welcome to the food left at her house. Pods have proven to be effective in bringing Regent Park residents closer together. Whether it’s to share meals, pick up groceries for others or even to meet new people from a safe distance e, the Covid pandemic has led to new and innovative ways of enhancing social connections. Regent Park residents who have lived on the same street for over ten years have just met each other for the first time through the pods. Just as t he Regent Park Pods Initiative has eased the feeling of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that the connections and relationships developed through this new method will have an impact that lasts long after this health crisis is over.


 Watch video below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsQ37zkB8SM


By Ella Coccimiglio

Ella is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Need for BIPOC Histories in Today’s Classrooms

Nelson Mandela Park Public School, renamed after the anti-apartheid crusader and former South African president, was built in 1917. The school, located in Regent Park, prides itself in using culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy and promoting anti-oppression.

Unfortunately, for a city half composed of immigrants, most school class curriculums are extremely lacking in culturally relevant pedagogy that are inclusive to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) or honor their contributions in building Canadian society. Even Canada’s own horrific relationship with First Nations Peoples are brushed aside, in favor of sharing the falsely heroic narrative of how the British sailed the seas and colonized this land.

In the exclusion of BIPOC subjects, our school boards continue to perpetuate the idea that only European histories are worth telling. If BIPOC stories, histories and contributions from the past are not worthwhile, then how can we, as a Canadian society, truly respect the culture and values of BIPOC communities? Considering the impact of internalize hatred deemed as the manifestation of self-hatred for oneself and/or one’s own culture, and the prevalence of negative racial stereotypes, it is a question that many students ask themselves today?

The exclusion of BIPOC stories and histories deems the perspective of a large group of people meaningless, stripping these communities of their voice and pride. In recent years, school boards have attempted to address this issue by token efforts to celebrate special BIPOC cultural events such as Chinese New Years, Black History Month, Indigenous Day, etc. However, these dismal attempts fail to hide the almost complete absence of cultural representation in the day to day curriculum, sending an implicit message that BIPOC students are “lesser than” their white peers. From an early age, this message of less worth is learned and as these students grow, its reinforced by the world around them. That is, however, if these messages remain unchallenged.

Lack of diversity is another problem. In the field of education, around 80% of teachers are white and it is difficult to gage if teaching faculties have a clear enough grasp of BIPOC perspectives to sufficiently include these narratives within lesson plans. This lack of diversity within the teaching profession can also hinder a BIPOC student’s connection to pursuing teaching as a career path. If youth do not see proper representation, they can feel out of place, making it harder for them to connect to mentors or role models. This problem - alongside the financial challenges posed by pursuing higher education - can make youth seriously doubt whether they fit into the academic world or not. This insecurity can rob our society of gifted minds, rob students of reaching their full potential, and continue the cycle of academic inequality for BIPOC students in the future.

The issue of cultural exclusion within the classroom is not a problem exclusive to the present day. This can be traced back to one of Canada’s deepest shames: the residential schools. “Indian” residential schools operated in Canada between the 1870s and the 1990s. Native children were forced to leave behind their families, their religions, and their beliefs in order to be “educated.” This led to many years of abuse, and eventual cultural genocide.

The goals of assimilation into Canadian society may not be as overt in today’s time, but they still linger. This is proven whenever black students are sent home due to their hairstyles, or even when a teacher refuses to use preferred names or pronouns of a student. Whether conscious or subconscious, the habit of rejecting anything outside the norm needs to be recognized and challenged; especially within the classrooms, where so many young minds are left vulnerable and looking for guidance.

Today, we must actively question what perspectives have been absent or ignored, then seek out these perspectives from their respective sources. This may mean hiring a BIPOC teacher, or adding readings by BIPOC writers to the curriculum, or simply by listening to the story of a newly immigrated classmate. We must continuously search for “the other side” to the narratives we have long been taught. Though uncovering these stories may illuminate further tragedies and disrupt Canada’s comfortable reputation as the “nice” country, it is the first step we can take in our attempt to honor the past. In rectifying this, it is the only way we can move towards the future.

