News – NOW Magazine https://nowtoronto.com Everything Toronto - NOW Magazine Sun, 28 Nov 2021 18:54:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.2 https://nowtoronto.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/cropped-favicon-96x96-1-32x32.png News – NOW Magazine https://nowtoronto.com 32 32 Letters to the editor: Soundcheck on anti-social behaviour in public places https://nowtoronto.com/news/letters-to-the-editor-private-speakers-dont-belong-in-public-places https://nowtoronto.com/news/letters-to-the-editor-private-speakers-dont-belong-in-public-places#respond Sun, 28 Nov 2021 15:45:44 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=740629 Plus, Kristyn Wong-Tam's vaccine views, the NDP's bad rent control proposal and revisionist history on Black cowboys in reader mail this week

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Private speakers don’t belong in public spaces

Your article Shop local: The best holiday gifts under $250 notes that a benefit of the Sonos Roam Smart speaker is that it can be used in rinks and parks.

Please do not promote the use of private speakers in public places in your articles. It is incredibly anti-social and entitled behaviour that makes public spaces less enjoyable by adding unnecessary and distracting sound.

Torontonians are generally good about sharing physical space in public places, but it is important to share sonic space too.

Ryan Taylor Toronto

Vexing vaccine questions

Re Kristyn Wong-Tam to step down from Board of Health over COVID backlash (NOW Online, November 23).

I can’t understand why Councillor Wong-Tam needs to impose her views on everybody else. As a gay man who helped successfully fight for the rights of the entire Rainbow community in the early 1990s, I never had the temerity to think I spoke for everyone. Perhaps she could use her privilege and high intellect to create space for other marginalized people to speak for themselves.

John DavisonFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Can young people save the planet?

Re Was the UN Climate Change conference just more “blah, blah, blah?” by David Suzuki (NOW Online, November 24).

As individual consumers, far too many of us still recklessly behave as though throwing non-biodegradable garbage down a dark chute, or flushing pollutants down the toilet will somehow be safely absorbed into the air, water, and land.

Admittedly, I notice every time I discard trash, the spring-cleaning-like sense of disposal satisfaction. Perhaps it’s due to Earth’s relatively large size, which seemingly enables a general obliviousness, if not carelessness, towards the natural environment.

If it were not for environmentally conscious and active young people who are just reaching voting age, matters would be even bleaker than they are.

Frank Sterle Jr.From NOWTORONTO.COM

NDP rent control proposal is poorly thought out

Re Op-ed: Vacancy decontrol has failed tenants and should be abolished (NOW Online, November 21).

The Ontario NDP recently tabled Bill 23, Rent Stabilization Act, 2021 which was scheduled to go to second reading on November 25. If passed, the Bill would amend the Residential Tenancies Act to require landlords to set the rent for a new renter equal to or less than the last rent charged to the previous renter.

Why would a landlord put a dime into fixing up the place if they can’t get any higher return? If there is not a decent return on investment, fewer people will choose property investments, resulting in fewer rental units on the market, which will only raise rents, not lower them. This is one poorly thought-out proposal. There is no regard for the law of unintended consequences.

Dan RogersFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Revisionist history on Black cowboys

Re A miscast Benedict Cumberbatch swaggers through the Power of the Dog (NOW Online, November 16).

According to Black Cowboys in the American West: On the Range, On the Stage, Behind the Badge, about one-quarter of the workforce in the cattle range industry were Black. So no, most cowboys were not Black. The author is guilty of the revisionist history he accuses the film of.

Michael HakaFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Illegal scooters forgotten in e-bikes debate

Re E-bikes on Toronto’s streets: It’s a love-hate thing (NOW November 18-24).

I spend a great deal of time in Toronto. I often see electric kick-scooters on the roads and sometimes being pushed onto the subway. I believe that owner-operated electric kick-scooters should be allowed for those 16 years of age and older on the same roads or lanes as bicycles. 

Rental scooters are a different matter. Depending on the system being used they can be parked on sidewalks and can be a hazard to pedestrians. They should be allowed only if they can be parked in designated places in an upright position.

It is foolish that such scooters are only allowed on private property in Toronto. There is no reason why the many current users should be made to feel guilty for using a product that is environmentally friendly and reduces congestion.

Bruce CouchmanOttawa

City has the power to enforce e-bike rules

Thanks for your coverage on e-bikes. The responsibility of enforcement is not just with the police but also the city’s by-law enforcement officers. The city has the “tools to enforce rules as they relate to vehicles”, as its own bylaw states. Some bikes are just not obeying the rules, which gives great concern to other bicyclists, pedestrians of all ages and automobiles.

Joanne Smale TORONTO

Canada must stand up in the fight against global malnutrition

On December 7 and 8, the Nutrition for Growth Summit will be held in Tokyo. This summit signals a chance for Canada to make a huge difference in the lives of women and children suffering from malnutrition in middle- and low-income countries.

Every year, more than 2 million children under the age of five die of malnutrition-related illness, and an estimated 149 million children are presently stunted in their growth due to chronic undernourishment. The lives of women and girls, who are 50 per cent more likely to face malnutrition than men and boys, are being put at risk. 

Gabriella AmesburyEdmonton

@nowtoronto

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Don’t TERFs have better things to do? https://nowtoronto.com/news/whats-terfs-problem-with-trans-people https://nowtoronto.com/news/whats-terfs-problem-with-trans-people#respond Sun, 28 Nov 2021 14:21:51 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=740342 Postulating for the sake of argument that their concerns about trans communities are well-founded, I am left with the glaring question

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As a trans person, I cannot but be conscious of the vehement opposition some have to my presence in women’s spaces, an opposition that is at times accompanied by revulsion and contempt.  I have grown accustomed to it.

But however familiar I have become with that sentiment, I cannot for the life of me understand the sheer intensity with which some people who call themselves feminist single out trans communities as harbingers of misogynistic oppression. These groups are commonly known as trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) or gender-critical feminists.

Identifying a newly-visible group comprising a little more than half a per cent of the population as one of the leading problems for women, warranting countless conferences, campaigns, lawsuits, and protests, strikes me as hasty and parochial. Postulating for the sake of argument that their concerns about trans communities are well-founded, I am left with the glaring question: Don’t they have anything better to do?  

In an era characterized by overlapping crises and the worrisome rise of the populist right, the tunnel vision of these anti-trans groups is frankly befuddling.

In the United States, reproductive rights are under attack by conservative lawmakers hoping to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that declared government restrictions on abortion unconstitutional. Yet despite the lingering, growing threat to reproductive choice, anti-trans groups are arguing in court that teenagers cannot validly consent to their own medical care. In the United Kingdom, these arguments initially succeeded, though the decision was corrected on appeal.

Anti-trans feminists’ willingness to undermine minors’ ability to consent to medical care sets a dangerous precedent. We must not forget that the right was first established in the context of access to birth control and abortion.

In their critical 1985 Gillick decision, the House of Lords established that youth can validly consent to care if they have “sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed”, rebuffing the argument that contraception could not be prescribed to minors without parental consent.

By challenging the very possibility of teenagers being sufficiently mature and intelligent to satisfy Gillick, the TERF movement is beating a path that leads to the abrogation of reproductive choice for minors – a major feminist setback. 

While we can be thankful that the arguments failed in the United Kingdom, they are also popping up in other countries like Canada and the United States, where abortion continues to face serious opposition. 

Even when resources are not being deployed in so patently counter-productive ways, their efforts appear wasteful and misdirected. Take for instance the opposition to the inclusion of trans (and intersex) women in women’s sports.

At the Olympic level, trans women have been allowed to participate as women since 2003 and surgical requirements were removed in 2015. Since 2003, there have been nine Olympics (three of which were after 2015) for a total of 28,481 female athletes (11,614 since 2015). Despite the policy, no known trans woman had competed at the Olympics until 2021, let alone won a medal. In 2021, Laurel Hubbard became the first and only openly trans woman to compete, though she failed to complete her event. 

The problem of gender discrimination in sports, at the same time, is pervasive. Airtime and salaries heavily privilege male athletes, with most of the interest and money going to male events in both Olympic and non-Olympic contexts. And despite a move towards parity in the number of Olympic athletes, accredited coaches remain close to 90 per cent male, evidencing grave gender disparities for a major source of post-career income for athletes. 

Even if we were to accept the view that trans women have competitive advantages, concerns over trans inclusion would fail to be remotely proportionate to its share in the broader problem of sexist discrimination in sports. 

Another focus of these anti-trans groups has been sexual violence in women’s prisons.

Sexual violence in women’s carceral facilities is a serious problem. One U.S. study reported that 25 per cent of inmates in these facilities experienced sexual violence in just the last six months. Some 21 per cent had experienced sexual violence from another inmate, and 8 per cent from staff in the last six months. Because of the timing and geographical location of the study, it is highly unlikely that any of these perpetrators was a trans female inmate. 

Despite the clear need for institutional overhaul (and, indeed, radical change), anti-trans groups appear relatively unconcerned with the epidemic of sexual violence among inmates beyond carceral placement policies for trans women.

Even assuming the unfounded claim that trans women in carceral facilities pose a disproportionate risk of sexual violence, focusing on opposing placement policies is a questionable use of time and resources. It makes little sense to fight sexual violence by focusing on trans perpetrators. 

The causes heralded by TERF groups – including opposition to surrogacy, pornography, sex work, and religious veiling – reveal less concern with male dominance and the patriarchy, than a desire to police norms of feminist womanhood.

Instead of concentrating their forces on radically challenging male dominance, they focus on groups far less collectively powerful than cisgender, heterosexual men for their perceived contribution to sexism. The distribution of their efforts is eminently wasteful. 

Has sexism been so disappeared that TERFs are justified in dedicating a heavy portion of their efforts to opposing a small minority requesting equality? However awful and misguided trans communities could be, surely this is a poor use of their time.  

Compared to the Leviathan-esque figure of the patriarchy, trans communities are but a speck of dust. And a speck of dust may irritate, but it simply cannot be rational for people purporting to be feminists to be so obsessed with opposing trans equality. 

Feminists have better things to do. 

Florence Ashley is a transfeminine jurist and bioethicist. They are a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and Joint Centre for Bioethics.

@nowtoronto 

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Hidden Toronto: Fire & Light Rita Letendre, 1928-2021 https://nowtoronto.com/news/hidden-toronto-fire-light-rita-letendre-1928-2021 https://nowtoronto.com/news/hidden-toronto-fire-light-rita-letendre-1928-2021#respond Sun, 28 Nov 2021 13:57:38 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=740171 From Yorkville to the inner suburbs, her public art marked Toronto's transformation into an urban centre in the late 1960s

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Rita Letendre, 2008, photo courtesy of Gallery Gevik.

