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.”


Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

To watch the video check out the link below:

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.

Written by

Volunteer Journalist
FOCUS Media Arts Centre

To watch the video, checkout the link below:


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:

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:

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on the Dundas Beauty Hair Salon

Dundas Beauty is a hair salon that is located in the Regent Park area, at 442 Dundas Street East, close to Parliament and Dundas. Their area of service focuses on the versatility of hair including braiding, weaving, wigs, hair dyeing and more. The shop is co-owned by black business owner, Theresa Betou.


Theresa was forced to close her shop shortly 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, in an attempt to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Hair salons and barbershops have everything to do with neck up and prior to Covid-19, few people would ever think that they would see a time when you would not be allowed to get a hair cut because it is unsafe. Unfortunately, hair cutting requires close client contact and touching the heads of clients and as a result is considered an easy way for the coronavirus to spread.

The closure that was only supposed to last 14 days ended up being about 3 months. This has caused a lot of hardships for small shop owners. Shops like Theresa’s relies on the income she receives from customers to not only pay the rent of the business but also to pay for her personal rent and expenses. Not having clients means no money for the rent of her shop, for her employees or for her own personal expenses. Yet she still has to fulfill payments to the landlords even though the space is not being used.

At one point, Theresa and her partner, were considering selling the business and was receiving offers to do so. Instead they decided to wait and see what would happen. Luckily their landlord was understanding so Theresa was able to work out an agreement to pay what they could as well as to pay increments.

For some of the shop employees who relied on the shop’s income, Theresa allowed them to make their own decision to open up their homes to cut the hair of loyal customers, but she didn’t feel that was safe especially if they had families, and she chose not to do that.

When the news came that non-essential businesses including hair salons were finally able to reopen, Theresa was caught off guard. Despite people calling for hair appointments, Theresa needed two weeks to top up on products and sanitize the store. Safety is important to Theresa and not only is mask wearing was required she only takes clients by appointment only which enables her to put limits on how many people are in the shop at any one time. This is still difficult because the shop also sells shampoos and other hair products in which people normally can walk in from the street to purchase. As Theresa says, “it is a little tough right now but we will just need to take some time to readjust to the new normal then we can figure out a way how business can be improved while staying safe”.

For Theresa, one big take away from this pandemic is making sure that she puts her and her employee’s health first and business second.

“We used to be open to all hours of the night, right up to 1 am to meet the needs of our customers. Staff also often had to limit their lunch breaks. Now we only take certain amount of appointments per day and stress the importance of taking care of our selves first,” says Theresa.

This led me to the opinion that perhaps the new normal, at least for shops like Dundas Beauty, won’t be so bad after all.

By Gaelle Kosi with contribution by Adonis Huggins

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

Check out of the video below to watch the full interview:

Monday, September 14, 2020

Opening and Sustaining A Hair Salon Business - Advice from Three Business Owners in Regent Park

When it comes to starting a hair salon, even if you have the styling skills, launching a business can be a challenging process. As with any burgeoning industry, competition is fierce and there is no place in the market for mediocre. You will need to find a niche for your business, keep up-to-date with grooming trends, source new products, motivate your staff and socialize with your customers. 

Yet there is plenty of opportunities. The Canadian hair and nail industry is valued at $4.2 billion per year. Men and women of all ages enjoy looking their best, and hair salons cater to that.

Whether you’ve just graduated with your cosmetology degree or hair-styling certificate or you’re just ready to open your own business, it’s important to consider the cost of opening a hair salon. The cost of opening your own salon is around $60,000 for a basic setup, but it can go up to $500,000 or even more. No matter how much you invest in your new business, you'll want to do everything you can to ensure your salon's success. 

In this article we talk to three hair salon business owners about the challenges of starting and sustaining a business in Regent Park. The businesses are Dundas Beauty (with Theresa Betou), Supreme Cut (with Flory Wembolwa) and 611 Purple Factory (with Martin Ferreira).