As Mandela often said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

To watch video click link below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPz6LF1pVIE

By Minerva Navasca

(Minerva is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)


What I Learned from Speaking to City Councillor Kristyn-Wong Tam

It was my privilege to speak with City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam who represents Regent Park and the broader community of Ward 13. We discussed some of the highlights of her political career and her professional philosophy. This article is a profile on a successful public figure originally from Regent Park and about the takeaways from her career from the perspective of this reporter. Whether or not you agree with her politics, this article is about following through on your beliefs.


 Elected in 2010, Kristyn Wong-Tam has spent a decade as councillor, formerly representing Ward 27 and later Ward 13, working alongside of community organizations and partners to focus on the idea of Community Resilience.

Being able to ensure that the communities I represent have all the resources that they need to build stronger safer more inclusive neighborhoods is important to me. I take that very personally because I was an immigrant and came to Canada with my parents.” said Wong-Tam.

Having immigrated from social housing in Hong Kong to social housing in Regent Park, the fabric of the Regent Park community was very familiar to her.

Those early days of extreme hardship, extreme poverty, have never left me. I’m still to this day very grateful that I have a roof over my head, I’m housed, I have my health and adequate access to food, which was not always the case especially as a young person with struggling parents. Why I say it’s important is it actually influences everything I do, and it’s deeply embedded in my core values.”

While researching for our interview, I found it fascinating how the councillor has long focused on a diversity of opportunities for funding, some of which are less conventional than others. Her ethos of community resilience has always had both a social-community organizational framework along with a financial plan. A balancing act between inspiration, planning and action.

One example of this was Wong-Tam’s plea to city council for a Toronto Expo 2025 which ultimately did not come to fruition. Expo Vancouver and Montreal in the past are part of what made Wong-Tam who she is today as she recounts being inspired as a young immigrant in Canada and feeling truly Canadian for the first time. They inspired her to reach for her dreams, engendered a strong sense of pride and belonging in Canada, and planted the seed for an ever-growing appreciation for the pragmatic legacy of the Expos in the form of social infrastructures (like public transport) which remain as iconic today. Her vision of Expo 2025 was not just an opportunity to host the world in Canada and peacock to other countries, but an opportunity to create long-term change backed by deadlines and a financial juggernaut. Although this did not come to pass, the lessons acquired through this process are nothing to be scoffed at.

I was very deeply interested in helping the people who have been left behind and Expos are a way for 3 orders of government - Canada, Ontario, and the city-- to focus their energies and prioritize the execution. Often times without a very large catalyst, we know that governments sometimes take their time. Sometimes they don’t make a decision and nothing gets done. Expos have hard deadlines. You have to get it done.”

The next area that Wong-Tam tackled, this time successfully was how she helped to refresh the Regent Park Social Development Plan (SDP) for 2019 and acquired funding of over $635,000. The SDP was first approved by city council in 2007 yet it never received funding. Kristyn Wong-Tam along with various community leaders were able to rewrite the SDP to address the updated needs of the community and acquire that funding for the Toronto 2020 budget. This has helped to further galvanize the Regent Park Community towards its broad goals of Safety, Health, Employment and Communication to build a stronger community along with the physical redevelopment. Though the SDP has been slow in its coming to fruition, the fact of having gotten the plan passed in 2007, then essentially sitting on the shelf for over 10 years and then finally getting tangible backing in the form of financial funding is huge.

The motion to Defund the Police set forward by Josh Matlow and backed by Kristyn Wong-Tam was largely unsuccessful. In fact, what was passed was technically more funding for the police in the form of body cameras. What was the biggest success in all of this? I believe it was two-part: listening to the voices of Torontonians and the kind of society we want moving forward and identifying who is onboard in city council and who we need on board.

