Monday, June 22, 2020


RPTV News interviews Miguel Avilla-Vellarde a Regent Park resident, and community activist, who has been involved in ensuring community safety through improvement of CCTV surveillance cameras at 220 Oak Street a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) apartment building located in Regent Park, in the area of River and Oak Streets.

Motivated by the history of violence at 220 Oak, a total of six incidents of violence leading to death since 2011, Miguel along with other residents have campaigned the City of Toronto and TCH to install security cameras. The TCH has rejected these efforts on the grounds that the cameras violate certain aspects of privacy legislation. This argument however has met with resistance from residents who cite that neighbouring TCH buildings do have security cameras. And while the immediate safety of residents at 220 Oak Street is a concern for all vested parties, the path to resolving the matter has been mired in the bureaucracies of both the TCH and the City of Toronto privacy policies, reminiscent of the legacy of shifting Federal and Provincial policies toward public housing that spans the whole history of Regent Park going back to 1949.

In the end, the years of tenant advocacy, and involvement of many other actors including, for example the late Pam McConnell, have paid off, and Toronto Community Housing has approved the instalment of CCTV surveillance cameras for 220 Oak Street. Instalment is scheduled to begin in February of 2020.

Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Regent Park Laneway Naming Proposal

In Toronto there are around 3,000 laneways running throughout the city. Despite this only about
10% of these lanes are named. There are many reasons why naming of lanes can have many
positive impacts on the surrounding neighbourhoods. As the Laneway Project highlighted, providing a name for a laneway can help emergency services reach the scene of emergency, preserve the history of an area, create a sense of place and identity, and bring the community together through the naming process.

On June 20th 2019, Ismathara Ratna was struck by an impaired driver in the Regent Park community. The mother of three, was beloved by friends and family members in the community and many residents were devastated to hear the news of her passing. It was shortly after 1pm on a Thursday when Ratna, on her way to visit a friend after dropping her kids off at school, was struck by the impaired driver who lost control of his vehicle and mounted the sidewalk where Ratna was standing.

This tragic death has left the Regent Park community reeling and looking for ways to
memorialize her. With the current revitalization plans of the community, came an opportunity to
honour her legacy.

Just south of 150 River St. and north of Dundas between River and Sumach Street, sits a newly
created, yet unnamed laneway. Although the naming of a laneway can be purely ceremonial this
particular lane is a living laneway meaning it will have entrances to amenities such as offices
spaces, live work spaces and an outdoor public space. For this reason, the naming of this lane is
of particular importance.

As Shawn Major, the revitalization manager for Regent Park explains “in this case because
buildings will have addresses and have access off the laneway, they need to have names”.
The process of naming this particular laneway was initiated in the summer of 2019 by Toronto
Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) and the Daniels Corporation. As explained by Major,
the first step in the process was going out to different community events to hear from residents to
get ideas for names as well as mailing a survey out to all Regent Park residences encouraging
them to submit name suggestions. Those suggestions were then collected and, with the help of
the revitalization working group (a group of residence that help support the revitalization project
and engagement in the community), narrowed down to a smaller list. These names were then be
voted on through a community update meeting, and once voted on would go on to Toronto City
Council for final approval.

It was during the first stages of the laneway naming project that Ratna was involved in the fatal
hit and run. The family of Ismathara Ratna then approached TCHC and submitted her name as a
submission for the laneway name. The final names to be voted on in the community update
meeting were Phoenix Lane, Viola Desmond Lane, Tkaranto Lane, Freedom Lane, and Ratna
Lane. The ballots of the meeting were counted last month and as evidence of the significant
impact Ismathara Ratna had on her community, Ratna Lane was chosen by an overwhelming

There are however still some challenges to be faced with this selection. The City of Toronto’s
Street Naming Policy requires that when naming a street after a “recent event or recently
deceased individual...[it may only] be considered after two years” of the passing or event.

Although this is ongoing process and has yet to be approved by the Toronto City Council, there
is hope that this requirement will be overridden and Ratna Lane will be approved because of the
community support behind the name and the work of Ratna’s family. When this approval will
happen is still up in the air as Canada and Toronto deal with Covid-19. It is believed that the
Toronto City Councillors, who only just held their first meeting virtually last month, are focused
on Covid-19 emergency response issues first and fore most at this time.