Toronto-based muralist and artist Rita Letendre died on November 20. Originally from Drummondville, Quebec her public art has left a lasting impression on Toronto’s landscape. The following essay excerpted from Fire & Light: Rita Letendre was part of a retrospective of her work at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2017.

Rita Letendre’s art and life are remarkably intertwined with Toronto’s development into an ambitious urban centre. She has lived in the city for over half her life, during the most prolific decades of her career.

While her formative artistic period is inextricably linked to the powerful spirit and lineage of Quebecois abstract painting, it is in Toronto that she has produced some of her most iconic paintings and public art commissions.

Letendre first visited Toronto in 1960 when she was included in a group exhibition of Montreal painters at the Here & Now Gallery, a contemporary art gallery newly opened by Dorothy Cameron in Yorkville the year before.

Cameron was a leading and ardent proponent of contemporary art, and was among the few art dealers in Toronto committed to transforming the city into a cosmopolitan art centre. When Letendre was invited to participate in this exhibition, she hardly spoke any English. Letendre found the city strange, later recalling it as “a very puritanical place.”

Much was to change for the city and the artist in the next few years. In the spring of 1962, Letendre’s first solo exhibition in Toronto was a resounding success. All the paintings sold. Two of them—Victoire and L’Image d’Islam (both 1961), among the largest she had painted until then—have since entered the Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection.

Always compelled to push herself further and “to see where things take me,” Letendre’s financial and critical success both in Toronto and Montreal enabled her to embark on a transformative European sojourn later that summer.

Letendre’s success in Toronto continued as she exhibited frequently with prominent dealers and won important prizes for her paintings.

By the time Letendre settled permanently in Toronto in November 1969, a burgeoning art scene was taking hold amidst the city’s construction boom. Toronto had become the economic capital of the country, triggering expansion that has steadily continued to this day. Toronto was gradually transforming into the livable city that urban writer, activist, and resident Jane Jacobs envisioned and championed.

Artists and creators in all disciplines actively and energetically participated in developing and establishing Toronto’s diverse cultural character, alongside and sometimes in conflict with the city’s established civic and art institutions.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Letendre’s dynamic outdoor murals and interior public commissions were iconic landmarks in the downtown core. She was often the only woman artist invited to submit proposals for, and to be awarded, these prestigious and highly visible commissions.

Her bold vectors of colour energized both streets and interior spaces with a glorious optimism and confidence that galvanized the city and its residents.

“I consider it a challenge to be confronted with the architectural space of a building; a street; the perspective in which one sees it; the change of light of the days; of the seasons, and at the same time remaining true to one’s own visual image.”

Letendre’s work is characterized by a ceaseless search for a true expression of the self. “I want to do the best for myself, the best of what I know, of what I feel. I’m making it for my own experience, as a way of learning my universe.”

This freedom to fully express her own sense of being and “to create a new world” is for Letendre the truest way an individual can contribute to society.⁵ She insists that “there have to be people who are completely individualistic [in order] to create a change.”

Letendre’s public works were informed by, and in turn transformed, her painting practice. It is a profound loss to the city that these singular and monumental public gestures have since been removed or covered up as a consequence of the thoughtless hurry of Toronto’s urban redevelopment.

The promise they held fuelled Toronto’s desire to become a truly livable city with a proud sense of its cultural lineage. The following pages showcase Letendre’s magnificent contribution to the public character of Toronto in the 1970s and 1980s.

Lodestar (1970) is one of the first paintings Letendre made after moving to Toronto in November 1969. She always liked to work big, to create a sense of being enveloped by a painting. “I want to fracture a moment of light before it goes away, up there.”

Letendre worked in her penthouse apartment at 45 Balliol Street. The newly built apartment high-rise near Yonge Street and Davisville Avenue was part of the urban development of the mid-town Yonge Street corridor. Residential, office, and commercial buildings began to be planned and built in the area in the mid-1960s.

Lodestar was featured on the invitation to Letendre’s first solo exhibition at Roberts Gallery in March 1970. A photograph with the artist standing barefoot in front of the painting, the invitation emphasized Lodestar’s large scale.

Thirty centimetres too high to fit into the gallery, appointments had to be made to view Lodestar in the artist’s apartment—a detail much covered by the newspapers, which also published her phone number.

In 1970, the Art Gallery of Ontario invited ten artists to submit sketches for an outdoor mural competition sponsored by Benson & Hedges as part of the tobacco corporation’s Artwalls initiative across Canada. William

Withrow, the AGO’s director at the time, was on the jury. Letendre was the only woman artist invited and one of three finalists to be commissioned.

The site Letendre was offered was the west wall of the newly built Neill-Wycik College at 96 Gerrard Street East, near Church and Wellesley Streets, a cooperative student residence on the campus of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University).

The mural is 18 by 18 metres, and covers the top 7 floors of the 22-floor building. The colour scheme of Letendre’s original sketch included wedges of bright pinks, yellows, green, orange, and dark blue converging upwards towards a purple corner. She referred to it as “Sunset.” During planning and execution, Letendre adjusted the colours of the final image. The final work is titled Sunrise (1971).

Work began on Sunrise on September 3, 1971, and the mural was unveiled on September 15, with a block party attended by hundreds and that included music, food, and drinks in addition to the official ceremonies. It was soon referred to as “a brilliant freeway in the sky” and became a beloved landmark visible from as far as the CN Tower.

“As one approaches, little by little the mural reveals itself, and the dominant yellow of the triangles subdivides into various rhythmic shades. Rita Letendre has purposely cut off the top left corner of the surface to emphasize the visual impact of the bright arrows.”

Sunrise, Mural for the Neill-Wycik building, Toronto, 1971 (Photo courtesy Rita Letendre).

Sunrise was Letendre’s first mural in Canada. Today it remains in situ; however, it is completely obscured by Gerrard Place, a 25-storey high-rise built right next to Neill-Wycik College in 1979 by Omnitown Development. With only a few inches of space separating the two buildings, “it’s like putting my mural in a mausoleum,” Letendre said.

In 1978, the threat of the destruction of the iconic mural Sunrise resulted in immediate public and media outcry. “Repel the menace of bourgeois builders,” incited one columnist. Ryerson students and neighbourhood residents mobilized, lobbying City Hall and art administrators until Omnitown Development committed to commission a second mural from Letendre for the east side of the Neill-Wycik College building.

Despite her frustration with the developers, the artist welcomed the new project: “Now people on the other side of the city will have their chance.” Once the new mural, Upward Dream (1980), was completed, Letendre commented: “What other artist can you think of who has gone through the process of birth, death and resurrection?”

Upward Dream was designed to cover nearly the full height of the building, but was limited to an awkward tall and narrow space flanking the building’s columns of windows. The orange, brown, and yellow mural was executed in Letendre’s distinctive early-1970s wedge style, even though by 1980 her use of the airbrush had transformed her approach to abstraction.

Unfortunately, Upward Dream has since been destroyed because the masonry on which it was painted was defective. The east side of the building is today covered in aluminum siding.

Rita Letendre’s first indoor art commission in Toronto was for Berkshire House, a residential and office high-rise at 411 Duplex Avenue near Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue, built by Greenwin Horizon Corporation, one of the city’s leading and largest residential builders and developers since the 1950s.

For the lobby, Letendre created a six-metre-wide painting, Now (1971). The painting was on view for many years but has since been removed. Working at this scale to produce the desired optical vibrations of densely saturated colours was a time- and labour-intensive process.

Eventually, it led to Letendre’s use of the airbrush. “Every medium, or new way of using a medium, gives you something new, and so you grow.” The Ryerson mural Sunrise inspired lawyer Stanley Hurowitz in 1972 to commission Rita Letendre to create a mural for the exterior east wall of his office at 142 Davenport Road.

“I found her name in the telephone book and asked her to do one for my building,” Hurowitz recounted.¹⁷ The double two-storey Victorian brick house dates from 1887 and was a butcher shop run by the same family until 1970, when Hurowitz purchased and remodelled it.

Davenport is a rare road in Toronto, as it defies the imposed urban grid and instead follows the Indigenous trail that connected the Humber (east) and Don (west) Rivers along the ancient shoreline of Lake Ontario.

Urtu, Mural for Stanley Hurowitz’s Law Office, Toronto, 1972 (Photo Rita Letendre).

By the 1970s, Davenport Road had become a highly trafficked artery in the city. In Urtu, Letendre responded to the architecture of the building as well as to the way in which both motorists and residents experienced the mural. She created a dynamic composition of two dark wedges confronting one another diagonally, yet subdued her use of colour to black, grey, beige, and white. Urtu was a landmark of the Yorkville neighbourhood well into the 1990s, but it has since been painted over.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Letendre continued to receive corporate commissions for paintings in public spaces of new buildings. By 1972, she frequently used acrylics and airbrush to paint these large canvas commissions. She completed Sunrise II (1972), for the lobby of Greenwin Square, an office and residential complex at 365 Bloor Street East, near Sherbourne Street.

Sunrise II is unique because it is installed above the elevator doors, at a 45-degree angle, and was the largest painting on canvas Letendre had completed by that time. It has since been removed and is now in a private collection.

In 1974, Rita Letendre and her husband, sculptor Kosso Eloul, purchased a Victorian home in Cabbagetown, at 288 Sherbourne Street just south of Gerrard Street and a less than ten-minute walk east from the Ryerson murals. They moved in a year later, after renovating the large house to include two studios, art storage, a Japanese-style pond, and a solarium for her prize-winning orchids. They retained many of the heritage details of the building, and filled it with their own paintings and sculptures.

Inspired by her grandfather, Letendre designed and built much of the furniture in the house. A highly social and affable couple, they were able to entertain as many as one hundred guests in their singular home. The couple was referred to as “Toronto’s dynamic art duo”; sometimes public commissions for a new development included an Eloul sculpture in front of the building complex and Letendre’s paintings inside. The commission by JDS Corporation at 1000 Finch Avenue West in 1974 is one such occasion.

Painting commissions continued steadily for Letendre into the 1980s, notably Electric Dream (1983), for IBM Canada headquarters, and Daybreak (1983), for the main lobby of the John David Eaton building of the Toronto General Hospital, among others.

After her husband’s death in 1995, Letendre continued to live in their house until 2003, when she moved to Longueuil, Quebec, only to return to Toronto a year later. In 2005, she purchased a condominium apartment on Carleton Street near Jarvis Street, just steps north of Neill-Wycik College. After 35 years, Letendre once more had her studio in a Toronto high-rise.

Several of her paintings hang in the building’s lobby. One of Letendre’s major corporate commissions was for the newly built Royal Bank Plaza at 200 Bay Street, at Front Street in the Financial District— an award-winning complex completed in 1976 and today designated a heritage site.

Irowakan, Mural for the Royal Bank Plaza, Toronto, 1977 (Photo Rita Letendre).