Although there are many residents who are demanding, shouting, begging and grieving for change, inside the council chambers, the power brokers who control council that can actually make the difference are not willing to do it. I would also say that the mayor who controls council happens to also sit on the police service board and he controls the police service board. Which means that if we as a city are truly going to get the policing reforms that we desperately need in order to save lives and deliver better and stronger public safety, then we’re going to need the mayor’s support. And right now, he is not on side. And we need him on side.” argues Wong-Tam.

Kristyn Wong-Tam is an example of a leader and an advocate for change and a representative of the community. Her dedication to public discourse whether they be on the Regent Park SDP, the Black Lives Movement to defund the police or to bring Expo to Toronto, is all about how we can marshal the resources to build a better, healthier community.

In reflecting on Kristyn Wong-Tam’s work in getting resources to support the SDP, I am excited to hear about opportunities to mobilize youth and inspire them to re-imagine Regent Park for their own futures. What I learned from my conversation from Kristyn Wong-Tam is: to think and plan in detail, engage with your community and finally make it a priority to follow through on inspiration with deadlines. Never stop believing in your potential to make a difference and to create a future that may now only be a dream. Dreams are the fuel for actionable change at the personal and communal level.

Thank you to City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam for the opportunity to speak about her work.


To watch the interview, click the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_c3GwmZDnE



By Fabio Heredia-Casalins

(Fabio Heredia-Casalins is a media journalist with the Focus Media Arts Centre)



Food Insecurity

Regent Park is a low-income, culturally diverse neighbourhood located in the downtown east area of Toronto. Although Regent Park is undergoing transformation to a mixed-income and mixed-use community, there still remains a significant population of low-income families on a limited budget. To assist low-income families in the area, there are a number of food banks that operate in the area. Unfortunately, Regent Park is not alone and food banks have become institutions in low-income communities across Toronto.

In light of Black Lives Matter Movement, the Covid-19 Pandemic and a recent report that the demand of food banks is significantly raising, many are realizing the different ways racism and oppression has seeped into every corner of our communities. One way that this has manifested into our daily lives is through the issue of food insecurity.

Many Canadians suffer from a lack of fresh, nutritional food within their households. However, as food banks and soup kitchens already exist, many deem the problem to be solved. This is not the reality. In fact, ignorance of food inaccessibility is leading to the deterioration of people’s health, and lower income communities as a whole.

In a city like Toronto, fraught with so many expenses, it can be especially difficult to make ends meet. Here, the living wage is almost double the minimum wage. Therefore, necessities such as food are often brushed aside in order to pay rent. Or, rather, healthy food is brushed aside in favor of cheaper, quicker, less nutritional alternatives. This is the everyday reality of many living within lower income households. Though poverty is a nationwide issue, a collaboration between Foodshare (a not-for-profit dedicated to food justice) and PROOF (a Food Insecurity Policy Research Program) discovered that black households are 3.56 times more likely to be food insecure than white households. Furthemore, 1 in 3 black children are already living in food insecure households.

Experiencing this issue during one’s youth, a time especially meant for growth, can have lifelong effects. It hinders students from reaching their full potential, as one cannot focus on education with an empty stomach. It also leads to dangerous health conditions, such as malnutrition, asthma, and diabetes. Mental and emotional health is also at risk: Those experiencing food insecurity are proven to experience higher rates of anxiety and depression. This perpetuates a cycle, as those with poorer health are having a harder time recovering from these illnesses. They are also less likely to get the treatment necessary. If a household cannot afford to put food on the table, how are they going to afford additional health related bills? In a time of a pandemic, access to food can mean life or death.

The Government’s inability to foster lasting change for low-income households are quite literally starving Canadians. Although there is a system of food banks in place that offer relief for hungry Canadians, this does not solve the root cause of food insecurity, which is poverty. In fact, food banks were originally created in the 1980’s as a temporary response to a recession. It does not make sense as to why the Canadian government uses them as a crutch, instead of creating lasting change through social and economic reforms. It is the right of every Canadian to have access to dignified food. Therefore, it is cruel to expect Canadians and grocery stores to donate soon-to-be expired produce in order to aid the less privileged. A citizen’s opportunity to have dinner should not be dependent on a donation of leftovers. Though many volunteers and organizers graciously dedicate their time and efforts to services aiding the community, they should not be responsible for solving food insecurity altogether. This is merely the responsibility of the Canadian government.

