Thursday, July 12, 2018

The New Voice of Toronto Centre - NDP Candidate, Suze Morrison, Elected to Represent Toronto Centre

Until the recent provincial elections, Toronto Centre was considered one of the safest Liberal strongholds in the province. This all changed with the historic election of NDP candidate, Suze Morrison. Morrison was comfortably elected with 23,537 votes. Liberal candidate David Morris came second with 11,934 votes, and Progressive Conservative candidate Meredith Cartwright finished last with 6,194 votes.

Morrison is a resident of Regent Park, and she is recognized for her work on healthcare, indigenous issues, inclusion and diversity. Her passion is inextricably linked with her personal experience of growing up in poverty and witnessing gender-based violence. Morrison has held communications and engagement roles in both the health sector and the indigenous non-profit sector, and she feels she can bring an indigenous policy and anti-poverty lens to Queens Park: “Something that's been absent from our governance for a very long time,” said the elected candidate.

Morrison feels that Toronto Centre residents have been unrepresented since the resignation of MP Glen Murray last year, so she looks forward to getting her office up and running. Among the issues the new MP-elect hopes to tackle in partnership with her colleagues are better dental care, affordable housing, and supporting resources and infrastructure for public school students with the goal of creating a safer, greener, and more equal Toronto Centre. Morrison is especially interested in the Regent Park revitalization and the issues that residents are worried about.

“Regent Park is really good at standing up for itself, and we certainly are not a quiet community. I have absolute confidence that the people of this community are going to make sure that the direction they want for this community is put forward, and I look forward to working with the community to make sure their vision is realized,” said Morrison.

Gisela Torres

Regent Park Focus

Media Arts Centre

Paintbox Bistro: Social Enterprise or Delicious Restaurant?

Looking for a delicious vegetarian restaurant in the east side of the city? Well, look no further. Located in the heart of Regent Park, Toronto, at the corner of Sackville and Dundas, is the Paintbox Bistro Restaurant.

Founded in 2012, the Paintbox Bistro and Catering Restaurant offers an array of unique and fresh vegetarian dishes including green curry tofu, collard green enchiladas, forest mushroom pappardelle, “meat-free” burgers, and a Caesar-style kale salad with coconut “bacon”.

For those that are quick to brush off the Paintbox as another example of the area’s gentrification, it is important to note that the Paintbox Bistro is a proud Certified B Corporation. Certified B Corporations are businesses that strive to meet verifiable social and environment objectives to help fight poverty and climate change. The Paintbox was the first caterer in Canada to receive the designation in 2013; it was also recently named “Best for the World” in 2016, landing in the top 10% of B Corporations due to its strong community mandate.

Part restaurant and part social enterprise, the Paintbox provides employment and career development training opportunities to individuals interested in starting a career in the hospitality industry. Indicative of this mission, most of the Paintbox employees have no prior experience working in a restaurant setting, and, as part of their training, they experience every aspect of the restaurant’s operations, including its catering business and administrative work. This allows individuals to find a niche within the restaurant where they both enjoy the work and can hone their skills, whether working on the kitchen line or supporting front-of-the-house operations.

Considering that the owner and founder of the Paintbox restaurant, Chris Klugman, was a former instructor with the prestigious culinary management training program at George Brown College, the Paintbox is well suited to the task of providing career path opportunities in the food hospitality industry.

Travis Acheampong

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre

New Developers for Regent Park - Announcement But Not Consultation

In May of 2018, residents of Regent Park were informed for the first time about the possibility of a new developer moving into the area after years of building a relationship with the Daniels Corporation. Many reacted angrily, “We don’t want to start over again” residents stated repeatedly.

Development Manager of TCHC, Kelly Skeith, sparked resident anger with the May 4, 2018, community announcement that Toronto Community Housing will be inviting developers to send proposals for the next four and five phases of the Regent Park Revitalization. “ We are proud and thrilled that Daniels has worked so closely with us, but we have a certain procurement policy, we have a certain way that we must sell land because we are a public agency,” explained Skeith.

However, many residents are now asking why this critical information was withheld from the community?

In a follow up residents’ meeting on May 15, 2018, organized by the newly formed Regent Park Neighbourhood Association (RPNA), Delegate Marlene De Genova, who has been living in Regent Park for seven years, demanded that Toronto Community Housing be more upfront when dealing with the community. “Transparency is what they (TCHC) promised us, and transparency is what we expect”.

RPNA delegate, Stephanie Beattie, agreed with her colleague that a great deal of information has been hidden from residents. “There is a lack of information. There is nothing in the (TCHC) website. We are finding that we have to ask the right question if we want to get the right answer,” argues Stephanie.

At the meeting, RPNA delegates argued that TCHC should not only be transparent regarding the Request for Proposals and all related decision making but that it also commit to realistic timelines and accurate assessment of the risks involved with changing developers at this late stage. The delegates’ message was that residents are the primary stakeholders and investors in the redevelopment and that their needs should be prioritized! One solution, put forward by former Member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto Centre, George Smitherman , was to adamantly oppose TCHC and advocate to City Council to reinstate Daniels and reverse the procurement policy, a policy that was adopted during Rob Ford’s tenure as Mayor.