Letendre created Irowakan, a sixteen-metre-long painting on canvas, for the north wall of the lower banking floor. She worked closely with the architects to respond to and enhance the bright, geometric open space. Its success was quickly noted, a “sleek ‘city’ look conveying a tremendous sense of dynamic energy, particularly suited to the downtown Toronto urban pace.”

Over the years, various architectural alterations changed the space and the decision was made to remove the painting. In 1985, it was moved to Royal Bank’s Place Ville-Marie offices in Montreal, only to be removed permanently in 1995 and returned to the artist.

In 2004, Irowakan entered the permanent collection of the Joliette Art Museum. Toronto’s urban expansion in the mid-1970s included the construction of the new Spadina subway line. From its inception, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) extension included an art competition. Each of the nine new stations were to include a major public art commission. Letendre was selected from the 35 artists who submitted sketches for assigned locations.

Her winning proposal for a brightly coloured skylight for Glencairn Station was integrated into the architectural design by Adamson Associates. She began work in 1976, having proposed to transform the full length of the station’s vaulted ceiling with over 300 panels of spray-painted tempered bands of glass, intended to evoke cathedral stained glass and “a mood of celebration, visual poetry and joy.”

Rita Letendre’s Joy on subway platform ceiling of Glencairn Subway Station, Toronto Transit Commission, circa 1978.

Titled Joy, the skylights were installed in April 1977. The station was suffused in coloured light created by the ribbons of blues, orange browns, greens, and yellows. The panels faded after years of exposure to sunlight and Letendre requested that the skylights be removed, as they no longer represented the original intention of the work.

In 2014, the TTC commissioned Letendre to reinterpret her 1977 design for Joy utilizing new digital and glazing techniques engineered to last. The TTC recommended that the redesign be integrated into the planned replacement of the existing (and badly leaking) skylight system. The report describes it as “comprised of six colours in hardline geometrics: bright yellows, oranges and blues with a khaki green background cut through by an indigo black arrow-like shape.”

Letendre’s enthusiasm for the new redesign underscores her principal intention in all her work. By creating the world anew through her paintings and commissions, she wants all who encounter her work to feel that “you’re not only going some place, you’re going someplace that’s marvellous.”

Edited by Wanda Nanibush and republished with permission of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

@nowtoronto

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Erin O’Toole adopts bunker mentality as election spending questions emerge https://nowtoronto.com/news/erin-otoole-adopts-bunker-mentality-as-election-spending-questions-surface https://nowtoronto.com/news/erin-otoole-adopts-bunker-mentality-as-election-spending-questions-surface#respond Fri, 26 Nov 2021 16:32:54 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=740310 The brain trust around the Conservative leader is running out of ideas as the drip of leaks surrounding his leadership become harder to ignore

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The target on Erin O’Toole’s back just got bigger.

Days after Saskatchewan Senator Denise Batters was bounced for publicly calling for a review of O’Toole’s leadership over the direction he’s taking the party, the Conservative leader is now facing questions over election spending. 

Turns out the party blew a cool million on that television studio set up in an Ottawa hotel for the campaign, according to leaks from Global News.

The expenditure was approved by the Conservative Fund, the fundraising arm of the party – whose chair James Dodds happens to be a longtime O’Toole fundraiser – and the party’s national council. That’s not so scandalous.

But given the election results, some in the party are beginning to question the wisdom of the spending and the decision to keep O’Toole locked up in a studio instead of out getting to know voters.

It may have saved the party a bundle – some $2 million according to their estimates – but it proved a disaster for a relatively newly minted leader who was still acquainting himself with the electorate.

O’Toole defended the campaign strategy on Thursday saying that the party “had to be ready for a pandemic election.” 

But it’s also true that O’Toole’s inner circle was keen to paper over obvious rifts between the leader and the party based on a range of issues from gun control to women’s right to choose, and they needed to control election messaging. Daily press conferences in a half-filled media studio and online “town halls” with handpicked party supporters proved a cluster you-know-what.

O’Toole’s strategists are at it again – true to O’Toole’s military training – and are adopting a bunker mentality to now beat back questions about his leadership. 

The slow drip, drip, drip of embarrassing leaks is becoming harder to ignore. It’s torturous to watch.

Besides the questions about election strategy and spending, Global News also reported this week that O’Toole’s office allegedly used taxpayer funds to purchase some $245,141 in “communications, audio-visual and telecommunications equipment and services” between October 2020 and April 2021. O’Toole’s office has denied any taxpayer dollars were used for “partisan purposes,” as the leader’s opponents step up their assault.

On Thursday, the Conservative party’s communications team released a promotional video featuring some newly elected MPs promising to “fight” for Canadians. 

It’s meant to present a newer face of the party and a united front. But instead of fighting for Canadians, O’Toole has been hunkering down and spending most of his time since the election fighting to keep a lid on a caucus revolt, more recently over mandatory vaccines for MPs.

Last week, he reportedly rehired Ontario Proud and Canada Proud founder Jeff Ballingall – he of fratboy memes and O’Toole’s “True Blue” leadership campaign – to head up what’s being described as “election readiness.” An election is at least two years away but this crew seems intent on continuing to fight the last one.

Ballingall’s hire is not so much about election readiness as it is about keeping caucus rebels in line. It also reeks of desperation. Ballingall was a big promoter of focusing Conservative party efforts on social media during the campaign, particularly on Facebook.

Clearly, it didn’t work during the election. It’s not working now with the party essentially refrying the same old same old in its social media messaging since the election, including trying to drum up fears of a Liberal-NDP coalition to keep the base in check.

The Conservative brain trust around O’Toole is running out of ideas. It’s all becoming a little tiresome. How long can the charade last?

@enzodimatteo

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Was the UN Climate Change Conference just more “blah, blah, blah”? https://nowtoronto.com/news/was-the-un-climate-change-conference-just-more-blah-blah-blah https://nowtoronto.com/news/was-the-un-climate-change-conference-just-more-blah-blah-blah#comments Wed, 24 Nov 2021 15:49:38 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739927 It’s not enough to leave climate action up to people, countries and companies with widely varying agendas

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As the world moves on from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the signs of our predicament are everywhere. Where I live, torrential rains have flooded towns and valleys, stranding and killing people and animals, wiped out roads, bridges and railways and cut land access to Vancouver. A state of emergency was declared. Horrific memories of summer heat domes and wildfires are still fresh. This is a small corner of the world. But the signs are everywhere.

We should never consider this as some kind of “new normal,” and we must do everything we can to prevent it from getting worse. In light of that, was COP26 just more “blah, blah, blah,” or will it help us avert catastrophe?

International gatherings and agreements are important but they alone aren’t enough. COP26 was intended to finalize the Paris Agreement and get countries to accelerate climate action this decade. It’s all proceeding as intended, but things get watered down during negotiations, and many of the agreed-upon measures are voluntary.

Most world leaders are sincere in recognizing climate disruption for the crisis it is, and in wanting to address it. But until they recognize the urgent need to radically shift course and halt all new coal, oil and gas development, we’ll continue to face ever-accelerating risks from flooding, heat, drought, wildfires, human displacement and more.

Although many countries made some progress, including reducing or eliminating methane pollution, cutting fossil fuel subsidies abroad and reducing coal, oil and gas production, they came up short in many areas. Funding to help countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts – most of which contribute least to the crisis — is inadequate. Along with lack of recognition for Indigenous rights, COP26 was an epic fail for climate justice.

In many ways, the agreements increase divisions among rich and poor countries and civil society and corporate interests, worsening the situation for those losing their lives, homes and livelihoods to climate change impacts.

Despite limited measures to curb fossil fuel subsidies, governments around the world, including Canada’s, will continue to bolster the industry with tax and royalty breaks and things like infrastructure purchases — not to mention public relations support from some provincial and state governments.

Despite its failings, the climate summit did get politicians, bureaucrats, corporate executives and others to agree on important goals. But it’s not enough to leave it all up to people, countries and companies with widely varying agendas and priorities. We must all get involved.

We can thank those who have engaged for much of the progress at COP26. Millions of young people and elders taking to streets around the world, massive marches in Glasgow during the summit, and people speaking out, writing, petitioning and creating art have made the world pay attention to humanity’s role in the crises we now confront.

When we demand action, politicians must listen. Here in Canada, our government has made strong commitments. We need to make sure those words are backed with effective action, and we need to push for better.

Canada must work quickly to update its climate plan, cap and ratchet down oil and gas emissions and develop a blueprint for a managed production decline. To confirm a true change in direction, our country must sign on to the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and deliver on the commitment to end public finance for oil and gas subsidies abroad by 2022. Canada must also bring in just transition legislation without delay to ensure workers affected by the necessary energy shift are given support and opportunities.

Canada may only contribute around two per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions (not counting those from others burning the products we sell or producing abroad the products we buy), but we have the third-highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, the third-largest known oil reserves and we’re the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter. What we do matters.

Our climate is rapidly changing, and it will continue to do so for some time because of the emissions we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere. That means, as well as halting activities that contribute to climate disruption, we must also find ways to protect ourselves from costly and deadly floods, fires, slides, extreme weather events and more.

COP26 and the Paris Agreement are part of the solution, but we need so much more.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.          

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

@nowtoronto

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Throne Speech pumps climate action, meanwhile in Wet’suwet’en… https://nowtoronto.com/news/throne-speech-pumps-climate-action-meanwhile-in-wetsuweten https://nowtoronto.com/news/throne-speech-pumps-climate-action-meanwhile-in-wetsuweten#respond Wed, 24 Nov 2021 15:20:58 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739911 A once-in-a-century pandemic is giving way to a climate crisis right before Canada’s eyes – it feels like 2020 all over again

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Governor-General Mary Simon delivered a historic speech from the Throne on Tuesday – it was the first by an Indigenous Governor-General. 

It was delivered in part in Simon’s native Inuktitut language and began with a land acknowledgement. Simon encouraged MPs “to seek out the truth, and to learn about the lived realities in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.”

The speech laying out the Liberal government’s agenda for the 44th parliament noted progress in reconciliation efforts with Indigenous peoples.

“Already, I have seen how Canadians are committed to reconciliation. Indigenous Peoples are reclaiming our history,  stories, culture and language through action,” Simon said. Reconciliation was one of three main themes in the speech, along with pandemic recovery and the climate crisis. 

“Our Earth is in danger. We cannot afford to wait,” Simon said.

A once-in-a-century pandemic is giving way to a climate crisis right before Canada’s eyes in British Columbia, where floods and mudslides have ravaged southern parts of the province, taking out whole highways with it. The province has declared a state of emergency.

Polina Teif

Further north in the interior, meanwhile, the Wet’suwet’en continue their decade-long battle against Coastal GasLink’s 670-kilometre pipeline to carry fracked gas through some 200 kilometres of unceded Indigenous territory. 

On November 18, the RCMP, who had been flown into the territory days earlier, moved in and arrested 20 people blockading a forest access road to Coastal GasLink’s operations. 