Due to the recent rise in activism, more and more people are speaking up about the shortcomings within their communities. Services that provide temporary aid to lower income communities are no longer sufficient. The government’s ignorance of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) and lower income struggles are no longer acceptable. The government has the power to create a better life for all, and it is time that they use that power to solve problems corrupting communities throughout Canada.

Watch the Videos:

Part 1:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGyGiV-KNG


Part 2:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G-01VGtrRg


By Minerva Navasca

(Minerva is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)


Why Black Lives Matter in Regent Park

 On June 26th, 2020, a noose was found in a Daniels construction site located on Sumach and Dundas Street, in Regent Park. This Incident sparked a community march against racism and the forming of the Regent Park Black Lives Matter Coalition. The coalition launched an inaugural event on Saturday August 8th 2020, in the Big Park right in front of the Daniel’s Spectrum.

We spoke to Joanne Warner who is a resident of Regent Park and also the founder of Regent Park Black Lives Matter Coalition with the support of school colleague Peter Scott and Walied Khogali, the co founder of the Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia. 


 Joanne explained the need of a black lives matter group in Regent Park. In addition to a noose being found in Regent Park, Joanne argued that there are still many black residents in Regent Park and their needs are not being met. Joanne also alleges through the discovery of data that black families have being pushed out of Regent Park during the revitalisation and that this is an ongoing issue.

To Joanne the noose was a reminder not only of the George Floyd killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, but also of the brutal history of slavery, her own family tragedies and her belief that Regent Park’s black community has lost its voice.

Joanne was also inspired by Michelle Obama who she had an opportunity to hear at a speaking engagement held at Ryerson University. Joanne realised that she had to do something about the issues she cares for herself and not count on others to take the lead. According to Joanne, the Regent Park Black Lives Matter is not only about the black people, but it is about all racialized people in Regent Park having justice and freedom. “ Our diversity really is our strength. If we don’t find our voices, if we don’t work together, if we don’t know who we are, if we don’t remember our roots, we can’t go no where. We can’t overcome anti black racism; we can’t over come white supremacy.” say’s Joanne.

Joanne felt hurt to hear about a noose in her community because it goes to show that the hatred is present. Joanne argues that Regent park is not new to hatred, police brutality, white supremacy, and white privilege. The noose represents a strangling of our freedom, our justice, justice, and equality but also our need to rise up to power and to speak up against hatred. Joanne makes clear that she is not living in Regent Park just to survive but she is there to thrive!!! She will not let a noose stop her from speaking on what is right and wrong. 

To watch the full video click the link below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2Qhu9TMlAo

By Gaelle Kosi

(Gaelle is a summer journalist with Focus Media Arts.)

Anticipating Covid-19 – the experience of Gushi Japanese Street Food Restaurant

On April 30th 2020, RPTV took a walking tour of the Regent Park neighborhood to view the impact Covid has had on the surrounding business. What they encountered was numerous notices up on business windows noting the temporary closure due to Covid-19. Restaurants have been particularly impact by Covid-19 with a report by Canadian Chamber of Commerce suggesting that more than 60% of restaurant Canada wide could be closed by November.

Our reporter had the opportunity to sit down with the manager of one of the restaurants in the Regent Park area. Gushi Japanese Street Food, located on the corner of Gerrard St. East and Parliament, is relatively new to the neighborhood, celebrating their one year anniversary in April. Manager of Gushi, Shinji Yamaguchi, shared his thoughts on operating a restaurant during a pandemic. 