In this video we interview Shawn Major and get in-depth information about the process behind
the Regent Park laneway naming process and the community involvement that went into the

Written by

Volunteer Journalist
FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Thursday, June 11, 2020

June Is Black Music Month

Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley sang; “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” Music has always played a very important role in the lives of Africans. As we are in June, Black Music Month it is time to remember that the popular music we hear today owes much to Africans. June has been recognized as “Black Music Month” since 1979 when President Jimmy Carter designated June as Black Music Month after being persuaded by Black Music Association founders Kenneth Gamble and Ed Wright. Music (singing, drumming, dancing) was an important part of African culture and was probably one of the few joys in the lives of enslaved Africans. Enslaved Africans were forbidden the joy of playing drums but expressed their creativity by singing and dancing. Music served to lift their spirits as they toiled in the fields, sometimes waist deep in mud, doing the backbreaking work that enriched the white families that held them in captivity.

There has been much written about the role the spirituals played in the escape to freedom of enslaved Africans. Cloaked in non-threatening religious language, the words lulled the white enslavers into a sense of false security and enabled the Africans to share important information.

The words of the spirituals were used as coded communication by enslaved Africans as they planned and executed their escape from enslavement. The words of the spiritual “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home” when heard by the enslavers, thought that the enslaved Africans were happy with their lot and were looking forward to their reward in heaven. The same words meant something different when heard by the enslaved Africans. Those words meant that there was hope of escape to freedom to a “free” state or to Canada. The coded messages are evident in many other spirituals including: “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?” “O Canaan, Steal Away” and “Wade in the water.” Harriet Tubman, the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad is said to have sung spirituals as she planned to rescue her people from slavery. Tubman, known as the “Moses” of her people was an extraordinary woman who is credited with making 19 trips to rescue more than 300 people from slavery. It has been speculated that the spiritual “Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land” was her signature song.

As “Moses,” Harriet Tubman did more than “conduct” enslaved Africans to freedom on the Underground Railway. On June 2nd, 1863 she was the “brains” behind the successful rescue of more than 800 enslaved Africans in South Carolina. Many of the rescued Africans were recruited by Tubman and joined the Union army to fight in the Civil War. In November 2005, the site where the rescue took place in 1863 at the Combahee River Ferry was recognized by the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The site, where the bridge which crosses the Combahee River on U.S. Highway 17 stands, was excavated by a group of historians and archaeologists.

The spirituals, the blues, worksongs were part of the expressions of joy, despair and sorrow of the enslaved Africans. That music, steeped in African traditions of call and response gave birth to gospel, jazz, rock and roll and hip hop music. The rhythms and lyrics have helped African Americans endure tremendous suffering and face injustice, white supremacy and racism with courage, faith and hope.

The music used during the Civil Rights era helped to lift spirits and also served to define the time. In 1968, African Americans were singing along with James Brown, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” James Brown was so “Black and Proud,” he wore his hair in an Afro for a while. One of the anthems of the Civil Rights movement was Nina Simone’s November 1969 released song “Young gifted and Black.” The Staple Singers sang “When Will We Be Paid For the Work We’ve Done?”

The spirituals were also sung during the Civil Rights protests, when African Americans were brutalized because they dared to demand that they be treated as human beings. The white police and their dogs attacking African American men, women and children, was not a deterrent to a group of people who were confidently singing the spirituals as they knew they had right on their side. Fannie Lou Hamer, one of my sheroes, sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “Go Tell it on the Mountain” as she put her life on the line attempting to register to vote in Mississippi in August 1962. During many of the marches, sit-ins and other protests, participants sang “We shall not be moved” and “We shall overcome.”

While African American music was better known during the 60’s than other forms of African music, there is similar music from other Africans in the Diaspora. Slinger “The Mighty Sparrow” Francisco’s “Slave” and “Banana Boat Song” sung by Harry Belafonte tell of the plight of Africans oppressed during slavery and even after slavery was abolished. The Mighty Sparrow’s “Dan Is the Man in the Van” is also a protest against colonial education. Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, who can be described as the first Caribbean superstar, took Reggae music, the Rastafari culture, Jamaica and the Caribbean to new heights internationally. His “Africa Unite” became an anthem for Africans worldwide. Marley also urged us to “Get up, stand up for our rights.”

Winston Hubert “Peter Tosh” McIntosh, a member of Marley’s group, The Wailers released the ultimate Black Music Month anthem in 1977 on his album “Equal Rights.”