It’s like 2020 all over again. The scenes were reminiscent of the weeks before the pandemic. Only, it’s practically 2022 and we seem to be right back where we started on the climate crisis – and reconciliation. 

Back then, the public outcry over the actions of heavily armed RCMP officers sparked blockades of rail lines across the country. A nation had finally been awakened to the plight of Indigenous peoples, or so it seemed. 

A smattering of similar actions took place this week, including in Toronto, following the most recent arrests. #ShutDownCanada has also started trending on social media platforms as environmental and Indigenous rights activists gear up for what’s shaping up to be a winter of actions.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Crown and Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller expressed concerns that the tensions in Wet’suwet’en may once again spill over into country-wide blockades. 

But it didn’t have to be this way. 

Back in 2020, the federal government signed a memorandum of understanding with hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en recognizing their land rights. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada established the authority of hereditary chiefs over their ancestral lands in a historic 1997 decision. 

But that recognition has failed to stop Coastal GasLink’s plans as several band councils along the proposed route of the pipeline support the project. It’s a familiar dilemma: with few economic options available, band councils are forced to surrender to whatever development comes their way in the name of economic survival.

The hereditary chiefs proposed alternative routes for the pipeline to mitigate environmental fallout from clearcutting (and the resulting effects of runoff of fish stocks in nearby rivers), but those proposals have been rejected by Coastal GasLink. 

Hereditary chiefs moved earlier this year to issue eviction notices on the company. When the company declined to comply, blockades cut off a forest access road leading to CGL’s operations. And so here we are again.

The company has been granted an injunction by the BC Supreme Court to remove the blockades, as it had been in 2019 and 2020. The company is now also seeking conditions for the release of several of the individuals arrested, including denying them access to Wet’suwet’en territories and “exclusion zones” around Coastal GasLink work sites.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, is calling on the federal government to intervene and declare a moratorium on all fossil fuel expansion “in the wake of clear and present climate catastrophe.” He was referring to the devastation in BC.

Others, like David Suzuki, have been more pointed. Suzuki warned at an Extinction Rebellion protest on Vancouver Island on November 20 that  “there are going to be pipelines blown up if our leaders don’t pay attention to what’s going on.” 

Suzuki clarified later that he does not support violence. But it’s already happening on behalf of oil and gas companies. And the stakes are only getting higher as the effects of human-caused climate change wreak more havoc.

On the west coast this year alone, heat domes, wildfires, “atmospheric rivers” and floods have destroyed homes and livelihoods and killed hundreds of people. Governments and Canada’s biggest banks, meanwhile, continue to invest in oil and gas infrastructure to the tune of billions of dollars.

“This is the moment for bolder climate action,” Simon said in the Throne Speech. In reality, the moment was a long time ago.

@enzodimatteo

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Kristyn Wong-Tam to step down from Board of Health over COVID backlash https://nowtoronto.com/news/kristyn-wong-tam-to-step-down-from-board-of-health-after-covid-backlash https://nowtoronto.com/news/kristyn-wong-tam-to-step-down-from-board-of-health-after-covid-backlash#comments Tue, 23 Nov 2021 18:59:53 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739715 The downtown councillor suggested in a Toronto Sun op-ed that the vaccinated are “just as likely” to spread COVID-19 as the non-vaccinated

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Toronto councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says she will not be seeking to extend her tenure as vice-chair of the Board of Health when her term expires on December 1, although she has expressed an interest in continuing as a general member of the Board.

The announcement in a statement released Monday follows a backlash over statements made by Wong-Tam on the city’s policy on mandatory vaccines. The downtown councillor weighed in on the thorny subject in an op-ed published in the Toronto Sun last week.

She says her intention was to “promote discourse over divisiveness and dial down the polarization” on the issue. Her article mentioned her elderly parents’ initial reluctance to get vaccinated. 

But Wong-Tam stirred a social media storm with her suggestion that the vaccinated are “just as likely” to spread COVID-19 as the non-vaccinated. It was an uncharacteristic statement coming from Wong-Tam who has otherwise been a strong advocate for vaccination.

She took to Twitter later to clarify that she “was not offering any medical advice” and apologized “if this caused any confusion or upset.” But she otherwise stuck to her guns, proffering as evidence for her vaccine claim a memo from Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Kieran Moore sent to regional medical officers of health on the Delta variant back in August. It proved to be the more egregious error for Wong-Tam.

In the memo, Moore states that the infectiousness of vaccinated and non-vaccinated people are “similar.” But that information was outdated.

Wong-Tam’s critics also pointed out that she omitted to mention in her defence that Moore was speaking in his memo about circumstances “when breakthrough cases occur.” 

Wong-Tam said in her statement released Monday that that was “an honest mistake,” and clarified that “the memo is outdated and the context in which I shared it was misleading and left the wrong impression.”

For the record, Wong-Tam is vaccinated. The science is also clear: if you’re vaccinated, your chances of catching or spreading the virus are significantly lower than if you’re not vaccinated.

But on mandatory vaccines, Wong-Tam says she’s still “conflicted” because of the stress on public services. She’s also concerned about “BIPOC communities [who] are broadly represented in those who are unvaccinated.”

“I want them to be vaccinated as soon as possible, but I do not like seeing them lose their jobs and I do not like seeing the City having to reduce public services that benefit the communities that need them most.”

Wong-Tam’s view exposes a growing rift on the left as public service employees who refuse to get the jab now face the prospect of losing their job.

Wong-Tam suggested in her op-ed that regular testing may be preferable to firing workers who fail to abide by vaccine mandates. Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath suggested the same thing a few weeks back before quickly backtracking.

There are many good reasons for requiring vaccines of those in the public service, health and safety being chief among them. Making vaccines mandatory for government and city employees has also created the unintended consequence of labour shortages and cuts to public services.

Last week, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) announced service cuts after placing workers who have refused to disclose their vaccine status on unpaid leave. They have until December 31 to be vaccinated or risk being fired.

The public transit provider is not saying how many of its 15,000-plus employees are affected by the mandate, but it’s likely in the hundreds. 

More than 500 City of Toronto employees who failed to comply with vaccine mandates were also placed on unpaid administrative leave last week, causing a number of recreation programs to be cancelled. The city says that it does not anticipate vaccine mandates to affect “critical and priority services,” like police, fire and paramedics. 

At the Toronto District School Board, meanwhile, some 330 staff members out of some 41,600 staff who declined to reveal their vaccine status were placed on administrative leave this week. Some 290 others have been deemed to have legitimate vaccine exemptions.

The numbers are, comparatively speaking, small which would seem to bolster Wong-Tam’s argument that testing may be an option to consider for those who have legitimate concerns about vaccines but don’t qualify for exemptions. On the flip side, the small numbers also suggest that vaccine mandates work, says Board of Health chair Joe Cressy. Cressy was involved in the behind-the-scenes discussions that ultimately led to Wong-Tam’s decision to step aside.

In an interview with NOW, Cressy commended Wong-Tam’s efforts as a member of the Board, in particular on equity issues related to COVID-19, but says he supports her decision to apologize and not to extend her term.

He says that while “there’s room for disagreement” on the need to tone down the rhetoric on vaccines, “there is no room for misinformation.”

Cressy says the City has expended a great deal of energy building confidence in vaccines and breaking down barriers in vaccine reluctant communities. He says the City not only has a responsibility to protect its workers, it also has a “collective responsibility” to protect the most vulnerable communities and vaccines have proven to be the most effective way to do that. 

And that’s where Wong-Tam’s comments proved unhelpful – and at a crucial time when the City is about to roll out the largest youth vaccination drive in its history following the approval of COVID vaccines for 5 to 11-year-olds.

@enzodimatteo

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Private law: Why the RCMP arrests Indigenous people and journalists on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory https://nowtoronto.com/news/private-law-why-the-rcmp-arrests-indigenous-people-and-journalists-on-unceded-wetsuweten-territory https://nowtoronto.com/news/private-law-why-the-rcmp-arrests-indigenous-people-and-journalists-on-unceded-wetsuweten-territory#respond Tue, 23 Nov 2021 14:32:07 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739679 Even though there is a weather emergency, B.C. cabinet ministers didn't utter a peep when officers were deployed to protect a pipeline project

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This week, someone asked me to provide context regarding the RCMP’s recent arrests of Indigenous land defenders on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory.

It’s pretty simple: enforcing private law is so much easier than investigating criminal offences.

With injunctions, all the Mounties need to do is set up an exclusion zone and then grab anyone, including journalists, who ventures beyond the RCMP boundary.

So far, 32 people have been taken into custody, according to the land defenders, including photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano.

Last year, Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth authorized the B.C. RCMP to redeploy resources within the Provincial Police Service.

That enabled the Mounties to dispatch a large number of members into traditional Wet’suwet’en territory to enforce an injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink.

This was done under article 9.1 of the Provincial Police Services Agreement.

Farnworth has since been elevated to deputy premier. He acts as premier in John Horgan’s absence as he seeks treatment for throat cancer.

Here’s the first question that opposition MLAs need to ask:

Did Mike Farnworth authorize the RCMP to redeploy the Provincial Police Force in the midst of a provincial weather emergency so that more RCMP officers could swoop down on Camp Coyote? 

If so, it seems like an odd time to redeploy police resources when so many roads and highways have been washed out in the midst of unprecedented flooding.

Updates make no mention of “private law”

The B.C. RCMP has published two updates on its “enforcement on the injunction granted to Coastal GasLink.” In the first, it stated that 14 people were arrested.

This statement declared that there was “considerable damage” to the Lamprey Creek Bridge at the 44-kilometre point of the Morice Forest Service Road. In addition, there was a vehicle on fire and a decommissioned excavator at the 64-kilometre point.

In the second, the Mounties cited additional “obstructions, blockades, two building-like structures as well as a wood pile that was on fire around a drilling site.” These were at the two-kilmometre mark of the Marten Forest Service Road.

The B.C. RCMP statements indicate that officers were enforcing an injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink.

What was left unsaid is that the B.C. RCMP has chosen to enforce private law.

That was done instead of arresting suspects for violations of criminal law described in the two RCMP statements.

And the Mounties have chosen to enforce private law “deployed in military garb, armed with assault weapons and dog teams,” according to a news release issued by the Gidimt’en Land Defenders.

The penalties for violating an injunction can be far more severe than breaking a criminal law. That’s because disobeying a court order can result in indefinite jailing.

In an article in the UBC Law Review in 2000, then law student and current University of Ottawa professor of law and medicine Amir Attaran stated that getting “prosecuted” under civil law was “prejudicial.”

At that time, Attaran revealed the existence of a Crown counsel policy manual statement. It maintained that where “civil disobedience affects only a selected group of individuals, those individuals should generally be encouraged to apply for a civil injunction to stop the disobedience.”