 In anticipating the arrival of Covid-19 to Canada, one of the first things Yamaguchi did, even prior to the Ontario government’s announcement that all restaurants would be forced to close its dinning service to the public, was research about Covid-19 not just his safety but for the safety of his staff and customers. The results of that research was a carefully laid out plan to still be able to deliver food as safely as possible. Yamaguchi focused on minimalizing contact between his workers, and the take out customers and the food delivery services (e.g. Uber Eats) by putting up clear plastic screen to divide the kitchen and check out area with the rest of the restaurant. Yamaguchi also made sure to require all employees to wear masks and focused on ensuring proper hand washing and sanitizer use. In addition, he made sure that the Gushi restaurant was properly cleaned with bleach spray and changed the layout of the restaurant to ensure maximum distancing, and as the months went on and in person dining was prohibited Gushi was able to remain open and provide food through delivery and take out. Despite the hardship faced, Gushi was one of the lucky businesses that were still able to operate through out Covid and that’s all due to the loyal costumers in the surrounding neighborhood. As Yamaguchi explains he feels grateful for his customers, “ we are lucky the community in the neighborhood are really supportive…its been almost everyday that I see the same face”.

Like many of us Yamauchi doesn’t know how long this Pandemic will last, however he already has his mind set to how his restaurant can adept and continue to provide service safely. One of his hopes for the future is to turn the front facing window of Gushi into a sliding glass window so that customers will be able to order from the street instead of inside the store, allowing for an increase in safety for both his employees, and his customers. But ultimately his hope is for the safety of everyone around the world, and his fellow restaurateurs will be able to survive the unsteady economy of Covid-19. 

 Watch interview here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs6CsiCyNH8

By Adaku Huggins-Warner

Adaku is a volunteer Journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre




Monday, August 24, 2020

Falling Through the Cracks: One person’s experience of the Government’s Financial Assistance During Covid-19 Pandemic

As one of the millions of Canadians effected by COVID-19 I was excited to learn that the government would be offering financial support to those struggling. On March 25th the creation of the Canadian Response Benefit (CERB) was announced by the federal government. Under this benefit Canadians would receive $500 a week for up to 16 weeks (extended to 24 weeks in June 2020). To apply, you must live in Canada, be at least 15, have lost your job due to COVID-19, and had an income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or the last 12 months. However this eligibility requirement left many Canadians like me out in the cold. I was one of those Canadians who either did not make enough money, who prior to the outbreak were unemployed, or were still working but had their hours cut down. In my case, I am a Black Woman who graduated out of university in 2019. As I am an inspiring snow boarder and love the mountains, I decided to move to Calgary to join a friend there. Unfortunately, it took me several months before I was able to find a satisfactory job in my career field. Finally, when I did manage to find a job in my field, I experienced workplace racism leading me to quit. Leaving an unhealthy workplace was great for my mental health but not so good for my financial health, as I quit my job prior to making the $5,000 in income, that would have made me eligible to apply in the future for CERB. Unemployed and with no funds to my name I moved to Toronto in search of better employment opportunities.

While many praised the government’s response many others voiced their displeasure and frustration at being over looked by the government. Credit to the Liberal government, they listened when Canadians spoke and a month later in April the government expanded the benefits to include part time employee’s making less then $1,000 a month due to reduced hours. But this was not without flaws. Many Canadians again fell through the cracks of the CERB as workers who made less than $5,000 in the previous year but were able to make over $1,000 a month would not be eligible. I, like many others, again sat back and watched the government announce another stimulus package that we were ineligible to apply to, having been unemployed prior to COVID and still unable to find work.

Then on April 22 the government announced a new benefit, the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). I thought finally I can apply! I recently graduated from school in the fall of 2019 and so with eager anticipation I looked at the eligibility of this benefit. The CESB set out that Canadian students or recent graduates unable to find work, or who are making less than $1,000 a month, would be able to receive $1,250 every 4 weeks for up to 16 weeks. However to meet the requirements of a student or recent graduate you have to be enrolled in post secondary institution, completed your post-secondary education in December 2019 or later, or be enrolled in a post-secondary program before February 1, 2021. This meant that, although having completed my program in September of 2019 and I feeling like I was just out of school, I was not considered recent enough to meet the requirements of CESB. So once again I was left with no financial resources and increasing debt.