Theresa Beto of Dundas Beauty

Theresa Beto is the owner of the Dundas Beauty located at 442 Dundas Street East in the Regent Park area, around Parliament and Dundas. Theresa, along with her mother, have been in the hair styling business for some time. Their first shop, which was located by Gerrard and Sumach street, opened in 2007. Later they relocated the shop to Sherbourne street for a year or two. After selling the store and taking a break to focus on her family, Theresa opened Dundas Beauty in 2019. Dundas beauty is an African braiding, weaving, styling and beauty supply store. When asked what was the career path that helped them to open the business, Theresa said that her mother really just started learning the braiding skill in Africa and began teaching her four daughters, who began practicing on each other and their friends. This led Theresa into watching Youtube videos and taking some classes in hair and esthetics. Once she took the classes, Theresa realized that doing hair was what she loved so she spoke to her husband about her goal of going into business with her mother and he was ready to support her. They started off by purchasing discounted packs of weave in bulk at other salons. They would stock up little by little and store it in the basement of their house. It took them quite a while before they realized that they had enough merchandise to open a shop.

When asked why they opened up the beauty salon in Regent Park, Theresa mentioned that there were not enough salons doing hair black hair in the downtown area of Toronto.

Some of the challenges they face while opening a business was mainly money, “having a salon in downtown Toronto is so much more expensive than having it in the outskirts like Scarborough.” said Theresa.

Some on going challenges that they are experiencing right now are that a lot of people are learning how to do braids and have learned how to maintain their own hair. Also increasing number of people are going natural which makes it hard for them to sell hair products.

Flory Wembolwa of Supreme Cut

It has been three years since Flory Wembolwa, owner of Supreme Cut, opened his doors in Regent Park. Supreme Cut is located at 432 Dundas street east (close to Parliament and Dundas). Flory himself grew up in Regent Park and experienced the changes that have happened in the neighbourhood through out the years. When I asked him, what were some challenges that he faced while he was starting his business? He mentioned that just growing up in Regent Park was a challenge, so to open up his business he was expecting challenges. From a very young age Flory learned that there will always be “rainy days” so be prepared to have them!

Flory started cutting hair at home at a young age. His friends trusted him & supported him which lead him into building his clientele by work of mouth. Then he started working at a Regent Park barbershop called Lisa’s. While he was working at Lisa’s, he learned more skills which lead to an opportunity to work at Miami Fades, a Toronto hair styling chain of shops. The same year he worked at a Miami Fades shop in Yorkville, was also the year that he opened his shop in 2017.

When asked what he would do differently with what he knows now? Flory answered, “unfortunately it is to choose a different location from Regent Park”. When asked why? He said, “for personal reasons.”

Flory’s advice to young adults when they want to enter the business is to be ready to challenge yourself and do your research as if its school.

“When you tap into your gift or skill it becomes school you have to wake up on time and make it a routine,” says Flory.

Flory’s goal is to not just expand his shop but expand his team to different parts of the world and that when he walks in to his shops that he feels the same kind of energy that he created when he first started his business from his home.

When I asked what it was like being a young Black entrepreneur? Flory said it was frustrating, due to what Black people experience daily. Flory believes you have to be ready for what the world has to give -both the negative and the positive. For Flory - life, family and friends, inspires him to be better.

Perhaps reflecting on Regent Park, Flory encourages the people he grew up around, to open their minds, because when he grew up people around him were close minded to a lot of ideas due to lack of knowledge. He encourages everyone around him to think bigger on what you could do and be. Flory chose to open up his shop in Regent Park for the culture and for his people, to inspire young people and show what is possible. Flory says that he never had anyone to look up to business wise. Growing up he thought that drug dealers and gangster were a big thing to look up to, because growing up in Regent Park you never saw Black owned businesses and a black businessman. Flory is an example of what one could be when you open your mind and believe in yourself.