Don’t care where you come from

As long as you're a black man

You're an African

No mind your nationality

You have got the identity of an African

'Cause if you come from Clarendon

And if you come from Portland

And if you come from Westmoreland

You're an African

'Cause if you come from Trinidad

And if you come from Nassau

And if you come from Cuba

You're an African

No mind your complexion

There is no rejection

You're an African

No mind denomination

That is only segregation

You're an African

'Cause if you go to the Catholic

And if you go to the Methodist

And if you go to the Church of God

You're an African

'Cause if you come from Brixton

And if you come from France

And if you come from Brooklyn

And if you come from Queens

And if you come from Manhattan

And if you come from Canada

And if you come from Miami

And if you come from Switzerland

And if you come from Germany

And if you come from Russia

And if you come from Taiwan

As long as you're a black man

You're an African

By Murphy Brown

Murphy Browne © June 9-2020

Murphy Brown is a community activist, blogger and radio programmer with Focus Media Arts Centre. Murphy’s spoken word news show could be heard on Thursdays from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Immigrant Families Cannot Afford a Return to Business-As-Usual

Recently, the Ford government announced that schools would remain closed until September. While we agree that the safety of our children must be paramount, the impacts of school closures are not borne equally by all families.

Indeed, for immigrant families who were already suffering under the Ford government’s cuts prior to the pandemic, any return to “business-as-usual” would only increase suffering.

Immigrant families have already been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and public health measures. In fact, a recent study in Toronto shows how racialized, low income and recent immigrant neighbourhoods had the highest cases of COVID-19, suggesting that the pandemic is intensifying pre-existing inequalities faced by marginalized groups.

Recent research has shown that immigrant parents are at elevated risk of emotional problems compared with other immigrants who are not parents. Inequities in language instruction are one of the systemic issues that immigrant parents must cope with.

Immigrant students who are English or French language learners or whose parents are not proficient in English or French, are at higher risk of being behind. These pre-existing issues are only exacerbated with school closures and the switch to online learning, where not all parents have the same capacity to support their childrens’ learning needs. It is thus critical for government officials to include immigrant students in post-pandemic recovery plans.

While many families have been cautiously optimistic about the government’s response to the pandemic overall, we should not let this eclipse the drastic cuts to provincial social services that this pandemic has come on the heels of. We must not lose sight of how, just before the pandemic, the Ontario government announced major cuts for child care centres.

In Toronto alone, provincial cuts to child care will eliminate 760 subsidized spaces in 2020. Whereas some parents might rely on family support to assist with child care, many immigrant parents don’t have that option if they are separated from their extended families. This puts an added financial burden on immigrant parents and can impact their employment.

Recently, policy experts argued that a key ingredient of the country’s recovery must be child care and that women have been disproportionately impacted. This important analysis must also consider the impacts on immigrant women, who are among the most likely to suffer the consequences of a failing child care system.

To be sure, as governments attempt to respond to the pandemic, we are learning that if there is a will, there is a way to fund services that ensure that no one is left behind.

We need assurances that the province’s pre-pandemic “slash-and-burn” approach will no longer be seen as an acceptable measure by this government. This is an opportunity to reimagine what education and support for families looks like in a society where basic needs are protected for all.

By Sara Asalya, contributors Dr.Salina Abji

Sara is a Palestinian immigrant, community organizer, human rights advocate, and a volunteer with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre.

CANADA COMICS OPEN LIBRARY – Filling a Gap in The Cultural Landscape

In the world of comics, keeping alive the past is just as important as making way for the new.

The Canada Comics Open Library (CCOL), located in Regent Park in the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), at the Daniels Spectrum building, is a novel undertaking combining both traditional and innovative approaches to comics, their presentation, preservation, and promotion. In the world of comics, keeping alive the past is just as important as making way for the new. While the past may have been characterised by male dominated worldview, the present and the future are anything but that.

In what is commonly known as the Golden Age of comics (the 1930s and 1940s in the US), a pantheon of superheroes Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Captain America, and Wonder Woman, is conjured up to save the lot of mankind, from say, the devastation of the Great Depression. Parallel to this, and no less important, in Europe and in Japan for instance, comics are also flourishing, TinTin, Asterix, Manga and Anime emerge as groundbreaking examples of storytelling and world making - reshaping the very essence of what the comic strip can be.