My last recourse was applying for Employment Insurance (EI). Even researching this avenue was unnecessarily complicated and had a lot of hoops you had to jump through to even apply. The simplified requirements of EI eligibility are having been laid off and having worked a certain amount of insurable hours (typically between 420-700 hours in the last 52 weeks). This was the moment my heart truly sank. In the last 52 weeks I had been in school, then moved provinces, found a job, quit said job because of workplace racism, then moved back to Toronto just in time for Covid-19 to hit and experience the widespread workplace closures. In all those weeks I was unable to work the minimum hours needed to receive EI.

At this point I didn’t know what to do and could only laugh as I felt like the only person unable to receive any kind of support from the government. But as I learned in the coming weeks there were thousands of fellow Canadians negatively impacted by the pandemic that were left unsupported by the government. Unemployment is at an all time high and yet, as quoted in an article in Ipolitics, senior economist David Macdonald, estimates that 16 percent of all Canadians unemployed are without any support as they are not eligible for CERB, CESB, or EI. As the pandemic continues to surge and unemployment rages on, I like many Canadians have lost faith in the Federal government’s so called support measures and feel left out to dry.


By Adaku-Huggins Warner

(Adaku is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

Black Lives Matter

Racism is not a new concept to racialized people, talk to almost any black teenager or black young adult resident of Regent Park and they’ll be able to tell you of their or their friend’s experiences of been stopped by police due to the colour of their skin, most often as part of Toronto Police Services TAVIS Program (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) for aggressive policing of Toronto’s low income neighbourhoods. In these encounters black individuals are carded and asked to confirm their Regent Park resident status or state the reason for visiting the area. The ten-year TAVIS program ended in 2016.

 


Regent Park is not alone, today most Black Canadians can also tell you of a negative experience they or someone close to them has had, due to the colour of their skin. Whether it is being unfairly targeted by the police, followed around in a store, being denied housing or employment, being over-looked on a dating site or passed over for a work promotion. Unfortunately for black people race plays a major role in how they are treated in society.

However, it wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd by the police that the whole world started paying closer attention to institutional racism. And although the issue is still being widely debated in America, after a few weeks of attention here Canada has once again mostly fallen quiet. Sure there were protests, credit to the black lives matter movement (BLM), and sure politicians did their song and dance but the truth of the matter is where racism in Canada is concerned it is all to often done politely behind closed doors. As Canadians we often look at America and think thank god that’s not happening here, but in fact it is happening here and Canada should not be pretending to be so high and mighty.

This is not the first time the BLM has been in the media. Many Canadian readers will remember the last time BLM was in the headlines was in 2016 when they delayed the start of Toronto Pride parade by having a sit in to protest the treatment of black people by police and the role police had in the parade. Although many have now come out in support of BLM, back in 2016 it was a different story. People were not so charitable with many stating that BLM were being too confrontational and encroaching on an area they had no right in. I guess at that time they forgot that black LGBTQA members existed.

Still the message voiced by the BLM has always been the same. The treatment of black members of society, and likewise Indigenous peoples, by the police are rooted in racism. Indeed, there have been many studies done to support this belief. The most recent one, done by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), just came out this month and it has some damning statistics. It found that a black person in Toronto is nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by the police. Even in less serious cases the story is concerning. For example, the OHRC reports that black Torontonians represented 37.6% of people charged with cannabis possession even though they make up just 8.8% of the population and studies have shown they use marihuana at similar rates to white people. This mistreatment is not exclusive to black Canadians however. Indigenous people suffer at the hands of police in Canada as well. A study done by Pivot Legal looked at the last 17 years of police violence from 2000 -2017 and found that although the indigenous population in Canada is 4.8% they make up 15% of total fatalities cause by the police.

