Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Regent Park Does The Monster Mash

The Monster Mash, a cultural mash-up, a cultural breakdown, a cultural icon of inclusivity.

Regent Park in Toronto’s downtown east side is known for many things; however, it is the lingering and often misleading stereotype of being “one of the poorest neighbourhoods,” that shapes most people’s perspective of this area. Despite this misperceived backdrop of despair, the area has always maintained an unshakeable sense of community with generations of families calling the area home. Demographically the area has changed substantially, from a predominantly working class and low-income Irish composition during the early 1900s, to a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make-up brought on by changes in Canadian Immigration policies from the 1960s and 1970s.

Today the make-up in Regent Park (based on ethnicity) consists of the following: Aboriginal 1.52%, Black13.64%, Recent Immigrant 6.06%, White 13.64%, South Asian 19.70%, African 45.45%, Southeast Asian 12.12%, Hispanic 3.03%, West Indian 1.52%, and Arab 3.03%. These figure help to distinguish shifts in the cultural landscape that suggest long-standing Euro-centric traditions, like Halloween, are almost destined to experience a certain amount of bifurcation or hybridity if they are to continue. And it is precisely at this point that cultural traditions become all the more interesting.

“The Monster Mash” a song by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, at first glance sits firmly entrenched in the Anglo-European tradition of Halloween, but does that bare out under closer scrutiny? Written in the early 1960s, in a period in American musical history that was heavily influenced the black musical traditions of “gospel, jump blues, boogie, rhythm and blue, and country music” (Christ-Janer, Albert, Charles W. Hughes, and Carleton Sprague Smith, American Hymns Old and New (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 364, ISBN 0-231-03458-X). The Monster Mash, in fact, owes as much to the musical styles of Dee Dee Sharp and other performers such James Brown, Carlton“King”Coleman, and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, all whom recorded some version of the Mashed Potato (a song very similar in structure to The Monster Mash). And so, from the beginning, The Monster Mash, is a product of hybridity. One trend interacting with another, creating an offspring that is the mix of both.

Therefore, embracing The Monster Mash dance and the traditions of Halloween, becomes for newcomers an avenue for integration – the term Mash itself refers to a mix, or a melange – an appropriate metaphor for the mix of cultures and traditions that underpins all celebrations, be they religious, political, or secular.

Integration and inclusion are at the heart of what the Friends of Regent Park, a community-based organisation made-up of people that work together to support green space, cultural, and recreational activities in Regent Park is all about. And this year, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts our social fabric, the Friends of Regent Park organized a virtual Halloween celebration. A mash-up of old and new, they mixed, pumpkin carving video tutorials, with pumpkin recipes that incorporate Asian flavours, and last of all that icon of the Halloween tradition, The Monster Mash Dance, presented by three members of Square Circle (a Regent Park non-profit) dedicated to engaging, educating and empowering youth through the use of Social Circus and creative arts.

In a short video, Jacob, Zahra, and Bayle, breakdown and breakout the unique dance moves (The Frankenstein, The Mash, The Crank, The Wolf, and The Rip) that make the song so mesmerizingly appealing. While Jacob and Zahra perform standing up, Bayle offers a version of the movements sitting down, demonstrating, how someone with mobility issues need not feel excluded.


The Monster Mash, a cultural mash-up, a cultural breakdown, a cultural icon of inclusivity.



https://youtu.be/zJK70KWY08c


By Dimitrije Martinovic

Dimitrije is a staff member at FOCUS MEDIA ARTS CENTRE























The Friends of Regent Park Carve Pumpkins

Regent Park is a community of communities. Demographically the area has changed substantially, from a predominantly working class and low-income Irish composition during the early 1900s, to a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make-up brought on by changes in Canadian Immigration policies from the 1960s and 1970s. The shifts in the cultural landscape suggests that long-standing Euro-centric traditions, like Halloween would steadily be in decline, especially in a multi-ethnic community such as Regent Park. Halloween, however, remains one of the most celebrated days of the year and thanks to the Friends of Regent Park, will continue to be a fun filled custom in the Regent Park community in spite of Covid-19.

Halloween is observed annually on the night of 31 of October. The celebration, marking the division between the light and dark halves of the year, when the boundary between the living and dead was believed to be at its thinnest, is believed to have originated primarily as a Celtic tradition. In pre-Christian times, may people believed that spirits from the underworld and ghosts of dead people could visit the world of the living. These beliefs were brought to Canada by Scottish and Irish immigrants.

One of the most popular customs of Halloween is the jack-o-lantern. A jack-o-lantern is commonly a candle-light lit, carved pumpkin that usually sits on a window still or porch during the evenings of the Halloween season. Despite its popularity, few people know of the origins of the jack-o-lantern and would be surprised to hear that originally turnips not pumpkins were used. Pumpkins are native to North America and at the time did not exist in Ireland. The original jack-o-lanterns were hollowed-out turnips, beets or potatoes, carved to show a demonic face and lit from the inside by a candle. These vegetables were placed in a window or doorstep to frighten away evil spirits.

The term jack-o-lantern is derived from the myth of Stingy Jack, which is believed to have originated in the 17th century. According to Irish folklore, Stingy Jack was a drunkard and a cheat who was refused entry into heaven, because he was a miser, and hell, because he played tricks on the devil. Stingy Jack was condemned to roam the dimension between the living and the dead until Judgement Day with only an ember from hell to light his way. Jack kept the ember in a carved-out turnip as a lantern and thus was known as Jack of the lantern, or Jack-o-Lantern.

As years went by, the religious and spooky history behind pumpkin carvings has been forgotten, and the making of a jack-o-lantern is now consider a secular activity to bring families closer together. It’s for this reason that Friends of Regent Park have made a concerted effort to explore safe, fun ways that families in Regent Park can celebrate Halloween even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of the Halloween celebration this year, Friends of Regent Park gave away 50 free pumpkins to community members and worked with Regent Park TV to present this free Jack-o-lantern pumpkin carving workshop, as a way of engaging newcomer families in this Halloween tradition.

Friends of Regent Park is a community-based organization made-up of people that work together to support green space, cultural, and recreational activities in Regent Park.

By: Adonis Huggins with contribution by Jamelia Parnell

(Adonis is a staff member while Jamelia is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)


Centre for Social Innovation to end CSI - Regent Park’s Co-sharing Facility

CSI is pivoting from a co-sharing facility to a community support and development model.

On Monday October 26, 2020, after eight years of occupancy, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) announced that they are ceasing operations of CSI – Regent Park. Established in 2012, on the third floor of the Daniels Spectrum building in Regent Park, the CSI co-sharing workspace, is sadly closing its doors.

Although CSI has not publicly indicated the actual reasons behind the closure, it is speculated that the cost recovery model for operating the Regent Park facility was not working, and the operating expenses was significantly exceeding the revenues. The closure of the facility due to COVID-19, combined to make a bad situation, only worse.

Since its inception in 2004, the Centre for Social Innovation’s vision of facilitating co-sharing spaces that put “people and planet first” has grown to include over 3000 members generating a combined annual revenue of $270 M. The idea of “co-sharing” or “co-working” means that people, not-for-profits or companies, co-habit a neutral work space while working on different projects, but through sharing the same amenities (including meeting rooms, lounge areas, kitchens, washrooms, printers, private offices, shared offices, and work desks) they are able to keep overhead cost down - for a developing or fledgling start-up, this arrangement holds a lot of promise.

Until the recently announced closure of the Regent Park facility, CSI operated three locations in Toronto, including one at 192 Spadina, and one at 720 Bathurst. Additionally, in 2012, CSI opened a new branch in New York City.

In Regent Park, CSI has partnered with social mission driven businesses and not-for-profits like Square Circle, Green Thumbs Growing Kids, Tastelig, Youth Empowering Parents, Peace Builders, African Women Acting, Dare Arts, Visions of Science, INTENT, Interiors by Art of Living Inc., Due Good, Canada World Youth, Career Skills Incubator, the FOCUS Media Arts Centre and many others. It is estimated that 150 different groups called CSI-Regent Park home.

Now, as the facility in at the Daniels Spectrum building is closing down CSI’s commitment to its members and the neighbourhood is far from over.

Over the next six months CSI will work with the existing 150 co-working members at Regent Park to consolidated them into the two other buildings on Spadina and the Annex.

Additionally, CSI will continue its presence in Regent Park. As Denise Souedian-O’Leary (Community Manager-CSI Regent Park) puts it, CSI is pivoting from a co-sharing facility to a community support and development model.

Over the next three to five years, CSI will preserve its involvement in Regent Park by maintaining Denise Souedian-O’Leary in the role of a community resource – connecting and strengthening partnerships with residents, grassroots groups, organizations and stakeholders to ensure that for example, the work of the Social Development Plans continues. CSI will also continue their community development project known as the Everyone Everyday Project – a project that aims to engage residents in variety of DIY activities that focus on the betterment of the community.


Click the link below to watch the full video:

https://youtu.be/of6lw2ODbGM

 

By Dimitrije Martinovic

Dimitrije is a staff member at FOCUS MEDIA ARTS CENTRE.







Wednesday, October 28, 2020

WHY RENAME DUNDAS STREET IN TORONTO – what’s in a name?

Place naming, de-commemoration, commemoration and a more truthful rendering of the past, present and future.

Dundas Street cuts across an immense swath of neighbourhoods including the community of Regent Park, as it circumnavigates the eastern and western boundaries of Toronto. Beginning in the east end at Kingston Rd. and working its way westward, Dundas Street travels through The Beach, Leslieville, Riverside, Regent Park, Cabbagetown South, ChinaTown, Alexandra Park, Trinity Bellwoods, Little Portugal, Brockton Village, the Junction Triangle, Lambton, Chestnut Hills, Islington, Summerville, Appelwood Heights, Mississauga Valley, and to Erindale at its western edge where it becomes Hwy 5. Each of these neighbourhoods has a distinct cultural vibe and demographic make-up, urban, residential, commercial, suburban and in some case semi-industrial, each locale a mix of rich identities and histories that begs out to be confirmed and celebrated.

So, when Andrew Lochhead, an ally of the Black Lives Matters Movement and a Toronto artist, envisioned the idea of petitioning the City of Toronto to rename Dundas Street, he could not have known that his idea would resonate with so many people, in fact his idea garnered 15,000 signatures in just a short period of time.

The issue with Dundas Street is that it commemorates Henry Dundas, the 1st Viscount of Melville, and a significant political figure in Great Britain during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Among the positions he held during his career are Lord Advocate, President of the Board of Control of the East India Company, Minister of War, Secretary of State for War, and First Lord of the Admiralty. Henry Dundas opposed the abolishment of African slavery and his position as an influential politician is credited for delaying the abolishment of slavery for 15 years during which time it is estimated that approximately 600,000 more Africans passed into slavery.

It is also important, despite his name and memory been celebrated in numerous public places across Canada, Henry Dundas never set foot in Canada.

Why name matters? Toponomantics is the study of names, and historically the naming of places has been associated with the founding of that place, for instance; New Castle, Los Angeles, Novi Grad. Historians may deduce from these names social or cultural aspects that refer to past occupations by different people who have settled in that place including the languages spoken there and other temporally definitive characteristics. Most often what has happened in terms of place names is that with every successive intrusion of new people in a given area, meant that there was some sort of displacement that occurred there – such as a conquest or political over-throw. And so, the naming and renaming of places has always consisted of the notion of “de-commemoration” on the one hand, while on the other hand it celebrated a new “commemoration” that supplanted the previous event/person/place.

Among Indigenous peoples, place names for example serve as mnemonic devices, conveying information and knowledge about the land that combines both the spiritual and environmental characteristics of a place. Place names may contain ‘ways of being’, reminding travelers of seasonal resources or they may recall moral teachings. The Aboriginal people of Australia have a belief system known as “songline” or “dream track” according to which a person may travel safely across the land by following a path once traveled by sacred ancestors (handed down through song and ritual), the “songline” would have information about landmarks, waterholes, and other critical survival features.

With the colonization of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia by Europeans, the traditional associations with place names were lost. In Canada, this has meant that most places have names rooted in French and English cultures and histories – past monarchs, religious saints, famous personages, and memorable places in Europe.

Fortunately, there are numerous initiatives across Canada dedicated to restoring the long history of Indigenous place names, like the Ogimaa Mikana Project that seeks to restore Anishinaabemowin place-names to the streets, avenues, roads, paths, and trails of Gichi Kiiwenging (Toronto).

The project of colonizing the new world brought with it another feature that from its earliest beginnings, due to the development of plantation estates and the lack of an indentured work force large enough to do the work, the implementation of slaves becomes the method by which large-scale resource extraction begins to fund the Colonial Empires of Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, and Great Britain. Much has been written on the subject of slavery and the impact of Europeans on Africans, but there is some fundamental knowledge that needs to be addressed regarding the psychology of slavery. Torrance T. Stephens a professor at Clark Atlanta University, Department of Psychology, had this say on the subject:


“Since the main reason for slavery was an economic one, it was essential for Europeans to develop a rationale in support of slavery, which resulted in an attached stigma to African people in the colonies. The logic was based on the view that Africans were sav age and not human and that it was the duty of whites to make Africans worthwhile. Thus, the legal discrimination of African preceded and led to a status of physical and psychological inferiority being attached to slaves in the American South. This attitude may have best been evinced in the disposition of the people involved with slavery at all levels.”

These racial attitudes which were the by-product of slavery from then on become intrenched in the institutional fabric of the United States. It is same these attitudes of racial superiority that are mirrored in the treatment of Native Peoples, allowing Europeans to omit and cast aside the history of both Africans and Indigenous populations – privileging the ensuing years as a Whites only history.

Fortunately, there are numerous initiatives across Canada dedicated to restoring the long history of Indigenous place names, like the Ogimaa Mikana Project that seeks to restore Anishinaabemowin place-names to the streets, avenues, roads, paths, and trails of Gichi Kiiwenging (Toronto). Andrew Lochhead’s petition has also garnered the support of Toronto City Council and as a result, the City has initiated a review of its policies related to renaming and a public consultation process.

It is not that the renaming of streets, avenues, roads, paths, and trails means that suddenly the one historical record will be rendered more important than another, but rather, it will mean that the history that has been omitted will have an equal place, one also worthy of commemoration.

Here in Regent Park, we might take a page of from Andrew and these discussions of naming and renaming public spaces, and along with Dundas Street, reconsider renaming Regent Park. Why should the area bear the name of a dead English monarch, why note instead give it a name that truly evokes the history of its past, present and future?

Reference: Psychology Of Slavery, Torrance T Stephens. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277590029


By Dimitrije Martinovic
Dimitrije is a staff at FOCUS MEDIA ARTS CENTRE 


You can watch the full interview here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jKdqhV4PHY&feature=youtu.be

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Understanding the Revitalization Working Group

The Revitalization Working Group, also known as the Revit Working Group or RWG for short, is a committee of Regent Park residents who works with Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) in the development of an engagement strategy for phrases 4 & 5 Request For Proposals (RFP) process. The group is made up of 3 TCHC tenant council members, 3 Regent Park Neighbourhood Association (RPNA) members and 6 community members who aren't involved in either those groups.

The purposes of the Revite Working Group is to 1) understand and prioritize issues related to the revitalization of Regent ParK 2) be informed through lessons learned and 3) create a space for stakeholders to work together and report back to the community on their work.

According to a recent August 6, 2020, presentation by Revit Group member, Daniel Amin, the group has had two initial priorities. The first was a development of a fair transparent process for community members to be engaged in the phase 4 & 5 Requests For Proposals to select a developer partner. This work included three pillars of engagement for the request for proposals process. The first pillar was to help the community understand the RFP and ensure that residents were informed about the process. The second pillar was to create questions for the developer presentation involving working with residents to develop a set of questions that were asked of the potential developer partners at the presentation. Lastly, the third pillar was to score the developers at the presentation, whereupon residents had the chance to score each developer opponent based on how they responded to the community's vision for the revitalization of Regent Park.

A total of 227 residents attended the developer presentation last October, 2019. Those that attended, scored the presentations. These scores were incorporated into the overall score for each proposal and will help TCHC determine the shortlisted proponents for phases 4 & 5.

Finally, the other key priority for the working group, which is also the current focus, is the development of a fair process for the selection of an organization or multiple organizations that would use potential community space in phases 4 & 5. So this work is just beginning and they'll be more to say in this in the future.

By Tyrone Maclean-Wilson

Tyrone is a staff member of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre

The Toronto Rent Bank

Neighbourhood Information Post is a not-for-profit organization located in the Toronto Public Library on Parliament and Gerrard in the Regent Park area. The Neighbourhood Information Post (NIP) serves low-income individuals and households living in the Downtown East Toronto. One of the services that NIP delivers in partnership with the City of Toronto is the Rent Bank.

The Rent Bank provides zero-interest loans for people in need of assistance in paying for rent, including those facing evictions, and new renters needing first and last months’ rent. Neighbourhood Information Post provides an array of different services, but the Rent Bank is one of their most widely accessible yet underutilized programs. Despite their grassroots word-of-mouth advertisement, the Rent Bank is rarely mentioned in conversations surrounding Housing Assistance programs in Toronto.

In recent months due to the global pandemic, there has been a rise in applicants to the Rent Bank, as many people have suffered a loss of income. Due to Bill 184, which makes it easier for landlords to obtain evictions, the Rent Bank is predicting more residents facing evictions will be applying, alongside the increase in applicants who have suffered a loss of income due to the Covid Pandemic. In past years, the use of the Rent Bank by residents of Regent Park was very low due to eligibility restrictions preventing tenants already receiving subsidized housing from applying. However, this number is rising as a result of the increase of condos and other market rent home renters in Regent Park who are struggling to pay their rent. All of these converging issues have made the Rent Bank an even higher necessity, resulting in a $2 million grant from the City of Toronto.


 The Rent Bank program first started at Neighbourhood Information Post in 1999. With Municipal Governmental assistance, they provide loans to approximately 100 families each month. While Neighbourhood Information Post hosts the Rent Bank specifically to residents in the Regent Park and downtown Toronto area, Toronto Rent Bank is a joint collaboration between six other agencies across neighbourhoods in Toronto. The Rent Bank has few requirements for eligibility: applicants must be living in the city of Toronto, or, if they are moving, their new residence must be located in Toronto. Applicants cannot be Social Assistance clients, their household should be within low-income guidelines and be paying market-level rent.

Since the pandemic reached Toronto in March, there has been many changes to the application process at the Rent Bank. In efforts to minimize social interaction, in-person meetings and signed forms are no longer being used. Instead, there is a main hotline- (416)-397-7368- that will direct you to neighbourhood branches and local Rent Banks that will assist further in the application process. The rest of the application process is completed entirely on-phone and online. Any loans given past February 2020 are given a repayment deferral of up to a year, which greatly helps applicants that have joined due to job loss. The lowest repayment rate is currently $25/month, and the highest loans are $4000/up to 3 months rent.

Toronto Rent Bank and Neighbourhood Information Post have made several long-term changes to continue helping local residents in need, with preventing evictions and homelessness being their priority. For more information, go to their website at nipost.org/toronto-rent-bank.

All information was found on Neighbourhood Information Post’s website and through an interview with Toronto Rent Bank Program Leader Maja Bryon. To see a full interview with Maja Bryon and learn more about the Toronto Rent Bank, check out the RPTV youtube channel below.

By Nate Gurarie

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

 You can watch the interview here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r_buDPcyEI


Monday, September 21, 2020

International Overdose Awareness Day In Moss Park

Finding strength and solidarity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in every sector of society. However, it is in the closely-knit downtown core of large urban centers that fabric of daily life has become even more exacerbated.

In Toronto’s downtown east side neighbourhood of Moss Park, a community typically described as occupying east of Jarvis Street to Parliament street, and south of Queen street to Dundas street, coping with the pandemic has been particularly challenging. This is because Moss Park not only comprises of public housing complexes, but also a number of low-income rental units, rooming houses and several homeless shelters all of which contribute to the housing needs of the city’s most vulnerable people, including a significant population of people struggling with poverty, addictions and mental health.

For those living in poverty and struggling with mental health and addictions, finding the support to negotiate these circumstances maybe difficult at the best of times, but with a pandemic all around, life has become lot more challenging. Started as a tent run by volunteers, the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site as been operating since August 2017 in an effort to prevent a rash of overdose deaths largely from fentanyl and contaminated drugs. At the Moss Park site people can use drugs under the supervision of a staff or volunteer who checks for signs of overdose and infection. They also monitor those using drugs and offer clean supplies.



The Moss Park Overdose Prevention site is just a small part of the needed response to the crisis.

In Toronto the stream of overdose victims (27 suspected fatal opioid overdoses – reported by CBC Aug 21, 2020) has reached its own pandemic proportions. In response there have been a number Government investments in Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) beginning in 2017, and safe injection sites, and most recently the first safe drug supply program. The safe drug supply is an initiative intended to circumvent the influx of tainted street drugs that are causing the current raft of overdoses. Part of a wider view on the issue of illicit drug use, the safe drug supply program is an extension of the harm reduction approach, which seeks to reduce the harms associated with the criminalization of drug use.

The notion of providing officially sanctioned drugs to existing of drug uses is deeply contentious on all sides of the argument. Historically, the therapeutic ingestion of various substances (drugs like marijuana, opium, and other hallucinogenic) has a long history with humankind, and certainly along the way it has also been a problematic one for many societies. However, it is not until the modern era that we have an escalation of the domestic consumption of (illicit) narcotics and stimulants. Decoupled as it were from religious ritual and healing purposes, psychoactive substances and the addictions that have arisen from their use and abuse, have located the etiology of addiction within a set of debates that struggles to rationalize whether or not to view the dilemma as a ‘sin’ or ‘disease?’ Is it that the individual is to blame because of some moral or psychological deficiency, or is society to blame because it lacks the requisite foundation to support a healthy and positive environment for all its citizens?

So while this latest attempt to reduce the harms associated with the criminalization of drug use is seen by some as a another step into societal ruin (by make more drugs available to more people), and others as a more humane alternative to the punitive philosophy of incarceration, there are still others who claim that the safe supply program does not do enough. At a recent event staged in Toronto’s Allen Gardens to commemorate the International Overdose Awareness Day, where various organizations such as Street Health, Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, and others gathered along with members of the community to bring awareness and show solidarity with people who are dealing with addictions and mental health issues, RPTV met with Sarah Elisabeth a member of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance.

In Sara’s opinion, the safe drug supply program has the wrong approach, “while providing pharmaceutical grade opioids, the drugs themselves are limited both in the substance that they offer, in the caseload that they can take on, and a lot of these programs are pilot programs, so they are not permanently funded. And so while they are definitely a step forward, they’re just a drop in the bucket to the solution for the overdose crisis. Another part of the solution would be decriminalization; because these programs are really centered around opioids and they don’t include other drugs that might be contaminated, or other people who use drugs need a safe supply as well, and so safe supply programs are great, but we need is decriminalization to kind of help across the board to ensure that everybody has access to a safe supply of drugs.”

By Dimitrije Martinovic

Dimitrije is a staff member at FOCUS MEDIA ARTS CENTRE.


To watch the video check out the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7WZXtlcS_0






Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Connection between Racism and the Origins of Policing

In an effort to deter violent crime, police forces across North America heavily rely upon a strategy of highly visible and aggressive patrolling of low-income neighbourhoods often populated by people of colour. In Toronto, the Toronto Police Services called this strategy TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy). In Regent Park and other communities these patrols resulted in allegations of carding, racial profiling and police conflicts with community residents and visitors who were stopped by police and asked to confirm their resident status or state the reasons for their visits to the area.

In Toronto, the 10-year TAVIS officially ended in 2016, in favour of community policing (where officers are embedded in the community and get to know residents to help identify perpetrators of crime). As we witness the wave of Black Lives Matter protests and outrage over the killing of George Floyd and others by police, many are beginning to critically reflect upon the relationship between racism, colonialism, white supremacy and policing. In this intriguing conversation, U of T historian and academic Max Mishler argues that the practice of over policing communities of color is not only a normal function of systemic racism but is inherent in the reasons why policing itself was founded.

Policing was first brought officially to Canada in 1830s by the British and French who at the time were in the process of colonizing Canada. So what role did the police play in the colonization of Canada? Well in order to colonize a place it is necessary to establish either control over, and/or extermination of, the indigenous people who are there. With the help of the police a system was created that could detain, imprison, and remove indigenous people all under the guise of enforcing the laws, which were written by the colonizers. This in turn allowed for Canada to be founded as a nation under white European domination.

In the early years of Canada becoming a nation the colonizers had firmly occupied the eastern parts of it, however out west many indigenous communities had not yet been forced off their land. That was soon to change when in 1873 Prime Minister John A. Macdonald created the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). Unlike the traditional police the NWMP was much more militarized and in effect acted as both the law makers and the law enforces. During this time the NWMP forced indigenous people off their land to make way for the Canadian Pacific Railway which was being built at the time so that white settlers could travel west. We can see then that the NWMP was essentially created with a goal, even if it was not explicitly stated, of clearing the land of indigenous people for the purposes of establishing white communities.

In 1920 the NWMP, and the Dominion Police Force (DPF), which had been set up to protect government operations, were merged to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP has a colourful history of poor treatment of indigenous people. In recent years many Canadians have been taught about residential schools, which were boarding school for indigenous kids meant to erase their culture and “help” them integrate with “normal” society. In reality residential schools were places of terrible abuse and violence. However, it is not widely taught the role the RCMP had in the round up and forceful removal of kids from their family and homes to send to these horrific institutions. Once again the police system in Canada was used to promote whiteness and support the erosion of indigenous people and culture.

The origins of racism in the police isn’t just related to the oppression and murder of indigenous people either. Around this same time slavery was ending, having been officially abolished in Canada in1834. However, with the end of slavery came an uneasiness about black people who would no longer be so directly controlled by wealthy white colonizers. Given this new context colonizers sought out a system that would allow them to continue their control of these newly freed black people. Enter the system of police that had already shown the ability to dominate and exert control over indigenous people. Black people at the time were believed to be naturally stupid, lazy, degenerates and many white people believed that without white interference black people would revert back to their ‘natural’ state and criminality would run rampant. In fact, a lot of white people felt that laws and punishments to control black people was a way of doing them a favour so they would not unleash their ‘inner demons’.

It’s not surprising then that any expression of freedom or liberation on the part of black people was seen as suspicious. The government turned to police forces who were used to investigate expressions of black autonomy and re-establish control under the guise of protecting black people from themselves and in turn eliminating any criminality that was sure to follow. Although much has changed since the 1800s its easy to see that the same stereotypes of black people still hold up today. As Robin Maynard points out in her excellent book Policing Black Lives, as recently as the 1980s the Montreal Police used pictures of black men when conducting their shooting target practice. And closer to home a new 2020 report (A Disparate Impact) by the Ontario Human Rights Commission reveals troubling statistics about anti-Black racism in the Toronto Police. For example, even though African Canadians make up only 8.8% of Toronto’s population they represented almost four in 10 (38%) people involved in cannabis charges, despite conviction rates and many studies showing that they use cannabis at similar rates to White people; even more tragic is that black Canadians accounted for 25% of police shootings and police sexual assault in the city.

While slavery and colonization have long since ended in Canada it is clear that present day policing continues to echo many of the same historical themes that oppressed indigenous and black people back in the day. Police forces continue to play a role in protecting the interests of rich, white Canadians by attempting, often intentionally and perhaps sometimes subconsciously, to control and suppress indigenous and black people. There can be no doubt we have a long way to go before we have a fair, just and equal society with a police force that matches those values as well.


In this video, U of T historian and academic Max Mishler discusses the origins of racism in policing.


By Adaku Huggins-Warner

Adaku is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre

To watch the video, checkout the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF-7ZkunGcY

References

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326383693_Policing_Black_Lives_State_Violence_in_Canada_from_Slavery_to_the_Present_Book_Review

http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/new-ohrc-report-confirms-black-people-disproportionately-arrested-charged-subjected-use-force

https://online.wlu.ca/news/2019/08/13/history-policing-canada

https://globalnews.ca/news/7048298/policing-in-canada-colonialism-anti-black-racism/



Saturday, September 19, 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on 611 Purple Factory Barbershop

611 Purple Factory is a barbershop that is located in the Regent Park area, at 611 Dundas Street East, right across for the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre. The shop’s area of service focuses on the hair cuts, shape ups, fading and more. The shop is owned by Martin Ferreira.

Barbershops, unfortunately, is one of the non-essential services ordered to close as part of Ontario Premiere Doug Ford’s announcement on Tuesday March 23, 2020, that all non-essential store and services would be ordered to close, in an attempt to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

The closure has caused a lot of hardship for small business owners like Martin. Yet, despite the closure and loss of revenue, Martin took the news in stride and was even positive about it. According to Martin, this was his first summer break in over ten years. Most summers, “we just cut hair stand inside and watch the seasons change through the windows. This summer I was able to enjoy the outdoors and have fun,” said Martin.

When the news came that non-essential businesses including barbershops were finally able to reopen, Martin did not know until his clients started to contact him to open. Nevertheless, Martin did not wait; he took it upon himself to clean and sanitize. He also called in a cleaning crew to assist and stayed in his shop till the wee hours of the morning before opening day, to properly prepare. As part of the new normal, mask wearing & hand sanitization is required and he only takes clients by appointment only which allows him to put limits on how many people are in the shop at any one time.

Martin was surprised to see how many big company’s and franchise’s closing down due to the pandemic considering all the money these businesses make. Martin believes that you have to hustle to run a business and that it is important to be relentless and have the right attitude.

When asked why he started a business in Regent Park, Martin replied, “I didn’t choose Regent Park…Regent Park chose me”.

Martin’s relationship with Regent goes way back, much prior to the start of the redevelopment. “I had friends and family here and I am blessed and honoured to be here”. Martin believes that Regent Park is a historical neighbourhood with a rich heritage and culture. The history is very deep and a lot of people don’t know about it even people who moved into the area from other parts of the city. “I feel the need to educate them. This is not just another Starbucks, I am part of this heritage,” says Martin.

For all of Martin’s reminisces about the neighbourhood Martin insists that, “the past is the past and it ain’t coming back”. Instead Martin hopes that the 611 Purple Factory will contribute to the future of the neighbourhood. Even if it is just conversations with young people or condo owners in the Barber’s chair at the 611 Purple Factory.


By Gaelle Kosi with contribution by Adonis Huggins

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


To watch the interview, click here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaKm5xL_Ny4


Friday, September 18, 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on Supreme Cut Barbershop

Supreme cut is a barbershop located in the Regent Park area on 432 Dundas Street east, near parliament and Dundas. Their area of focus is hair cutting, lineups, shape ups & men’s care. The shop is owned by black business owner Flory Wembolwa.

Flory Wembolwa was forced to close his shop after Premiere Doug Ford announcement on Tuesday March 23, 2020, that all non-essential store and services would be ordered to close as of Tuesday March 24th, to slow down the spread of Covid-19. 

 

Flory took the time off that he had to plan ahead until the shop opened up again. He learned at an incredibly young age to always prepare and save for “rainy days.” Flory tell us that it is part of the Congolese culture to always have something aside like an emergency insurance. As a result of this attitude, Flory has no sympathy for businesses that had to close down due to the COVID 19 closure. In Flory’ words, “if you don’t have enough money to pay three months rent, you shouldn’t be in business.”

When Flory received the news that non-essential businesses including barbershops were finally able to reopen, Flory was ready to get back to work. He took all the safety precautions he needed to take to ensure that his shop was clean and safe. Not only for clients but also for employees. He made sure to enforce social distancing between barbers. Supreme is already an appointment-based shop.

He also questioned why his business was not considered a non-essential business because people need these services. Maintaining a decent hair cut is important in your work and how you present yourself. “Would you leave your house to go to work without clean and decent clothes? Why would you do so without a well maintain hair cut?” argues Flory. He also added, “we do more than what you think,” and argues there should be a union for barbers. When a pandemic like this happens there is no one to advocate for our needs and there is nothing for us.”

Flory has also reduced his own hours to take care of himself and works by appointment so as not to stay in the shop for too many hours at a time.


By Gaelle Kosi

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


Watch the full interview here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXjOSpV3IaQ