According to Attaran’s article, the RCMP’s policy on civil disobedience at that time reinforced this approach: “In accordance with the direction of the Ministry of Attorney General, a low-key non-confrontational approach has been adopted and the criminal law is sanctioned for only significant acts of violence or property damage…”

That led Attaran to conclude: “Taken together, the Attorney General and RCMP policies create a regime in which public authorities foreclose the use of the Criminal Code offences relevant to civil disobedience and blockading – such as mischief, intimidation, breach of the peace, contempt, and so on – leaving only remedies in private law.”

Attorney General David Eby oversees policy in his ministry. Under the Attorney General Act, he is “the official legal adviser of the Lieutenant Governor and the legal member of the Executive Council [the cabinet].”

Also under this law, Eby “must advise the heads of the ministries of the government on all matters of law connected with the ministries.”

Here’s the second question that opposition MLAs need to ask:

Is David Eby continuing with the policy of foreclosing the use of the Criminal Code offences relevant to civil disobedience to clear the way for anti-pipeline protesters to be jailed indefinitely for violating a court injunction?

Two large fund managers bought a big stake in the Coastal GasLink project after a 2019 court injunction was issued.
Coastal GasLink

Two large fund managers bought a big stake in the Coastal GasLink project after a 2019 court injunction was issued.

Who is the law serving?

The third point worth mentioning is Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence. 

Canada’s highest court has not repudiated the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which resulted from formal statements by the Pope in the 1400s.

“Discovery was used as legal and moral justification for colonial dispossession of sovereign Indigenous Nations, including First Nations in what is now Canada,” states a document on the Assembly of First Nations website. “During the European ‘Age of Discovery,’ Christian explorers ‘claimed’ lands for their monarchs who felt they could exploit the land, regardless of the original inhabitants.”

The document noted that modern court rulings have continued to rely on this doctrine. It also pointed out, however, that the Tsilhquot’in ruling in 2014 stated that the “doctrine of terra nulllius (that no one owned the land prior to European assertion of sovereignty) never applied in Canada.”

Coastal GasLink has often stated that it has the support of all of the elected chiefs and councils in Wet’suwet’en territory.

These band councils were created under the federal Indian Act and only exercise jurisdiction over reserve lands created by the federal government.

One of the Indigenous land defenders who was arrested, Sleydo’ (a.k.a. Molly Wickham), had this to say: 

“The Wet’suwet’en people, under the governance of their hereditary Chiefs, are standing in the way of the largest fracking project in Canadian history. Our medicines, our berries, our food, the animals, our water, our culture, our homes are all here since time immemorial. We will never abandon our children to live in a world with no clean water. We uphold our ancestral responsibilities. There will be no pipelines on Wet’suwet’en territory.”

In granting the injunction to Coastal GasLink in 2019, Justice Margaret Church went out of her way to explain why the land defenders’ actions were not in accordance with Wet’suwet’en law. It was her way of addressing concerns about the federal and provincial government issuing permits to a pipeline company on unceded territory.

Here’s a question that opposition MPs might want to ask:

Does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believe that the Supreme Court of Canada should formally repudiate the racist Doctrine of Discovery?

Not long after Justice Church issued her injunction, TC Energy agreed to sell 65 per cent of its interest in the Coastal GasLink pipeline to New York–based KKR and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).

AIMCo acts on behalf of 31 pension, endowment and government funds in Alberta.

KKR is a New York-based private equity fund manager that brags about the important role it can play in “supporting the global transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The Trudeau government appointed Justice Church to the B.C. Supreme Court bench in 2016. In 2018, the Trudeau government and the Horgan governments approved the $40-billion liquefied-natural-gas plant, export terminal and pipeline that’s at the centre of this dispute.

The Canadian legal and regulatory environment helped convince KKR to buy into a fossil-fuel pipeline crossing unceded Indigenous territory to support this carbon-spewing infrastructure project.

By one estimate, the LNG project and its associated infrastructure will bring an increase of up to nine million megatonnes in annual B.C. greenhouse gas emissions. That’s after factoring in all the fracked natural gas that will be shipped to the facility.

This amounts to 13 per cent of all B.C. emissions in 2018.

KKR knew that if anyone engaged in civil disobedience against this pipeline – and in support of responsible climate policies – private law would apply. And they would be arrested. And if they returned to an RCMP-dictated exclusion zone protest again, they could be thrown in jail indefinitely.

This is the context behind what’s happening in northwestern B.C. this past week.

Protesters could seek their own court order

The arrests have taken place in advance of another expected atmospheric river walloping B.C. It will likely result in more road washouts and flooding.

Regardless of this, as long as Mike Farnworth is the acting premier and David Eby is the attorney general, there will always be enough RCMP officers available to enforce private law on unceded Indigenous territory.

However, Attaran’s article in the B.C. Law Review pointed to a way out for peaceful, law-abiding demonstrators.

He suggested that a person could file an application in B.C. Supreme Court under the Judicial Review Procedure Act asking for a court order forcing the Crown and the RCMP to enforce the criminal law.

If the Crown and RCMP were to do this, there would be less justification for a pipeline company or any other corporation to obtain a court injunction to pursue a remedy through the exercise of private law.

This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight.

 @charliesmithvcr

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Op-Ed: Vacancy decontrol has failed tenants and should be abolished https://nowtoronto.com/news/op-ed-vacancy-decontrol-has-failed-tenants-and-should-be-abolished https://nowtoronto.com/news/op-ed-vacancy-decontrol-has-failed-tenants-and-should-be-abolished#comments Sun, 21 Nov 2021 15:21:50 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739452 We have seen a stark increase of no-fault evictions and renovictions in Ontario as a result of vacancy decontrol

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Prior to the pandemic, Ontario was experiencing an affordable housing crisis. After 18 months it has become far worse.

Low-income renters across the province are struggling with the combined pressures of rising housing costs, stagnant wages, and lack of housing options. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already precarious situation faced by thousands of renters. If the provincial government wants to help renters, it should end vacancy decontrol.

Vacancy decontrol is the term used to describe the limit on how much landlords can charge new renters for their unit. For renters with units occupied before November 15, 2018, Ontario’s rent control system limits annual rent increases to a percentage based on the Consumer Price Index.

However, when a unit is vacated the landlord is able to charge any new rent that the market will bear. The impacts of this scheme are significant.

According to the MLS Home Price Index, in the GTA, the average monthly rent for vacant units is some 20 per cent higher than the average rent for occupied units ($1,817 versus $1,513).

This financial incentive has resulted in some landlords not waiting for renters to move out to take advantage of vacancy decontrol. We have seen a stark increase of no-fault evictions such as landlord’s own use evictions and renovictions as a result.

The process has significantly contributed to the loss of affordable housing and contributed massively to skyrocketing rents. To be sure. average rents in the GTA have grown much faster than average income, placing rental households in increasing precarity.

The 2019 Toronto Vital Signs report stated that from 2008 to 2019 Toronto housing prices increased four times faster than income. Removing vacancy decontrol is critical to curbing the increasing cost of rental housing in Ontario and the rapid loss of affordable housing.

The provincial government eliminated vacancy rent controls in 1996, arguing the policy would encourage the creation of new rental units. Yet, that has failed to happen.

In the past 25 years, less than 8 per cent of new units built in Ontario were rentals, while condominium development has soared.

On the other hand, in Manitoba, which has a form of vacancy control, landlords can only increase the rent for a recently vacated unit to no more than the average rent for comparable units in the same residential complex. An analysis from the University of Winnipeg in 2011 found no evidence that these rent regulations had a negative effect on the supply or quality of rental housing.

Vacancy decontrol is a failed experiment that hasn’t led to increased housing supply, just increased housing costs for renters.

The Ontario NDP recently tabled Bill 23, Rent Stabilization Act, 2021 which is scheduled to go to second reading on November 25. If passed, the Bill would amend the Residential Tenancies Act to require landlords to set the rent for a new renter equal to or less than the last rent charged to the previous renter. The Green Party has also released a housing strategy that includes establishing a vacancy control system and strengthening rules and penalties for renovictions. With the upcoming provincial election, voters expect that strong housing policies will be a priority for all political parties.

There is no one solution to the affordable housing crisis, but vacancy control is one immediate measure parties can implement to help protect renters in Ontario. Without decisive action, the housing crisis will only continue to worsen.

Douglas Kwan is director and advocacy and legal services for Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.

@nowtoronto

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Letter to the editor: E-bikes are here to stay, get used to it https://nowtoronto.com/news/letter-to-the-editor-e-bikes-are-here-to-stay-get-used-to-it https://nowtoronto.com/news/letter-to-the-editor-e-bikes-are-here-to-stay-get-used-to-it#comments Sun, 21 Nov 2021 14:18:44 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739445 Plus, the argument against term limits for councillors, mask mandates on the TTC and one way to make mental health services more accessible in reader mail

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I’ve seen a lot of bad electric vehicle drivers

Re E-bikes on Toronto streets: It’s a love-hate thing (NOW, November 18-24).

The popularity of e-bikes is a change we all have to get used to. There will be more in the future. The city needs to plan accordingly.

I have an e-scooter and drive on a bike lane. I don’t go more than 20 kilometres an hour. The problem is some cars are deliberately pushing or pinning us to the side of the road onto bike lanes when we try to pass into vehicle traffic. Bike lanes are often full of parked cars.

I admit I’ve seen a lot of bad electric vehicle drivers and the community has been trying their best to educate everyone on proper use. But if you think about it, it’s the same with cars – there will always be bad drivers.

Ara J.From NOWTORONTO.COM

Size – and speed – matters with e-bikes

We require a license for motorbikes but not electric bikes. Size matters and being hit by an electric bike (which almost has the same footprint as a motorcycle) can be catastrophic. There is no “cycling” aspect to it (or very little of it) as the pedals on some bikes are for show. Newer e-bikes use throttle control which is very similar to a motorcycle.

People on e-bikes are gutsier than motorcyclists. They shoot down the centre dividing lane, ride against traffic, then jump on the sidewalk when they meet an obstacle. Some of them have zero regard for even the most basic rules of the road because they are nimble and can easily make a getaway. It’s chaotic. And it’s only going to get worse if we don’t get ahead of it.

I’m a cyclist and a driver, and I cringe when I see e-bikers do stupid things. They need to realize that they can only get away with this behaviour because we let them.

Kev ChoiFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Car advertising still not geared up for global warming

One would think that car makers would have gotten the message by now that perhaps a little sensitivity should creep into their advertising. Yes, there are ads for hybrid and all-electric cars, and nods to the part these vehicles play in helping temper global warming. And then there’s Nissan Pathfinder burning rubber up a mountain track barely hanging on to the gravel surface, and speeding through a quiet forest road.