Rotem Anna Diamant, the President and Librarian of CCOL, explains that today comics are framed by inclusivity, incorporating the work of Black, Indigenous and People of Color, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized comic creators, stories, and art. Comics today, nurture the participation of all ages and do not disciminate on the basis of formal skills. The CCOL acts both as a repository (housing a collection) of comic books, and as an educational and training centre. The library, has established a progressive and innovative workplace, working with open source software, a malleable cataloguing and call number system, mindful of subject displays with book facings to promote intersectionality, and knowledgeable reference services.

Promoting this new inclusive and expanded vision of what comics can be through education and locating the CCOL project in Regent Park, an area of Toronto that is culturally diverse– has the potential of reaching a much broader following and impact.

In this video, RPTV interviewed Rotem Anna Diamant, the President and Librarian, and Jordan Reg. Aelick, a resident comics creator, about the library and the work they do. Rotem and Jordan are both involved in the creation of comics as illustrators and authors.

By: Dimitrije Martinovic

(Dimitrije is a staff journalist of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

Friday, June 5, 2020

What We Learned From the Ontario Basic Income Pilot

Regent Park has long been recognized as one of the lower-income neighbourhoods in the downtown Toronto area. There is a higher representation of visible minorities, refugees, immigrants and Aboriginal people in the neighbourhood compared to neighboring areas. The average income for Regent Park residents is approximately half the average for other Torontonians. However, the residents of Regent Park are not alone.

There is currently close to two million Canadians in Ontario are facing poverty and/or are categorized as low income. In fact, Ontario has one of the worst poverty rates in Canada, which causes a lot of hardship for children and families in this country. One proposed solution for addressing this problem is the idea of a basic income. But what exactly is a basic income? According to the Basic Income Earth Network, basic income is defined as an unconditional periodic cash payment made to individuals.

In March 2016, Ontario Budget, Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government committed to creating the Basic Income Pilot Project aimed at testing the merits of providing Ontarians with a basic income. Wynne and the Liberal Party presented this project as an innovative answer to the ever increasing issue of wage gaps and income inequality, as well as a hopefully sustainable solution to reducing poverty and its negative impacts on low income communities.

To help with the creation of this ambitious pilot project, the provincial government brought in Hugh Segal, a former Conservative Party senator. Wynne’s Liberal Party government used Hugh Segal’s discussion paper, Finding a Better Way: A Basic Income Pilot Project for Ontario, along with information from consultations with Ontarians held between November 26 and January 31 2017, to design their Basic Income Pilot Project.

The idea behind the Basic Income Pilot Project was to determine whether people given a basic income would be better able to meet their basic needs, while also experiencing improvement in their lives in areas like mental health, food security, housing stability, employment and market participation, and education and training.

Participants in the Basic Income Pilot Project consisted of two groups. One group that would receive a monthly basic income payment and a second group who would not receive the basic monthly income payment and was used as a comparison group. In order to be eligible for the Pilot, you had to be between the ages of 18 to 65, live in one of the pilot areas (Hamilton, Brantford, Brant County, Lindsay, Thunder Bay and surrounding towns), and qualify as low income (earn less than $34,000 per year if single or $48,000 per year if a couple). Under the Pilot, the group receiving a basic income were given $16,989 for single participants or $24,027 if participants were a couple. Any income earned through employment would be deducted at a rate of 50 cents from their basic income for every dollar earned.

The Basic Income Pilot Project was originally set to run for three years, with payments starting to be made in late 2017 and full participation of the project completed by April 2018. During implementation of this project, provincial elections were being held and a new party government was elected in June 2018. Although the Progressive Conservatives had made promises to preserve the program, once elected the new government under Doug Ford quickly made plans to wind down the Pilot Project. After reviewing the merits of the project the PC government didn’t see how a research program aimed at a limited amount of people could be beneficial to the larger low income community. In addition the Ford government determined that the cost of operating the project on a full scale would be costly to the Ontario people. The Basic Income Pilot was given six months to wind down and the last of the basic income cheques were delivered to participants March 31, 2019.

Although the project only lasted for around 17 months there are still various discussions being held on the outcome the project had on the participating communities. Follow up research and interviews conducted with Pilot participants by McMaster University that was led by lead researcher Wayne Lewchuck, showed positive impacts the project had on the participants including overall health improvements, a decline in mental health stress and anxiety, improved housing security, better relationships between friends and family, and improved diets.

To hear more about the Basic Income Pilot and its impact, Regent Park TV features a conversation with Wayne Lewchuck, the McMaster University research lead who released a study on the results of the pilot. The video can be viewed here .

Written by

Volunteer Journalist
FOCUS Media Arts Centre