Martin Ferreira of 611 Purple Factory

We touched based with owner of 611 Purple Factory, Martin Ferreira, on how a fairly young entrepreneur opened up a barbershop located right in the heart of Regent Park, on 611 Dundas Street East, across the street from Aquatic Centre.

Martin Ferreira started cutting hair at an incredibly young age of 15 years. After shaving his own long hair, Martin learned that he could cut his own hair and afford to keep his hair short and neat. Then his older brother purchased hair clippers and he began to cut hair for his family and friends, eventually charging them for his time.

Martin’s plans for opening up a business began when he went to school for Advertising. Martin had no interest in taking a corporate position. “I did not care to make Coca Cola more money .. I don’t think they needed my help.” say’s Martin. If he were going to pursue something, he was going to pursue something for himself and something that would not have to conform to workplace “politics.” Initially Martin thought he would open a barbershop supply store. However, while he was studying, he was still cutting hair and earning some money. By the time he successfully finished the program and graduated, Martin knew he wanted to cut hair professionally and see where it would take him.

When asked what he would do differently if he knew what he knows now about the business industry, he mentioned that a piece of advice that he would give himself or to anyone is to trust your vibes or in other words trust your intuitions. Also, to observe the people around you. “Unfortunately, not all people will have your best interest at heart,” said Martin. Another word of advice is that you have to be willing to put a lot of hard work into your craft. Martin used to be alone at his shop when he first opened cutting hair until 2:30 – 3:00am! Martin’s aspirations for his barbershop is to grow and build, and also to have more influence outside of the shop. He would love to be in a position where he could offer more than just a haircut.

When asked what a piece of advice that you would give to a person wanting to be in the industry? He answered by saying, “you got to love it. If you don’t love it don’t bother … it is going to test your heart in time and if you don’t love it, it will show.” You also have to be able to deal with people. Barbers are also like therapist he said. You have to learn how to not carry customers emotional weight when speaking to them on personal issues. Martin believes that the barber business is a game of reliability and customer service is key. You will have to be willing to be a thousand hours in it.

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. 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 about the history of Regent Park, while they are in the Barber’s chair at the 611 Purple Factory.

From my conversations with Theresa, Flory and Martin, owning and operating a business comes with a lot of challenges. Challenges like, closing your business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, that are often unexpected. However, these Regent Park business owners, have shown that when you have a passion, drive and willing to put in hard work, you could be successful.

By Gaelle Kosi in collaboration with Adonis Huggins

(Gaelle Kosi is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre. Adonis is a staff member of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre).


 lick the link below to watch the video:

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Ethno-racial Data Collection and the Future of Community Wellness

Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General has allocated 200 million dollars for the years 2019 to 2022, in support of the Community Safety and Well-Being Strategy. A key part of this updated strategy is the idea that,

“…the majority of investments, time and resources should be spent on developing and/or enhancing social development, prevention and risk intervention strategies to reduce the number of individuals, families and communities that reach the point of requiring an incident response. Developing strategies that are preventative as opposed to reactive will ensure efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of safety and well-being service delivery across Ontario.”

And so you would think this would mean investing most of that funding into community organizations and preventative health strategies. Yet approximately 99% of the 2019 budget went to police forces (Toronto Police Services received $55.4 million on top of their budget of over 1.06 billion). This is one recent example of how a reallocating of police funding could better be spent to help communities, in this case, in the words of the government itself. This idea of reallocating funding where police services have failed to aid community wellness, is at the centre of the “Defund the Police” movement.

Another recent example of funding for community health and wellness being allocated to furthering the police budget is in response to Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to Defund the Police by 10% along with a series of other community-based demands. The result (in terms of funding) was 50 Million dollars from the City of Toronto allocated to police for bodycams over the next 10 years.

Cheryl Prescod (Executive Director of the Black Creek Community Health Centre) weighed in on the connection between race, health and bloated police funding. These highly interrelated topics, has been widely brought to the mainstream media’s attention in large part thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. Remarking on the movement’s response to initial criticisms leveled against them for organizing street protests during a COVID pandemic, Cheryl argues that their perspective is, “I’m not going to die of COVID. I’m going to die of racism,” says Prescod. “That’s much more of a threat to me than even COVID.”

Prescod and Paulos Gebreyesus (Regent Park Community Health Centre Executive Director) are two members of a Coalition of Black Health Leaders of the Alliance for Healthier Communities. The Alliance put out a statement further elaborating on the interconnections between health, policing and race.

“‘Good health’ is a product of access, social, cultural and economic factors. Similarly, structural and systemic inequalities are contributors to poor health outcomes.”

“Research continues to validate what our communities know from lived experience; the continuing legacy of anti-Black racism means that Black people experience disproportionately higher rates of poverty, poorer health outcomes and we are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.”

In a later statement, these Black Health Leaders in Toronto made the following suggestion (among others related to ethno-racial data collection):

“[We therefore demand] the collection and use of socio-demographic and race-based data in health and social services now as relates to COVID-19, and more expansively to inform overall health system planning and resource allocation.”

Cheryl explained to me that, “when COVID started [the Black Health Leader’s Coalition of the Alliance for Healthier Communities] were reading [the data] about people in the U.S. who are poor, black, Latino, living in shelters, living in precarious situations-- these were the people hardest hit and dying from COVID. We [have long known] that the same things are happening in our communities.”

Some of the figures from those American COVID-19 race-based statistics are as follows:

“Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater.”

“In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it's more than four times greater.”

The city of Toronto itself has begun collecting race-based data (in part, in response to pressure from activists in Toronto fighting for health equity) and put out a statement on the City of Toronto website stating:

“There is growing evidence that racialized populations and low-income groups are more at risk of COVID-19. The reasons for this are unclear but could include; Existing health disparities linked to social and economic factors ; Stress caused by racism and other forms of discrimination; Challenges in participating in the public health response to COVID-19, including difficulties in limiting COVID-19 exposure because of being an essential worker, and difficulties in physical distancing because of overcrowding; [and finally], Inequitable access to health care and social services”

The City’s findings identified that Arab, Middle eastern, West Asian, Black, Latin American, South Asian, Indo Caribbean and South East Asians are overrepresented in the data in terms of the rate of COVID-19 cases among specific ethno-racial groups versus the overall COVID-19 rate for Toronto.

Whether or not one agrees with a full abolition of policing in Canada or a 50% redistribution of the 1.2 billion dollar gross operating budget for 2020 (plus part of the grants such as the 199 million dollars from the Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General and the City of Toronto’s 50 million dollars for bodycams), or you don’t think the police budget should change at all, one thing is clear. Prevention, risk intervention and generally avoiding violent incident policing responses, are the way of the future, and nowhere is that of more urgent import than in racialized communities like Black Creek and Regent Park.

By Fabio Heredia-Caslins

(Fabio is a journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Regent Park Community Benefits Town Hall

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

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

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

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

The Forming of the Regent Park Community Benefits Coalition and Network

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

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

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

What are Community Benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outlines key principles and values for the revitalization process

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

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

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

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

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

By Tyrone MacLean-Wilson

Tyrone is a staff member of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Community Pods in Regent Park

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

 Watch video below:

By Ella Coccimiglio

Ella is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Need for BIPOC Histories in Today’s Classrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To watch video click link below:

Written by
Minerva Navasca

Youth Journalist
FOCUS Media Arts Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To watch the interview, click the link below:

By Fabio Heredia-Casalins

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

Food Insecurity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the Videos:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Written by
Minerva Navasca

Youth Journalist
FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Why Black Lives Matter in Regent Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

To watch the full video click the link below:

By Gaelle Kosi

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Watch interview here:

Written by

Volunteer Journalist
FOCUS Media Arts Centre