In an effort to address community concerns, Skeith maintained that the TCHC master plan, which includes the vision, timelines, budgets and the quantity of affordable housing, will not change. In addition, Skeith relayed the news that Daniels has confirmed that they will be submitting a bid. Skeith also surprised the meeting attendees by offering to have four residents participate in the review of the development proposals, provided they are willing to uphold confidentiality.

In the follow up meeting between Toronto Community Housing and RPNA, it was agreed that two representatives from RPNA and two representatives from the Toronto Community Housing’s Tenant Council will sit on the on the newly named Regent Park Phase 4&5 Consultation Committee (the “Committee”).

Although RPNA agreed to accept the proposal, delegate Marlene De Genova remains skeptical that residents’ voices will be heard. Resident representatives, she reminds us, must maintain confidentiality and are unable to report back to their respective association members. “What is the point of having residents involved in a decision making process if there are no opportunities for them to share information or gain feedback from the other residents and elected delegates of RPNA and the Tenant Council?”

What are the issues at stake with the call for a new Regent Park developer for phases four and five?

- Lack of information, transparency and resident decision making: It's been nearly five years since the public housing agency's directors scrapped an existing contract with the Daniels Corporation. Residents say they only learned about the move in the last month. Who is making decisions related to evaluating the proposals from developers and how much actual decision making will residents have?

- Anxiety: Residents are anxious about whether a new developer would share the same vision they've worked hard to build with Daniels over the years. Also, questions circulate around the community about the new challenges that residents can expect if a new development partner is brought in mid-way through the revitalization. For example: Will a new developer foster the same kind of relationship as the community had with Daniels?

Will a new developer stake their reputation on the quality of the buildings in the way Daniels has?

- Delays in the timelines of the projects. A project that originally was to take 12 to 15 years, could now take 15 to 20 years. Residents living in older housing and those awaiting return will now have to wait longer due to delays related to having a new developer. Additionally there are safety concerns with the areas that are awaiting development.

By Gisela Torres

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre

Friday, July 6, 2018

Meet Your Neighbourhood Police Officers – PC Mircea Biga and PC Farzad Ghotbi

Community-based policing is a proactive law enforcement strategy that focuses on building ties and working closely with a community’s members to create partnerships and plans for preventing and reducing crime. While community policing will look differently depending on the community it serves, a central feature is that the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis. Currently there are 17 community-based police programs in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but what most people don’t know is that Toronto’s community policing started in Regent Park in May of 2017. We know this because the original officers involved in setting up the Regent Park community policing program continue to work here today. The officers are PC Mircea Biga, PC Farzad Ghotbi, and PC Edward Parks; the newest officer assigned to the Regent Park community is PC Nigel Thomas (who is replacing PC Melissa Huntley while she is on maternity leave).

Symptomatic of the increasing diversity of the Metropolitan Toronto Police force, Mircea Biga arrived in Toronto from Romania in 2004, and he joined the Toronto police force in 2007. Farza Ghotbi arrived to Canada from Iran at 13 years of age, and he joined the force in 2002. Both Mircea and Farza are proud of their work in Regent Park and see themselves both as public servants—taking directions from residents—and as community ambassadors.

As community police officers, Farza and Mircea make an effort to attend all events and community-wide meetings involving residents, particularly meetings related to safety. They also regularly conduct classroom visits with local area schools and work closely with afterschool programs in the neighbourhood. In addition, their work includes coordinating police volunteer activities with youth, making time to meet with families of children involved with the justice system, regularly patrolling local “hot spots” for conflict, and responding to resident reports of criminal activities. All these activities can be summed up in three objectives: (1) engagement with the community, (2) programming, and (3) enforcement. This is why, according to the Toronto Police’s twitter account (June 2018), residents expect that neighbourhood officers should have training in the following: sensitivity, customer service, communications skills, mental health, cultural competencies, and human rights. In the words of Constable Mircea: “There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a community police officer”.

As part of a new effort to outreach to the community about their work, the officers have added the role of television celebrities to their job. This is because Farza and Mircea are working with the Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre on a television series called Meet Your Neighbourhood Police. The series, featuring conversations with Farza, Mircea, and others about policing in Regent Park, was launched before a community audience on June 21, 2018. The series is now available on Regent Park TV on Rogers channel 991 and on YouTube (Regent Park TV).

Do you have a question or an issue that you would like to see Farza and Mircea tackle in the next episode? If so, please contact

Travis Acheampong

Regent Park Focus Media Arts Centre

Spoken Word: I Am A Hijabi

I am a Hijabi

I am a Hijabi
My Hijabi is apart of me
It is weaved into my skin
So don’t even try pulling it off of me

I am a Hijabi
Highly sophisticated
I am not to be taken as a joke
So don’t even try to play with me

I am a Hijabi
I know what is right
I am a believer
So don’t even try to say I’m wrong

I am a Hijabi
So speak about oppression all you want
It’s my choice and my choice only
Don’t open your mount around me because I will not hear it

I am a Hijabi
Stop with the profanity, nonsense and false Koran verses
It wound go through the thick cotton because my Hijabi only lets words with meaning reach me

My Hijabi is my protector
My Hijabi is my love
My Hijabi is my life
It’s simply everything and so much more

I am a Hijabi
A Hijabi bearing women
There’s nothing you and do about it
So don’t try me

Written by: Hudda Haggi
Photography by: The Divas Media Group