Geoff Rytell TORONTO

The argument against term limits for councillors

In regards to Carl Canmore’s letter on term limits for city politicians (NOW Online, November 14). It seems like a good idea. However, the problem with term limits is once a politician is elected to that second term, they can stop caring because they won’t be running for re-election anymore. A more practical solution would be three terms, then the person has to sit out one term before being allowed to run again.

Mitch KlingerWillowdale

Making health services more accessible

Re Op-ed: City needs its own mental health and addictions strategy (NOW Online, November 12).

One way the government could make mental health service more accessible would be to stop taxing psychotherapy.

Rachel FulfordFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Lack of COVID enforcement to blame for sinking TTC ridership

Re Can the TTC be saved from pandemic devastation? (NOW Online, November 19).

The lack of mask enforcement on the TTC is a huge issue and they have no one but themselves to blame for that. Before COVID, staff were rude and insulting, schedules were a joke and overcrowding was commonplace. Go to Berlin to see a functioning transit system.

Stephanie QuinlanFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

@nowtoronto

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Hidden Toronto: John Bales House https://nowtoronto.com/news/hidden-toronto-john-bales-house https://nowtoronto.com/news/hidden-toronto-john-bales-house#respond Sun, 21 Nov 2021 13:17:18 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739427 The oldest house in North York sits in a park in the shadow of apartment towers on Sheppard that once threatened to overwhelm the area

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What

John Bales House 

Where

4169 Bathurst (just south of Sheppard)

Why you should check it out

Enzo DiMatteo

It’s a short jaunt from the white apartment towers of Bathurst and Sheppard to the oldest house in North York.

There, tucked on the edge of an old western branch of the Don River, John Bales House sits on the same plot of land it occupied when it was built in 1824. 

Back then, the one-and-a-half-storey log structure looked over a 24-hectare farm.

Bales was born in Yorkshire, England, and settled in the area with his wife, Elizabeth. The farmstead included a barn and would grow to include an orchard.

The couple were married by the first Anglican Bishop of Upper Canada, John Strachan, which suggests they were a couple of some prominence. But there’s little else is the city’s historical record about Bales.

After operating as a farm for more than half a century – the Bales family sold the land in 1887 – the land would be purchased by the York Downs Golf and Country Club in 1922. At the time it was one of two prestigious golf courses in old Toronto. The other was in present-day Mississauga. Its first official match in 1923 was an exhibition involving Olympic gold medalist George S. Lyon.

The club operated a 27-hole golf course on the property converting John Bales’s house into a residence for the greenskeeper.

York Downs attracted golfers for more than four decades before the area around it began to undergo massive post-war redevelopment in the 50s and 60s. The land would be sold and the club moved further north to Unionville in 1969 opening a huge swath of what was then West Lansing to possible development. 

Plans for large towers were already popping up on nearby Sheppard and along Bathurst. But public outcry would end up saving the area from redevelopment. An additional 25 hectares would be added to the original Bales spread for the establishment of Earl Bales Park in 1975.

That would be John Bales’s great-grandson, Robert Earl Bales, who served as Reeve of North York Township from 1934-1940. 

Today, the popular park is home to an amphitheatre, bike trails and an alpine ski hill. The city-run Don Valley golf course operates on lands just south of the park close to Hogg’s Hollow in York Mills.

Today, John Bales House is occupied by Russian House Toronto, a cultural centre run by the Russian Canadian Cultural Heritage Foundation. 

The original hand pump used to draw water from the well on Bales’s farm still forms part of the site. A small war memorial for Second World War vets occupies part of the south lawn of the property. The wooded area behind the house running down to the river is known to be a resting place for large birds including American Kestrels. Rising up above the trees across the valley, the apartment complexes on Sheppard are a reminder of what could have been had the area not been preserved as greenspace.

Enzo DiMatteo

Read all of NOW’s Hidden Toronto stories here.

Hidden Toronto is a weekly feature exploring the city’s alternative history through contemporary landmarks.

@enzodimatteo

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Can the TTC be saved from pandemic devastation? https://nowtoronto.com/news/can-the-ttc-recover-from-pandemic-devastation https://nowtoronto.com/news/can-the-ttc-recover-from-pandemic-devastation#comments Fri, 19 Nov 2021 18:31:01 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739198 Without the necessary investments, Toronto could see transit ridership fall irretrievably and the TTC become a diminishing service for people with no other option

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Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) employees who have not yet done so will have to share their vaccination status with the public transit agency by tomorrow or be placed on unpaid leave. 

Some 88 per cent of the agency’s 15,090 employees have shared their COVID-19 vaccination status, with “the vast majority” already fully vaccinated, according to the TTC. All TTC employees have until December 30 to disclose their vaccination status or risk being let go permanently. It’s unclear how many employees the mandate affects. The TTC is not offering specifics on that. But the number is in the hundreds, perhaps the thousands.

The situation has led to a shortage of staff, which has necessitated service cuts on a number of routes, the TTC says. Riders taking the Bloor subway and some 57 bus routes will notice reduced service starting on Monday, November 22.

The TTC says the reductions in service, which were quietly announced in a service update on its website earlier this week, are temporary until the transit agency can sort out operational issues. Hiring is being fast-tracked and retired employees are being recruited as part of an effort to fill the service gap.

But for the TTC, it’s another turn for a system that has been devastated by the pandemic.  

The Eglinton Crosstown will be nearing completion next year and plans for the Ontario Line are full-steam ahead, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that we’re watching a train wreck in slo-mo as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on public transit numbers in Toronto. 

While the pandemic is slowly fading in the rearview, TTC ridership has stalled at 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Whether public transit use in the city will ever return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon is increasingly becoming an open question. It seems strange to contemplate given the TTC was operating at over-capacity before the pandemic.

But the Toronto and Region Board of Trade reported last week that office towers in the financial district remain a dead zone, with the volume of weekday workers down by 77 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

The numbers are a little more encouraging outside the core. There, the volume of weekday workers is down by 34 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels, which is still a significant number.

Some economists are optimistic, predicting that office vacancy numbers will return to normal (or some facsimile thereof) by the second half of 2022. But even they acknowledge that those numbers will be closer to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. 

Most of the jobs are back, but remote work is changing the calculus in ways that the TTC may not have anticipated. 

There are many reasons why ridership is stagnating. More folks who were taking transit have jumped in their cars to get where they’re going. Shorter trips downtown that used to be taken by transit are being sucked up by ride-hailing services.

But the TTC is not entirely blameless. Lack of enforcement of mask mandates on vehicles has scared a lot of riders off who were choosing transit but now feel unsafe using it. 

To add to the stress for the TTC, emergency funding from the feds and province to help ride out the pandemic will soon run out, which means a service that already relies heavily on the farebox for some 60 per cent its operating revenue will be facing even more difficult financial choices.

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it one thousand times – a strong transit system is vital to a post-COVID economic recovery.

Other jurisdictions in North America are introducing incentives to attract transit riders back. This week, Boston announced free fares on its busiest bus routes following the lead of Los Angeles, which is making fares free for the working poor, as well as high school and college students. Boston, along with New York City, are also installing priority bus lanes. In Washington DC, frequency of service is being increased.

Similar moves were recommended in the summer by transit activists here when TTC ridership was at 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and the prospects of a rebound looked dire as lockdowns lifted.

Transit advocacy group TTCriders released a report in June making a number of recommendations aimed at attracting riders back. Those include lower fares for the working poor and free transit for high school students and people receiving social assistance.

TTCriders notes that, at $123.50, Toronto’s monthly transit pass for low-income people receiving OW, ODSP or a child care subsidy remains more expensive than regular monthly transit passes in most Canadian cities. The group is also calling for free transfers between the TTC and other transit agencies and an expansion of the two-hour fare window.

But the TTC remains in a holding pattern with its five-year fare restructuring plan still in the works.

Councillor Shelley Carroll, who sits on the TTC board, is one who would like to see the TTC’s fare structure “incentivized” now before the TTC loses the emergency funding from the province and feds that has allowed it to run at full capacity more or less throughout the pandemic. Discussions on how much longer that funding will continue are ongoing, a TTC spokesperson tells NOW.

But as Carroll noted in a recent discussion on the future of the TTC on TVO, prioritizing transit over cars and other modes of transportation with things like dedicated bus lanes will be just as big a priority as fares.

Either way, without the necessary investments now, Toronto could see transit ridership fall irretrievably for years and the TTC risk becoming what critics have long feared: a diminishing service for people who have no other option. 

@enzodimatteo 

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COVID-19: Health Canada approves Pfizer vaccine for kids https://nowtoronto.com/news/covid-19-health-canada-approves-pfizer-vaccine-for-kids https://nowtoronto.com/news/covid-19-health-canada-approves-pfizer-vaccine-for-kids#respond Fri, 19 Nov 2021 16:26:50 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=739203 The first shipments are expected to arrive in Toronto within a week

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Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged five to 11.

The pharmaceutical giant submitted the two-dose mRNA vaccine to Canadian regulators for approval on October 18.

The 10-microgram doses will be given 21 days apart based on evidence from clinical trials, Health Canada said. The amount of vaccine given to kids will be a third of the level adults receive.

Pfizer’s clinical trial data showed a 90.7 per cent efficacy rate in the five-to-11 age group, officials said.

During a press conference on Friday morning, Health Canada chief medical advisor Supriya Sharma said side effects were similar to those in adolescents and adults but were less common, except for redness and swelling at the injection site. Other side effects observed in Pfizer’s trials included fatigue and headache.

Of the 3,100 clinical trial participants, four had serious reactions that were ultimately determined to be unrelated to vaccination, Sharma said. There were no reports of myocarditis, pericarditis or severe allergic reactions.

“The benefits of the vaccine outweigh the potential risks in this younger age group,” Sharma said.

Ottawa’s approval of the vaccine comes at a time when COVID-19 incidence rates in Canada are highest among children five to 11.

Toronto’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout for kids

Following today’s, Toronto Public Health said local officials will be ready to start administering shots to children as soon as shipments arrive. The city expects the first doses to arrive in Ontario within a week, and vaccine distribution across Toronto to take two to three days.

Next week, Toronto will open around 20,000 appointments for five to 11 year olds between November 25 and December 5 at city-run immunization clinics. All children in that age group will be eligible to book regardless of where they live.

The appointments will be for clinics at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Woodbine Mall, Scarborough Town Centre, Cloverdale Mall and Mitchell Field Arena. Appointments can be booked via the provincial booking system.

Clinic hours are being extended to accommodate as many bookings as possible. Hospitals, pharmacies and city health-care partners will also be running clinics as soon as is possible. Schools will send out info directly to families about school-run clinics.

For more info, visit the city’s website on children and vaccines.

The first round of shipments from the federal government to the provinces will include three million doses – or enough to give every eligible child in Canada their first shot.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the country’s national daily case count is slowly declining, though high infection rates persist in some regions. An average of 2,400 new cases were reported across the country over the past seven days, she added.

“Unless we can keep infection rates down, severe illness trends could begin to rise again,” Tam said.

In the past week, an average of 1,680 people were in hospital with COVID-19 across Canada, including 487 in intensive care. An average of 25 deaths were reported daily.

Ontario reported 793 new cases on Friday, the highest single-day increase since mid-September. The seven-day average for new cases is 625 compared with 537 this time last week. Toronto reported 115 new cases today, up from 63 last Friday.

To date, 82 per cent of eligible people in Ontario have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and just over 79 per cent are fully immunized.

Update (November 19, 2021 at 2:55 pm): This story was updated with more info about Toronto’s vaccine appointments for children.

@nowtoronto

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E-bikes on Toronto streets: It’s a love-hate thing https://nowtoronto.com/lifestyle/e-bikes-its-a-love-hate-thing https://nowtoronto.com/lifestyle/e-bikes-its-a-love-hate-thing#comments Thu, 18 Nov 2021 12:29:33 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=738937 Why we love e-bikes, why we hate e-bikes and why we could be wrong about the last part

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The explosion in the popularity of e-bikes has converted even the purists among cycling advocates about ways the e-powered vehicles can reshape public space – if only we can get some rules to deal with the hot mess on the streets.

Why we love e-bikes

I’d see her riding her bike practically every morning on the way to work, rain or shine, nattily dressed in a knit hat and scarf. Gone like the wind. 

It all looked so effortless. And it was hard to keep up. I discovered why one day when I got close enough: she was riding an e-bike. Every turn of her pedals was four or five of mine. Brilliant.

I’m a purist when it comes to pedal power. E-bikes are like cheating to me. (Maybe I’ve been watching the Tour de France for too long). In the Big Smoke, the relationship between e-bikers and traditional cyclists has been marked by frustration. It’s a love-hate thing.

But two years of living under pandemic conditions has Torontonians rethinking their transportation choices, and more of them are opting for the e-bike. Their popularity has exploded. 

The new turn has got cycling activists rethinking their cynicism and reimagining city streets with fewer cars and more space for everybody else as post-pandemic commuting undergoes a sea change during climate change. That’s the good news. The bad news is that regulations have failed to keep up with technology creating one hot mess on the streets.

First, a primer

There are many different e-powered vehicles out there – cargo e-bikes, electric scooters and e-powered motorcycles and mopeds. But there are two basic categories of e-bikes. There are the pedal-assisted e-bikes (or -pedelecs), which require pedaling and come equipped with a battery-powered motor and computer that reads your output and returns that power to your pedals. It makes riding a lot easier. 

And then there are the power-assisted e-bikes, which require no pedalling – although some come equipped with pedals to make them look like pedelecs. You’ve seen them. They look like Vespa-knock offs. They’re throttle and go and a nuisance. They’re autonomously powered electric vehicles and, most agree, should be treated as such. That’s meant a push for laws around licensing and registration in other jurisdictions, but not Ontario. 

The feds want nothing to do with regulation, while the province considers them all e-bikes under the Highway Traffic Act, which has left the city riding solo on regulations at the same time as e-bikes are revolutionizing how we get around. 

A years-long process has seen the city bring in a number of rules to try to accommodate the growing number of e-vehicles out there based on their weight and speed. Generally speaking, pedal-assisted e-vehicles are allowed on painted bike lanes, power-assisted e-vehicles are not. (See the chart below).

Courtesy of City of Toronto

But there’s still a whole lot of confusion about that – and little enforcement – while opportunistic manufacturers keep flooding the market with bigger and badder power-assisted vehicles that are e-bikes in name only. E-bikes is also a marketing thing aimed at making e-bikes attractive to car drivers. That’s where the money is.

The pandemic is fast-tracking change in our commuting patterns. It’s made us smarter about our travel choices. E-bikes are changing the game – now if we could only get some rules.

Nick Lachance

Eric Kamphof says some old-school bike stores “had to be dragged kicking and screaming” into the e-bike market.

A perfect e-storm 

Eric Kamphof, general manager at Annex-based bike shop Curbside Cycle, can remember a time not so long ago when bike stores that now sell e-bikes “had to be dragged kicking and screaming into it. My own community of cyclists often verge towards the purists and my industry is especially guilty of this. Us longtime cyclists can be our own worst problem sometimes.”

But necessity being the mother of invention, Kamphof says that both traditional cyclists and people looking to free themselves from their car are opting for e-travel in the city. Nowadays he says e-cargo bikes and e-bike sales make up about 30 per cent of Curbside’s business whereas “it was barely a glimmer” before. 

“It’s like everyone chose the pandemic to get an e-bike.” It’s been a perfect storm. 

The city introduced its own fleet of e-bikes as part of BikeShare shortly after the pandemic in 2020. Now for those for whom the distance to work or to buy groceries made riding a bike too impractical – or too sweaty a proposition – e-bikes are becoming a growing option. 

Kamphof, who also sits on a technical committee advising the Ministry of Transportation on e-bikes, says increased literacy around the benefits of cycling in general is contributing to its surge in popularity of e-bikes. What used to be a feeling of incredulity about bikes has turned to Torontonians thinking more like the Dutch when it comes to travel choices. We’ve become essentialists. 

“The Dutch don’t think in terms of bikes versus cars,” says Kamphof. “They think about what their best option is.”

Riding high 

The global market in e-bikes is super-charged for big things. It’s projected to hit USD $79.7 billion by 2026 from $47 billion in 2021. By 2023, the number of e-bikes in use on the planet is expected to grow to 300 million, up from 200 million in 2019, according to a study by consulting firm Deloitte. And investors are lining up to rev growth. 

Last month Rad Power Bikes, North America’s largest e-bike manufacturer, announced another $150 million injection in its operations. 

But e-bikes’ surge in popularity is not just a COVID-induced fad. It’s about practicality in a post-pandemic, climate changing world.

There are millions of vehicles on the road. And most of them, some 60 per cent, are being used for trips of 10 kilometres of less, a distance that can easily be handled by an e-bike. 

According to the REACT Lab at the University of British Columbia, the average length of trips by e-bike in Canada is actually half a kilometre longer than trips by car. 

It’s kinda nutty to think about that when you consider that a vehicle costs something like $7,000 a year to maintain (give or take a few hundred depending on where you live). An e-bike will run you around $1,000 a year. 

It’s also a healthier way to travel than perviously thought. Here, too, e-bikes are exploding myths. 

A recent survey of some 10,000 riders in seven European cities published recently in the British Medical Journal found that physical activity gains from e-bike use are “similar” to regular bikes. That’s because e-bikers tend to take longer trips – up to twice as long, according to some data – as those on conventional bikes.

E-bikes are also more doable for those with physical limitations and for whom conventional cycling is not an option, like the 70-year-old with a bum knee. 

The development of lighter-weight bikes and more powerful electrical energy storage means that e-bikes of the future will be able to travel longer distances on a single charge.

That means more demands on cities in terms of infrastructure and changing the way we think about getting people around and moving goods and services, says Keagan Gartz, executive director of Cycle Toronto. 

“The commute is the thing,” says Gartz.  

The car-versus-bike paradigm – or for that matter, the bike-versus-e-bike paradigm – no longer applies. Gartz says it’s time to think in terms of  “mobility lanes” instead of bike lanes on our streets. 

“As you’re seeing people using different micro mobility devices,” says Gartz, “everybody needs a safe space to get around.”

Some countries in Europe have moved to extra-wide lanes that can be used for a range of mobility devices, from e-scooters to bikes. A similar proposal here for a “Mobility Greenway” to coincide with the building of the Finch LRT has been presented to council.  

Gartz says the days when roads were built just for cars are over. Some major employers like FedEx are already thinking about the new reality of greener forms of transportation, and is now using 40 e-cargo bikes to deliver in five Toronto neighbourhoods. 

“When we think about our streets there’s already a slow lane and a fast lane,” Gartz says. Only, right now, it’s cars that are using both of them. 

Nick Lachance

Why we hate e-bikes

The new bike lanes downtown have been a real eye-opener on ways the city should be thinking about public space post-pandemic. So have efforts like the city’s ActiveTO lane closures this summer – for which Torontonians turned out in droves.

But on the streets it’s already back to pre-pandemic levels when it comes to animosity between traditional cyclists and e-bike users. 

“They’re freaking everywhere,” says Toronto city councillor and cycling advocate Mike Layton. And they’re not all following the rules of the road.

It’s not all e-bikes, of course. 

Pedal-assisted e-bikes that don’t go faster than 32 kilometres per hour are allowed on painted bike lanes – although they can be a menace, too. They’re too quiet to hear coming and whiz by without warning.

But it’s the imposters out there riding the Vespa look-alikes and fat-tired, Mad Max-inspired knock-offs that don’t have pedals (or have fake ones) and can travel up to 42 kilomeres and hour (or more). 

They’re not allowed in bike lanes, period – both the painted and the separated variety.  There are good reasons for that, which have to do with space and Newton’s second law of motion: F=ma. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that a bike of that size with an adult human aboard travelling at max speed can generate enough force to, well, kill someone, should things go awry. But they’re a common sight on bike lanes. 

One was in front of me on the Yonge Street bike lane the other day. It didn’t take long for those old anti-e-bike emotions of mine to start spinning. 

Layton, who has noticed a significant rise in their numbers on his own rides along Bloor, says it’s time to revisit the rules around e-bikes and “how to keep the most vulnerable road users safe. A lot has changed since they first came onto the scene.” 

Indeed. The vast majority of bike lanes in the city are not wide enough to accommodate e-bikes. Longboarders, rollerbladers, cargo bikes and those on mobility devices also use bike lanes. Our infrastructure has not only not kept up with existing demands – it’s now being confronted with whole new technologies.

On e-bikes there’s also little in the way of enforcement, inviting a bit of a wild west out there when you consider that you don’t need a licence to ride an e-bike. The bar is low – as long as you’re at least 16 years of age and wearing a regulation bike helmet (no motorcycle helmet required) you’re good to go.

The city has moved to ban the use of “non-pedelecs” in separated bike lanes. But as of right now, there’s no push in any direction for more change by city council as bigger and more powerful throttle-assist e-bikes are entering the fray. 

And they’re not configured at the factory to make sure they fall within the legal requirements of the markets they’re being sold in when it comes to speed and power. 

“Two industries have emerged,” says Kamphof, “which clearly define for themselves what is and isn’t an e-bike.”

In February, the British ColumbiaCourt of Appeal upheld a BC Supreme Court ruling that mopeds and scooters do not meet the province’s definition of an e-bike and therefore require a driver’s licence, registration and insurance.

Ontario, meanwhile, is moving in the other direction away from regulation.

Nick Lachance

What’s next? 

Darnel Harris, who is also on the technical committee currently advising the Ministry of Transportation, knows what it’s like “to end up getting deep down the hole of regulation” on e-bikes.  