But can anything be done? Well if you listen to those voices behind the BLM movement you will know that yes there are actions that can be taken to uproot the system of racism in the police. BLM has been calling to defund the police and, although this might seem radical to many there is no denying that now is the time for decisice action. According to BLM - Defund the Police Canadian “taxpayers spend 41million a day on police services across the country”. By defunding the police, scholars argue, that the money could be funnelled into areas that are in desperate need of support and would help address social inequalities. For example, CBC reported that “70% of victims [of police violence] suffer from mental health and substance abuse problems”. Instead of so much of our money going to the police, we could be funding sectors that assist people with mental illness putting the emphasis on helping rather than harming. And defunding is not an unattainable dream – just look at Seattle where the city council recently voted to significantly cut their police budget so they can divert dollars into social programs.

Unfortunately, because Canada has yet to confront its problem with racism, the Defund the Police movement by BLM has been ignored by our political leaders. A recent vote at Toronto City Council on a motion to cut the police budget was defeated, with councillors being unwilling to cut the police budget by even a mere 10% leaving many black and indigenous people to wonder if the racism they face in Canada is really any better than in America.

Watch video in link below:
https://youtu.be/4kzhOxwvtZI

By Adaku Huggins-Warner

(Adaku is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

Understanding Bill 184 with MPP Suze Morrison

The coronavirus pandemic has put thousands of people out of Canadians out of work, especially lower-income people and minimum-wage workers. The financial strain has made it nearly impossible for many to pay rent. Here in Downtown East Toronto, including such neighbourhoods as Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown, many residents are renters who may be working minimum-wage jobs in non-essential businesses. Bill 184 is a new piece of provincial legislature that seeks to address some of these issues, but it has been met with criticism and controversy. We talked with Toronto Centre MPP Suze Morrison to learn more about the bill and how it can affect renters.


 Bill 184 is an omnibus bill, meaning it contains a number of different topics. One of the most important changes lets landlords and tenants discuss payment options without the involvement of the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB). In theory, it’s supposed to make the negotiation process easier and more efficient. As Morrison points out, though, the LTB exists for a reason--to make sure both parties have fair representation and are not being taken advantage of. Tenants are especially vulnerable, especially in cases involving large property owners--larger corporations may have access to legal services and advisors that the average tenant can’t afford. As a result, the law has been dubbed the “Eviction Bill” by some politicians and activists alike.

Landlords, however, say the bill favours tenants and doesn’t protect their rights. For smaller, mom-and-pop landlords, the monthly rent payments are necessary for them to stay afloat and repay their mortgage.

Over the past few weeks, Ontario lifted both its provincial state of emergency and temporary ban on evictions. The provincial government, however, is still holding onto a lot of the powers that a state of emergency entails. Morrison calls this lack of accountability dangerous, and says it’s still too soon to re-open the eviction process. “[Tenants] are no more able to pay today then they were two, three months ago,” Morrison says. Though the pandemic has slowed down, the economy has not rebounded to the point where people can consistently make rent payments.

In response to the Covid crisis, the NDP developed a rent subsidy plan where tenants would receive a payment of 75% of their rent from the government, up to $2,500. Under this plan, tenants get help to pay their rent and Landlords get paid, and evictions would be banned for the next four months.

The pandemic has hit marginalised communities the hardest. Middle- and upper-class people often work white-collar jobs that can be conducted online, but lower-paying jobs (where women and racialised people are overrepresented) can’t work from home. As a result, they’re laid off or put on leave; either way, they’re not being paid and the income gap widens. People of colour, especially Black and Indigenous people, face systemic discrimination in housing and healthcare. Working mothers are staying home to take care of their children, since schools and daycare services are limited. Though these issues have always been present, they’ve been worsened by COVID.

Having a safe and secure place to live is one of the most basic of human rights, but many Torontonians are facing housing insecurity. Hopefully, we'll see accountability and action from the provincial government. No one should be worrying about whether or not they will end up homeless, especially not in the middle of a global pandemic.

Watch Video:
https://youtu.be/8h_f0Yavdno

By Chloe Nguyen-Drury

(Chloe is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre).