Tuesday, March 23, 2021


Anti-Asian Racism: A traditional Chinese Lion
sculpture as part of the Chinese archway architecture
located in the Broadway Avenue and Gerrard Street East
are defaced with paint.
  Photo courtesy of Tyrone Maclean-Wilson

Anti-Asian racism incidents spark the need for a new reporting tool.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a multitude of unforeseen problems, but one of the most troubling side effects has been a spike in incidents of anti-Asian racism. The coronavirus was first recognized in Wuhan, China, and some people are using COVID-19’s origins as an excuse for racism (though the majority of Ontario’s cases can be traced back to American and European travellers). In order to properly document these incidents of racism and related intolerance towards people of Asian descent, as well as other People of Colour and Indigenous peoples, the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter (CCNCTO) and their partners has launched an online reporting tool designed to document incidents of Anti-Asian racism.  

Efforts to combat Anti-Asian racism is especially important to the community of Regent Park. Of the Downtown East area (including Regent Park, Riverdale, and Moss Park), 8% of the population are Chinese or Southeast Asian. These communities are often comprised of new immigrants who may not be fluent in English, making it difficult for them to access healthcare and employment insurance--both crucial services in the pandemic. These residents are also vulnerable to incidents of racism.

We talked to activist Avvy Yao-Yao Go to learn more about the history of anti-asian racism in Canada and the issues the Asian-Canadians face.

Go is a lawyer and director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, which helps Asian Torontonians access legal services. Asian people were often mistreated by police and other government officials, but language barriers made it difficult to get legal help. Most recently, she’s been launching on a website that lets Asians report incidents of racism they’ve experienced or witnessed. COVID didn’t cause anti-Asian racism, but it certainly exacerbated it. As of July 9th, there have been over 300 reported cases of public harassment, people being spat on, vandalizing of business, assaults, and stabbings perpetrated against members of Canada’s Asian communities. Tracking these incidents lets Asian-Canadians share their lived experiences in a safe and supportive place. Additionally, it creates a database that Go hopes the government will use to address anti-Asian racism in Canada.

Systemic prejudice against Asian-Canadians is not a particularly new idea; anti-Asian sentiments have been around since the founding of the country. John A. McDonald, the country’s first Prime Minister, referred to Chinese people as “strangers” who didn’t share the “British instinct” of good morals. As a result, he disenfranchised the entire ethnic group by denying them the right to vote. Another example of racism is the “head tax” imposed on Chinese immigrants in the 1800s. After making Chinese labourers work in dangerous conditions for low wages while building the Canadian Pacific Railway, the workers were forced to pay exorbitant fees if they wanted to continue their life in Canada.

Unfortunately, the government has done little to combat anti-Asian racism, often refusing to even acknowledge it. Canada’s 2019 Anti-Racism Strategy mentions incidents against Indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, and Black communities, but does not mention the Asian community once. Each of these groups face their own unique challenges, and it’s harmful to equate and compare acts of racism. But the first step towards fixing a problem is identifying it, and Go believes that excluding the Asian community from the document minimizes the struggles Asians in Canada face.

 Most people have prejudice, preconceived notions about people who aren’t like us. These differences may be based on race and ethnicity, or on other factors like gender, sexual orientation, age, or class. If you make an active effort to change the way you think, you can unlearn those stereotypes. But when prejudice becomes ingrained in our system, it becomes dangerous. As Go explains, systemic racism in our society works to hold down people of colour.

To change the way Asian-Canadians and other racialized communities are treated, we must hold our government accountable for their actions--or lack thereof. For more information about the online Anti-Asian racism reporting tool, visit www.covidracism.ca.

Written By
Chloe Nguyen-Drury

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Monday, March 22, 2021


Initiated in January 2012, the Regent Park Community Wealth Initiative is exploring the potential for the developing a new sustainable economic model for the Regent Park community.

Regent Park is going through a massive transformation from a social housing community to a mix-income and mixed-use community. The revitalization, now in its fifteenth year, has given rise to various initiatives and opportunities. One recent initiative is the Community Wealth Feasibility Project.

The Community Wealth Feasibility Project is a partnership between the City of Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), Young Street Mission (YSM), and the Employment and Economic Development table of the Social Development Plan (SDP). Initiated in January 2021, the project is exploring the feasibility of developing a new sustainable economic model for the Regent Park area by creating an environment that can nurture opportunities for community ownership, local entrepreneurship and resident operated businesses. The overall objective is to support the local economy.

Researchers involved in the project have been looking at community wealth models around the world. Community Wealth initiatives have been implemented successfully in New York in the US, Preston in the UK, and in Parkdale, Toronto here in Canada. These community wealth models are varied in implementation and results, but each community has benefited uniquely.

In Parkdale, where the Parkdale People’s Economy is considered one of the most successful community wealth initiatives, the project comprises of a participatory planning process where participating members of the community have a voice on how community finances are managed. The Parkdale People’s Economy project consist of 4 key initiatives.

A Community land trust model which allows for community ownership of land and democratic control of how the land should be used, such as affordable housing, community gardens and non-profit facilities

A Co-op Cred Program for low-income residents on social assistance to avail an opportunity of food security accessibility tools based on alternate currency models and volunteering.

Community Food Flow for a strengthened local community purchasing power, logistical capacities and relationships of individual organizations for food procurement and distribution

Parkdale Food Network to build a healthy local food system enabling the community to create food connections among various community organizations and members

Similar to Parkdale people’s economy model, the Regent Park Community Wealth initiative seeks to also focus on initiatives that can help drive the community forward and contribute to a local sustainable economy.

To drive the Regent Park Community Wealth feasibility study forward, the project leads (Denise Soueidan-O’Leary and Thomas Linder) have engaged a community driven process to obtain input for the study. To date three community engagement workshops have been held with community members.

If you are interested in learning more about the Regent Park Community Wealth Feasibility Study view my interview with Denise and Thomas at https://youtu.be/mwHCVcQ_oIQ or contact them directly: denise@socialinnovation.ca, thomas.l@socialinnovation.ca

Written by
Dawar Naeem

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Friday, March 12, 2021

TCHC Selects A New Development Partner For Regent Park

RPTV reports on TCHC's selection of a new development partner for Phases 4 and 5 of the Regent Park Revitalization.

On Dec 15, 2020, the Board of Directors at Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), approved Tridel Builders Inc., as the new partner developer for phases 4 and 5 of the Regent Park revitalization. Founded in the 1930’s, Tridel Builders Inc is the largest builder of condominiums in the Greater Toronto Area. Along with announcement that Tridel Builders Inc. was selected as the new partner developer, TCHC disclosed that Tridel will allocate $26.8 million towards community benefits for the Phases 4 and 5 of the Regent Park development, tripling the amount allocated in years previously!

This decision followed over two years of intense consultations between Regent Park resident’s groups who were surprised by TCHC’s May 4, 2018, announcement that TCHC will be issuing a call for proposals, for a new developer to complete the final stages of the Regent Park Revitalization. In this meeting, Kelly Skeith, Senior Director of Development for TCHC, argued that its contractual relationship with the Daniels Corporation - the current developers of Regent Park, was always scheduled to end with the completion of phase 3 and that issuing a request for proposal for a new development partner is a standard practice of the corporation’s public accountability and fiscal management responsibility. The Regent Park Neighbourhood Association (RPNA), led by Marlene Genoa and Stephanie Beatty of the RPNA Leadership Team, greeted the announcement with skepticism and derision, and TCHC was openly challenged by community members over its lack of transparency for failing to inform residents years earlier about its intentions to tender for a new developer. Members also voiced their interest in continuing its 10-year long relationship with Daniels.

Since the acrimonious meeting of May 4, 2018, TCHC has made concerted efforts to involve residents in its process of decision making for a new development partner. Two representatives of RPNA were invited, on a confidential basis, to participate on the developer’s selection committee, and more effort was made to engage residents in the selection process including the development of a joint TCHC /resident Revitalization Working Group, as well as a resident only TCHC community meeting to hear and rate the development presentations from the three shortlisted developers (Daniels Corporation, Capital Developments and Tridel Builders Inc.). Over 300 residents attended the presentations.

Despite these efforts of collaboration, members of the community mobilized with the Toronto Community Benefits Network to form the Regent Park Community Benefits Coalition. The Community Benefits Coalition has been putting sustained pressure on TCHC to work more closely with the community to ensure that the selected developer will provide additional assets and resources identified by the community. These benefits go beyond the development of affordable housing and market buildings. For example, community benefits negotiated by TCHC with Daniels in phrases one, two and three, has been valued at $8,296,000 according to City Toronto Oct 28, 2019, Supplementary Report - Resourcing the Regent Park Social Development Plan. These funds went towards: employment initiatives for residents; a new state-of-the-art community centre; a state -of-the-art aquatic centre; the building of the Daniels Spectrum Art Centre; and new athletic grounds - complete with a basketball court, soccer/cricket pitch, an NBA size basketball court and rejuvenated ice rick and field house.

Although one can’t really say for certain how much influence tenant advocacy had, but along with announcement that Tridel Builders Inc. was selected as the new partner developer, TCHC disclosed that Tridel will allocate $26.8 million towards community benefits for the Phases 4 and 5 of the Regent Park development, tripling the amount allocated in years previously!

Responding to concerns that the new developers may not be as accessible and responsive to the community as Daniels has been, William Mendes, the Director of Program Delivery for TCHC, had this to say,

“Daniels has done an excellent job in getting involved with the community and engaging with the community to understand what are some of the challenges that residents of Regent Park face….And Tridel has also done the same in other communities where they are our developer partner, in Alexandra Park and also Leslie Nymark.”

With two developers in Regent Park, Mendes feels that the Regent Park redevelopment will be a unique opportunity for residents to continue its relationship with Daniels while at the same time build new relationships with Tridel.

With the finalization of the new partner developer confirmed for Phases 4 and 5 and community benefits in the amount of $26.8 million, the next stage in the transformation of Regent Park will be a one-year community engagement process to identify more closely what the community priorities are and when construction will begin. Peter Zimmerman, Senior Development Manager for TCHC , informs us in a recent interview (Feb 12. 2021), “We hope to get an application for the first buildings within the next 12 months, we have to design them, we have to take them through the approval process, and then we have to get them set-up for construction. So, I would say sometime within the next 24 months delivery of the first buildings. Final roll out of the entire development probably within the next eight ten years.”

 In Regent Park, where the revitalization is now in its final phases there has been an urgency to see TCHC, the two developers and all the community stakeholders come together in an equitable, sustainable, and fiscally sound manner. Striking the right balance is not lost on anyone who is involved. It is after all a historic moment, a moment when the slate has been brushed clean, and everyone has a chance to make this project work.


Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic
With contribution by Adonis Huggins

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Putting An End to Child Marriages

In conversation with Rowena Pinto, Chief Program Officer of UNICEF Canada about ending Child Marriages

St. James Town, located in the heart of the City of Toronto, is a community of communities.

It lies in the northeast corner of the downtown area. The neighbourhood covers the area bounded by Jarvis Street to the west, Bloor Street East to the north, Parliament Street to the east, and Wellesley Street East to the south.

Officially, approximately 17,000 people live in the neighbourhood's 19 apartment towers and 4 low rise buildings, making it one of Canada's most densely populated communities. It is largely filled with immigrants — especially those who arrived in the 1990s.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, held this year on March 8, 2021, St. James Town TV had the opportunity to interview Rowena Pinto, Chief Program Officer of UNICEF Canada.

Rowena oversees international policy and programs, advocating governments on policies that help children around the world. One of the issues that is dear to her heart is the rights of children and specifically advocating to eliminate child marriages.

According to Rowena, globally over twelve million girls under the age of 18 are entered into marriages each year, regularly to men who are significantly older. Rowena explains that this used to be much higher but over the last 25 years there has been a concerted effort to address this problem. Unfortunately, Covid -19 has exacerbated the problem due to the fact that girls have been forced to stay home and have been cut off from their education and social networks. Rowena is worried that there is a possibility that the world will lose the gains they made fighting this issue. 


When a child is married under the age of 18, under the United Nations Convention of Human Rights and the Conventions of the Right of the Child, it is considered forced. There is no child that can make that decision on their own.

The impact for girls in child marriages is that they often are prevented from going to school and are put in more isolated conditions and as a result face a much higher risk of abuse and depression. The girls are also forced to engage in intercourse and have children before their bodies are mature and ready and as a result suffer health problems including infections, cervical cancer and high rates of childbirth mortalities.

There are those that argue that there are countries and places around the world where child marriages are accepted and practiced as part of the cultural values and traditions of a society and it would be wrong to pressure these societies to conform to western norms. For her part, Rowena adamantly opposes this view, arguing that almost every country has signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is not only the most comprehensive human rights treaty on children’s rights but is the most widely ratified treaty among nations in the world. In fact, the one notable exception is United States, so it would be wrong to assert the claim that the rights of a child or the elimination of child marriages is a Western idea.

This international treaty, Rowena points out, clearly defines childhood from birth to 18 years and clearly states that there should be no marriages under the age of 18. Subsequently in many of the countries where UNICEF is working to confront the problem, child marriages are actually illegal.

Unfortunately, Rowena concedes that the practice continues especially in rural and isolated places and in areas where the law is less enforced and cultural traditions override legislation, as well as in places where jurisdictions permit child marriages with parental consent. The fact is, says Rowena, that in many of these places, girls are many times not as valued as much as boys, and for a variety of reasons such as lack of birth certificates, poverty, and lack of education the problem of child marriages persists. UNICEF tries to work with women in these areas because they have lived experience and understand the psychological and physical development issues involved. Many of these women know that girls who marry as children face separation from family and friends during a critical stage of their lives and are expected to take on the role of a grown woman before they are ready-keeping house and raising a family.

Although child marriage is found in almost every region of the world including Canada and United States – overwhelmingly, child brides come from the world’s most impoverished nations. Child marriages is most common in Southeast Asia (notably India and Bangladesh) and sub-Saharan Africa (Mali, Chad and Congo), in regions linked with low levels of economic development and where girls (and women) are seen as financial burdens to their families and can be married off for financial gain or to strengthen ties between families or communities.

All around the world, millions of women and girls are denied their basic human rights, simply because of their gender. And yet, studies show that when you invest in girls, the whole world benefits. Its proven time and again that when a girl has enough to eat, a safe environment and an education, she’ll work to raise the standard of living for herself, her family and her community. Isn’t it time we put an end to child marriages? Rowena Pinto of UNICEF Canada definitely thinks so!!!

Watch Full Interview:

Written by
Adonis Huggins

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair hears Regent Park concerns and announces Firearm Legislation

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair and Toronto Centre MP Marci Ien, meets Regent Parkers to hear safety concerns and inform the community about Bill C-21.

On a cold night at 11:40 PM, on February 2nd, 2021, multiple gunshots were heard near Regent Park Boulevard and Dundas Street east, Toronto. Soon Toronto Police Cruisers were seen rushing towards a parking lot on Oak street between Sackville and Sumach street.

Four men in their 50s and 60s were sitting in a Golden Honda Accord, were sipping their warm coffee, when two unidentified men opened fire on the car. Three men were injured and one was unharmed. Out of the three, one victim is reported to had suffered life threatening injuries while other two had major injuries as well.

The deafening gunshots not only has shaken the community and has spread fear among the neighbourhood but has also mobilized a conversation around the issue of gun violence and the policies that have recently been considered under Canadian legislation on firearms.

Recently, in the wake of these shootings, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, and Toronto Centre MP Marci Ien met to discuss the issue and to updated the Regent Park community on what the government was doing to make Regent Park and other urban communities safer.

The Government of Canada has tabled a new legislation surrounding the control on gun violence and has introduced a buy-back for illegal weapons. Bill C-21 would also increase penalties for the smuggling and trafficking of weapons, provides clear restrictions on the use of illegal weapons, and hopes to eradicate the risks associated to legal firearms and the banned assault-style firearms.

Among the amendments in Bill C-21 the government proposes to:

combat intimate partner and gender-based violence, and self-harm by allowing people, such as concerned friends or relatives, to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of an individual's firearms, or to suspend and review an individual's license to own firearms;

help create safer communities by supporting municipalities that ban handguns through bylaws restricting storage and transportation in their jurisdictions;

give young people the opportunities and resources to avoid criminal behaviour by providing funding in the amount of $250 million over 5 years – starting in 2021-22 - to municipalities and Indigenous communities to support anti-gang programming and prevention programs for youth-at-risk.

From my perspective, the proposed legislation is a strategic attempt at providing safety measures to communities, and in protecting the vulnerable groups such as youth at risk. It serves as a framework to mitigate potential violence due to firearms and illegal weapons.

However, there is a greater opportunity in providing support to the community by running various awareness campaigns based on the legislation reforms proposing stiffer sentences for gun crime, creating social cohesion in the neighbourhood for the victims and vulnerable groups through well-planned physical and mental health activities and cultural events. Further, in my opinion it is very important to engage the youth using modern day tools of communication such as social media, and mobilizing influencers, bloggers and celebrity endorsements to support prevention initiatives.

The owners of weapons should also be engaged regularly, and monitored for their responsible utilization of weapons as there is a need for law enforcement agencies to continue a stricter regulation on weapon smuggling, and existing gun lobbies.

The Regent Park region has overcome many challenges over its history, and with support from community members and service provides, community policing initiatives and collaboration from all three levels of government, the neighbourhood will continue to thrive and be a safe place to live and raise families. 


Written by
Dawar Naeem

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Cabbagetown Cares

Cabbagetown Cares is an example how local communities are forming grassroots responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by mobilizing partnerships and resources to meet the needs of our most vulnerable communities. In this initiative St. Luke's United Church joins the Cabbagetown BIA and Dixon Hall to provide a free weekly hot meal in Allan Gardens.

The coronavirus pandemic is uprooting and upending all the known human conditions. And as has become so patently clear to everyone, there is a definitive divide on who is being the most affected. From all reports COVID-19 infections are disproportionately striking low-income neighbourhoods, and neighbourhoods with a higher percentage of black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC).

In Toronto’s downtown East side, neighbourhoods like Regent Park, Moss Park, Cabbagetown, St. Jamestown, and Church and Wellesley where there were already high levels of low-income people, homeless, those with complex health and mental health issues, and substance dependency issues, the pandemic and winter months have only exacerbated their daily lives. Access to food, shelter, and health services have been drastically affected. And While the City of Toronto has really expanded its response in this emergency, so too have private citizens and local businesses.

Cabbagetown, which is paradoxically a neighbourhood with a mix of both high-income and low-income people, has come together through the local BIA, St. Luke’s United Church, and Dixon Hall to create a lunch-give away in Allen Gardens. The program seeks to “provide 100 healthy, well-balanced lunches for our most vulnerable residents while also supporting our local small business community.”(https://www.cabbagetownto.com/cabbagetown-cares)

The initiative is funded by a collaboration of private and public donations; and was scheduled run every Thursday from January 21 to February 25th, 2021, although, because of its overwhelming success and need, the organizers are thinking of extending it. Participating member businesses include: Chew Chew’s Diner, Daniel et Daniel, Pho U, The Epicure Shop and Tim Hortons. Generous donations in support of this initiative are also being provided by DOVA Restaurant & Matt’s No Frills.

On February 11, 2021 when RPTV visited the sited, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was also present as were the organizers Rev. Jim Keenan (St Luke’s United Church) and Rick Mathers (ED Cabbagetown BIA). Councillor Wong-Tam explained that the City of Toronto has increased funding and additional resources to community partners to expand their capacity to reach out to vulnerable communities. The Councillor also spoke about some of the long-term solutions that were in the progress to deal with homelessness, like building affordable housing, and providing the supports for people who cannot live independently; but need some type of assisted living. 

Rev. Jim Keenan, who is perhaps the originator of the program, said he got the idea in December of 2020, and was then able to access a small grant and coupled some other donations was able to pay local businesses to provide the lunches.

Cabbagetown Cares is an example how local communities are forming grassroots responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by mobilizing partnerships and resources to meet the needs of our most vulnerable communities.

Watch Full Video:

Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Sam’s – More Than Just A Convenience Store

More than just a convenience store, Sam’s is an integral part of the Regent Park community.

No matter where you live, there is a local convenience store that is your go-to place for the smaller every-day consumer items. It might be a carton of milk, a loaf of bread, a bag of chips, a pop, the odd battery, or perhaps it’s a memory stick for your digital device – the convenience store should have it.

The variety of convenience stores may differ slightly from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, they may be mom and pop operations, or chains like the 7-Eleven. They may be a meeting point in the neighbourhood where local residents can connect with friends, or form relationships with owners that go beyond the monetary exchange of goods and services.

In Regent Park an area of Toronto that is going through a major revitalization, which will see the neighbourhood, once the largest social housing development in Canada, transformed into a mixed in-income, multi-use community. But change, especially this sort of multi-dimensional change, takes time; and is ultimately more than just changing the physical appearance of a certain place – it also entails social and cultural change – which are much harder to attain.

Regent Park has always been a place where newcomers and immigrants have gravitated to, seeking out the familiarity of people from their own background; or trying to find an affordable place to live. One such person was Khuram Aftab, an immigrant from Pakistan, who began his working life in Canada in a convenience store called Sam’s at Sherbourne St and Dundas St. However, like most immigrants to Canada, Khuram was striving for more and envisioned a bigger picture. When the owner of that store decided to sell the store in 2006, Khuram seized the opportunity and purchased the store he had worked in. Ten years later Khuram purchased his third store, this time in Regent Park, retaining the name Sam’s.

From the very beginning in 2016 when Khuram took over the convenience store at 175 River St. he was motivated by the notion of wanting to serve the community that he found himself in. Feedback from his customers allowed Khuram to make adjustments to the products and services that he carried. When customers reached out to Khuram about the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, he brought them in. When customers indicated that they needed a local solution to repairing electronic devices, Khuram opened the Tech-Corner - listening to the suggestions of his customers, is the path to success, says Khuram.

The first you notice when entering Sam’s Food Store is that it has a very prominent food section, carrying a wide array of prepared dishes that reflect the diversity of his customers. The menu includes items from Indian, African, Asian, Italian and Greek cuisines. Always sensitive to the needs of his community Khuram has instituted a program of providing free food for those in need, “everybody should eat, so they should not sleep hungry,” Khurtam Aftab.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, Khuram’s initial response was to close down, but it was the realization that his customers were begging the employees to stay open: “please don’t close … we are old people, where will we go, where will we take our groceries?” It is at this point that Khuram describes how staff decided to take their own lives at risk and stay open for the customers.

“That was the blessing of Allah, no employee gone sick,” says Khuram, “we have a very proper action for safety, we check the temperature of everybody when he started the shift. We write down any of the symptoms like he was sick or feeling hot or cold.” Each day before opening the staff spent 2-3 hours in the morning sanitising the store, and they would repeat this at night, even though this proved to be too expensive a process to maintain, Khuram was committed in providing the safest of environments for his staff and customers alike.

Sam’s Food Stores location in Regent Park is at the corner of River St. and Oak St, an area of Toronto that has had a lot of attention in regard to gang and gun violence. This has caused some unique challenges for Khuram and his staff. Surveillance cameras have been installed both inside and outside the store. Additionally, there is a staff on hand throughout the night monitoring the premises for any security threats.

When you tally up all of these various features that make-up Sam’s, you can truly see how Khuram Aftab has taken the model of a local convenience store and elevated to be so much more. “If you have the passion to help the people … and I have the passion to help people as much as I can, I try my best to do it, we need to support each other, Regent Park is my community, its my family are here, friends, friend’s families, everybody is here. I am so happy to spend my time in Regent Park, I love Regent Park.”

Watch The Video Interview:

Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre


A neighbourhood Icon serving the Regent Park and Cabbagetown area closes its doors.

In what is known as the Toronto Downtown East, which spans from East of Yonge Street to the Don River, and South from Bloor Street, down to Front Street, includes a surprisingly large number of quite distinct Neighbourhoods, they include: Corktown, Distillery District, The St. Lawrence Market, the West Don Lands, Moss Park, Regent Park, The Garden District, Cabbagetown, St. Jamestown, and the Church-Wellesley Village. The essence of these neighbourhoods is a mix of past and evolving histories, of shifting demographics, and the ebb and flow of economies.

A major shopping and business thoroughfare of the Toronto Downtown East, Parliament St. has of course witnessed the rise and fall of its fortunes, from the site of the first Parliament Buildings of Upper Canada in the 1790s, to the redevelopment of Regent Park in the 1940’s and St. Jamestown in the 1960s, to the waves gentrification that begin in the 1980s – Parliament St. has seen it all.

The Peartree Restaurant, located at 507 Parliament Street in Toronto, was operated by Asokan Rasiah from 1993 until his death in 2021 due to COVID-19. The Peartree was the sort place that meshed with its surroundings, a blend of old-world charm and modern cuisine, it tapped into the diverse vibe of upper Parliament St.

For many years the Peartree was a favorite restaurant of choice for many who worked and lived in Regent Park and Cabbagetown area. From what customers, friends and colleagues have said about Asokan Rasiah, it is clear that Asokan embraced everything that Toronto and more specifically the diversity of the area had to offer. This is most apparent by a simple glance at the menu, which consisted of Canadian, Cajun, French, Italian, and vegetarian cuisines. The food was considered exquisite and prepared from scratch with creativity and enthusiasm - soups, sauces and dressings, steaks, fish, chicken, and with breads and pies baked on the premises.

In the 28 years of operating on Parliament Street, the Peartree Restaurant had become fussed with fabric of the neighbourhood. It was a place that people went to when they wanted mark a family event, go on a date, meet for lunch or just hang in the neighbourhood - and Asokan was their congenial host. As one person who knew him said, “I am so sorry to hear this news. I first met Asokan when we worked together at Poor Williams Restaurant in the 80’s and then as a guest at his much beloved restaurant for almost 30 years. I considered him to be a dear friend and will miss him greatly. He was a fine person, and the world is less bright. May God bless his soul and my condolences to his family.”

Time and time again the course of history has been shaped by multiple forces, by natural causes and by man-made causes. The old is ceaselessly replaced by the young and the new, and the present is but a flutter in the wind. We know nothing of the lives of the many people that once populated this area of Parliament St one hundred years ago. And likewise, in twenty years from now, when the building that once was the Peartree is a yet another condo, Starbucks or a pharmacy who will remember Asokan and his beloved restaurant. Perhaps no one…but then again, perhaps the older ones among us will remember a piece of Parliament Street that once had a little more charm.

Watch full video:

Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Hotels Turned Homeless Shelters

City of Toronto partners with Hotels to provide respite to the homeless. But do short-term hotels miss the need for more comprehensive housing policies?

At the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) Regent Park TV interviewed David Reycraft, Director of Housing, Homelessness Services at Dixon Hall, who then described the housing and shelter situation faced the Toronto’s homeless population as dire - eight months later a great deal has changed.

In Toronto’s downtown east side, in the areas of known as Moss Park, Regent Park, Cabbage Town, Church and Wellesley, and St Jamestown where there is the greatest concentration of people considered to be low income, living in poverty, and homeless, the matter of responding to the urgency posed by the pandemic has never been more obvious.

While homelessness in the public eye may no longer be seen as a phenomenon limited only to certain areas of the city, it is however, in the more concentrated areas of the downtown core. With the existing stock of shelters beds compromised by the pandemic, those facing chronic homelessness have turned to the only means of shelter available to them, camping-out in tents. As these tent cities, or encampments grew, so did the realization that this was a much broader issue, one that required a more extensive response from government as this was a matter that touched on not only social services, but health care, and ultimately on both the short-term and long-term solutions for people who are facing homelessness

To its credit The City of Toronto, through the Shelter, Support & Housing Administration Division, has over the course of the pandemic substantially increased the level of support to homeless people.

Among the more striking and contentious developments has been the leasing of hotel sites in the Toronto area. What began with sheltering 313 homeless people in hotels by April 7, 2020, has, as of September 16, 2020, grown to 2,000 individuals occupying 19 hotels.

 These hotels include:

Victoria Hotel, 56 Yonge St.
Roehampton Hotel, 808 Mt Pleasant Rd. (two-year lease)
Delta Hotel, 2035 Kennedy Rd.
New Plaza Motel, 4585 Kingston Rd.
Holiday Inn Express, 30 Norfinch Ave.
Holiday Inn Scarborough, 50 Estate Dr.
Edward Village, 185 Yorkland Blvd.
The Alexandra Hotel, 77 Ryerson Ave.
Staybridge Vaughan, 3600 Steeles Ave. West
Days Inn, 1684 Queen St. East
Comfort Hotel Airport North, 445 Rexdale Blvd.
Econo Lodge Suites, 335 Jarvis St.
Howard Johnson by Wyndham, 14 Roncesvalles Ave.
The Strathcona Hotel, 60 York St.
Super 8 by Wyndham, 222 Spadina Ave.
The Bond Place Hotel, 65 Dundas St. East (two-year lease)

As part of the City’s hotel leasing plan, various social housing services will be funded to manage and support the hotel occupants. Dixon Hall Housing Services for example will manage three of the leased hotels. They are the Bond Place Hotel, The Strathcona Hotel and the Victoria Hotel, and all clients at these hotels will have access to Mental Health and Addictions case management counsellors, and a robust Medical Support model that includes health partners, food programming, harm reduction supports and community engagement opportunities and strategies. 

Additionally, the City’s expanded response to the needs of Toronto’s homeless population has included 11 emergency shelters, 57 emergency shelter locations, transitional shelters, seven 24-hour respite sites, two 24-hour women’s drop-in, 24-hour COVIC-19 response sites, warming centres, central intake, housing solutions, 220 supportive housing units, and rapid housing teams,

The figures speak for themselves, and as stated earlier, all credit must go to the City and its many partner organizations in creating this remarkably robust response to COVID-19. However, these changes do come with a few caveats, the entirety of the response is strictly temporary, and in the areas that the shelter-hotels have opened up in, the move has met with considerable push back from local residents. On the first point, the temporary nature of the shelter-hotels response is that it does not consider the long-term problems of housing the homeless population of Toronto – although there are two new projects, the Modular Housing Initiative (part of the Housing TO 2020-2030 Action Plan) that will add 100 affordable rental units. The broader objectives of the project, which includes a supportive housing component, are to assist people experiencing homelessness to transition into more permanent and sustainable living arrangements.

The second part of the shelter-hotels question arises from the objections of local residents. Generally speaking, residents in the surrounding areas where shelter-hotels have cropped up have complained that the new facilities bring in other social groups that do not share the values of the local groups. They also complain that crime has gone up since homeless people moved in. And, that property values have gone down as a result – NOT IN MY BACKYARD is the consensus.

Sadly, any attempts at reframing the issues around homelessness, whether it is income inequality, poverty, and chronic homelessness must take into account the prevalence of narratives that both support attitudes of intolerance and promote policy making on the basis of excluding certain groups because of race, ethnicity, and economic standing. Perhaps projects like the Modular Housing Initiative can bridge some of these more superficial concerns of blending into neighbourhoods, while at the same time tackling the deeper imperatives of providing adequate, affordable, and sustainable housing for all members of our society. 

Watch full video here:


Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Monday, February 22, 2021

COVID Testing In Regent Park

The Regent Park Community Health Centre has teamed up with Fred Victor and Unity Health Toronto (comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph's Health Centre and St. Michael's Hospital), to provide free Covid-19 testing to area residents in Regent Park and Moss Park. Currently testing is held every Wednesday from 1:30 pm to 4 pm, on a drop-in basis, at Fred Victor, located at 40 Oak Street.

According to Michele Heath, the Director of Community Health at the Regent Park Community Centre, although the rates are not out of control, it is still high and that’s why it is important to ensure free pop-up testing so that everyone in the community can access.

Regent Park is one of the more populated communities in downtown Toronto and it is important to have easy, free access to the testing to keep down the curve.

The 40 Oak Street site has the capacity for 20 people at a time and can accommodate 50 - 60 people on each day the test is run. 40 Oak Street was chosen for that its strategic location. It has an open and big space, in addition to the in and out exits, making it a great location and facility.

“We wanted to do anything to help in this.” said Darryl Spencer, the Senior Manager of Housing Services and Drop in Services at Fred Victor’s 40 Oak Street site.

“It’s been a challenging time over the last year, hopefully in the future potentially the vaccine out of a location like this would be an ideal scenario for us. ”

It is notable that residents are becoming more aware and serious about taking safety precautions; wearing masks and making sure to get tested if they are around people who might have got COVID.

“We have been tested before,” said two Regent Park residents waiting in line to be tested. They both expressed their interest to get tested to make sure that they and their families are safe.

“ We might have been in contact with someone who might have gotten Covid,” said one of the residents, confirming that they both wear their masks, frequently wash their hands, and stay away from crowded areas.

Michele encourages everyone to get tested especially, “If people are feeling ill and if they have been in contact with someone who has COVID.”

Andrew, a registered nurse from St. Michael’s Hospital agrees, “It is a good thing to be here in Regent Park to be able to catch any cases. Even if you think it’s just the regular flu and you have mild symptoms, you might have Covid,” warns Andrew.

The results come up within two days and residents get contacted if their results are positive.

The Regent Park Covid-19 testing site demonstrates the long-standing partnership between the Regent Park Health Centre, Fred Victor and St. Michael’s Hospital. 

 Watch full video here:


Written by
Nea Maaty

FOCUS Media Arts Centre