The executive director of Our Greenway Conservancy has some big ideas about how e-bikes can change the city and connect high-density communities in the city’s northern reaches. His group has been training those communities on how to use e-bikes since the pandemic. Those include e-bikes that seat two people.

The group is also pitching plans for a 21-kilometre “Mobility Greenway” with an extra wide lane for bikes and other mobility users along a redesigned Finch LRT corridor. It includes community hubs along the way.

Harris says our notion of streets needs to be broadened to think about access for other groups, including those living in apartment buildings as well as seniors and people with accessibility and mobility issues. 

He says that as the popularity of e-bikes grows, the city will have to figure out how to accommodate them as a fundamental part of the transportation network. Harris says “the potential is huge.” 

But before that can be realized, Harris says our language around mobility needs to change, too. 

“Bikes are used for recreation is the orthodoxy,” Harris says. “But bike lanes are not just an amenity and niche for a small group of people. They can actually shift vehicle use.”

If e-bikes can get us to that place faster, then maybe they’re not so bad after all.

@enzodimatteo

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It will take more than electric cars to drive down emissions https://nowtoronto.com/news/it-will-take-more-than-electric-cars-to-drive-down-emissions https://nowtoronto.com/news/it-will-take-more-than-electric-cars-to-drive-down-emissions#respond Wed, 17 Nov 2021 14:44:51 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=738809 We should really shift the focus away from car culture and onto public transit, cycling and walking

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Resolving the climate crisis isn’t just about shifting from one technology to another; it’s about shifting our ways of thinking and being. It’s a point that often gets missed in conversations about major greenhouse gas emission sources.

That was illustrated at the recent 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) climate summit, in Glasgow, where governments, automakers and airlines worked on deals to cut global transport emissions. Because transportation is responsible for one-fifth to one-quarter of global emissions, that seems like a good step.

But there are problems.

With aviation and shipping, the main idea is to switch from polluting fossil fuels to “biofuels.” But with expected increases in both sectors, that could mean destroying more natural areas or displacing food-growing lands with crops for fuel production.

And as George Monbiot points out, “Flying accounts for most of the greenhouse gas emissions of the super-rich, which is why the wealthiest one per cent generate roughly half the world’s aviation emissions. If everyone lived as they do, aviation would be the biggest of all the causes of climate breakdown.” Finding better fuels is important, but cutting back on flying – which would mostly affect the affluent – is just as critical. But, of course, that doesn’t fit with the current growth-and-profit economic paradigm.

As for shipping, Reuters notes around 90 per cent of traded goods travel by sea, and shipping accounts for about three per cent of global emissions. Our current global economic system encourages corporations to go where resources and labour are cheap and standards are often low to maximize profits. Shifting away from consumerism and supporting local businesses and production would go as far or farther in reducing shipping emissions, although cleaner ways to fuel ships are needed.

With the automobile industry, it’s all about electric vehicles. And the focus is on direct emissions rather than the many other environmental impacts, from production to massive infrastructure requirements. Few people even question car culture – why we’ve decided so many people should each have large machines to transport them in isolation. And why they should be provided with the massive infrastructure to make it possible, from roads and parking to malls and drive-throughs.

This idea of constant economic growth – with the excessive consumption and waste required to fuel it – has become so ingrained that we resort to incremental measures in the midst of a crisis. We just can’t imagine different ways of seeing, and so we try to shoehorn solutions into an outdated system that wasn’t designed to be sustainable.

Again, electric vehicles are important. They pollute far less than internal combustion engine vehicles and can last longer. But what we should really focus on is reducing private automobile use, through good public transit, active transport like cycling and walking, increasingly popular modes like e-bikes and scooters, better urban planning and design, and new technologies like self-driving vehicles that can facilitate car sharing and efficient ride-hailing services. All this would dramatically reduce congestion and pollution, and would even make it possible to convert massive amounts of road and parking to green space.

And while electric vehicle sales are increasing rapidly, they’re still far outnumbered by gasoline and diesel car sales.

As for the COP26 automakers’ pledge – which would require all cars and vans sold to be zero-emission by 2040 – as inadequate as it is, not everyone is on board. Even though Volkswagen and Toyota are major electric and hybrid vehicle manufacturers, they didn’t back the commitment. The U.S., China and Germany also refused to support the pledge.

According to Reuters, “The wider lesson is that private players can’t be relied on to stick their necks out if public action is absent.” This shows how essential it is for society to get involved. It’s mainly up to governments, business, industry and international agencies to resolve the climate crisis, but without massive public pressure, they’ll continue down the status quo road until it’s too late to keep the planet from heating to catastrophic levels.

Climate conferences such as COP are important, and perhaps they’re more than just “blah, blah, blah,” but until we replace the outdated human-invented systems that got us into this mess, we’ll only be downshifting rather than putting on the brakes. That’s not good enough.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.          

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

@nowtoronto

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#CdnMediaFail claps back at Conservative Twitter https://nowtoronto.com/news/cdnmediafail-claps-back-on-conservative-twitter https://nowtoronto.com/news/cdnmediafail-claps-back-on-conservative-twitter#respond Tue, 16 Nov 2021 21:33:44 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=738646 The PM showed up late for Remembrance Day ceremonies on the Hill but Conservative partisans on Twitter couldn’t believe it had anything to do with a “suspicious package” found by the RCMP

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News flash: journalists are under siege. Ipsos says 72 per cent report being the target of hateful attacks. Yup. Or maybe some of them are just thin-skinned.

It’s hard to know sometimes – or take seriously – a lot of what happens on Twitter. That would be the fave social media platform of journalists – and their critics – and where a fair amount of the invective aimed at journalists takes place.

Recently, the #CdnMediaFail hashtag has been making the rounds on the social media platform as part of an effort to call out – and talk back to – the coverage of conservative media commentators and columnists on the PM.

Critics in the conservative press refer to its participants loosely as “Liberal Twitter” because most of those doing the talking back tend to be Trudeau supporters – or at least Trudeau defenders. Other conservative opinion makers have taken to describing them as “TruAnons,” to suggest they’re like the rabble of conspiracy theorists stateside (aka QAnons) who believe a ring of blood-sucking pedophiles are running the United States government. 

Politics shouldn’t be so personal – or partisan. But it has become that way for some in the press corps on Twitter. Maybe they’ve been in the bubble too long. They do like kicking the shit outta their critics from behind the comfort of their laptops. They tend to be the most active on Twitter and the most click-baity. That’s the reason their tweets end up showing up in your thread more than other members of the fourth estate. That’s the way Twitter algorithms work. They tend to amplify right-leaning views. It’s kinda embarrassing. 

They’re not just taking on online trolls who have nothing better to do than launch ad hominem, misogynist or racist attacks. There’s plenty of that going on too (which involves mostly female journalists). Twitter can be a cesspool. But that’s a different story. 

Some of the higher-profile members of the parliamentary press gallery also make a habit of taking on folks who may take legit exception to their reporting – and the fact journalists covering the PM often espouse views in line with the conservative-leaning news outlets they work for of the Conservative party itself.

It’s probably not a good idea for journalists to respond to these folks, unless there’s an issue of fact that needs addressing. But all too often some among the country’s opinion-makers can’t resist taking a shot (or getting a little defensive).

It happened on Remembrance Day, when the PM showed up late for ceremonies at the War Memorial on Parliament Hill. It didn’t take long for the inevitable insinuations to start among some conservative commentators on Twitter that the PM may be pulling another Tofino and out surfing – as he reportedly was on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation instead of meeting with Indigenous leaders.

Predictably, the usual suspects among the Trudeau trolls on Twitter (let’s call them Conservative Twitter) quickly joined in on the speculation to suggest the PM was late because he’s a narcissist and just wants to be the centre of attention. That’s how Twitter rolls.

It was revealed soon enough that the RCMP had received a report of a “suspicious package” in the vicinity of Remembrance Day ceremonies and so the decision was made to hold the PM back. The RCMP’s Explosive Disposal Unit was called in as a “precautionary” measure, and the package was removed. (The Governor-General, Mary Simon, was also late in arriving because of security concerns).

The memorial was the site of the 2014 shooting of Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo. The PM has also been a target of numerous death threats, including most recently during the election. 

Folks on #CdnMediaFail had some pointed things to say about that and the failure of some members of the media to hold their fire (and snark) before all the facts were in on the PM’s lateness.

But for Conservative partisans the news of a suspicious package only gave them another reason to call the whole thing a hoax.

Why, they asked, hadn’t the crowds at Remembrance Day ceremonies been dispersed if there was a credible threat? The answer would seem simple enough. The threat had been neutralized. 

Not good enough for some among the hostiles who then flipped the script and turned their ire on journalists (conservatives among them) for not reporting on the “suspicious package” with the requisite amount of skepticism. All of a sudden, all members of the Ottawa press corps had become sycophants for the PM. Twitter takes no prisoners. It also cuts both ways. 

It was all enough to cause CTV National News’s parliamentary correspondent to start blocking followers before deciding to take his Twitter account private so that only authorized followers can now see his tweets.

Social media has made journalists more accessible to the public than ever before.

The public shouldn’t be surprised that journalists have opinions. Some are paid handsomely to express them. The public also shouldn’t necessarily expect objectivity, either. But the lines become blurred when reporters, whose job it is to offer the straight goods, start opinionating on social media.

The public does expect fairness. That, however, may be asking for too much on Twitter. 

@enzodimatteo

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Op-Ed: COP26 exposes climate crisis link to food insecurity https://nowtoronto.com/news/op-ed-cop26-exposes-climate-crisis-link-to-food-insecurity https://nowtoronto.com/news/op-ed-cop26-exposes-climate-crisis-link-to-food-insecurity#respond Sun, 14 Nov 2021 17:41:42 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=738223 This holiday season, the most generous thing you can do is not to donate cans from your pantry or write a cheque to your local food bank

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December is fast approaching and many politicians will soon be urging us to donate to our local food banks.

They’ll stand for photo ops behind stacks of groceries alongside massive companies like Walmart, who are known to pay their employees poverty wages, then spend millions of dollars advertising their charitable food donations. It’s the same kind of “greenwashing” that big polluters have long been engaging in.

Last week, the organizers of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow were criticized for allowing massive oil companies to present on human rights issues. Bernard Looney, CEO of British multinational oil and gas company BP, received a platform to discuss “human rights in the just transition.”

I don’t believe he mentioned when the UK government found BP to have repeatedly violated human rights in Turkey, or the accusations they’ve faced of funding for paramilitary groups in Colombia to defend their pipelines.

Meanwhile, at the People’s Summit for Climate Justice, thousands of climate leaders and activists met across Glasgow to identify climate strategies that would actually reach climate zero with a platform of Indigenous sovereignty, reparations to the Global South, and a worker-led just transition.

“Putting a price on natural resources is an act of colonialism and inhumanity. But there are other ways, humanity-based alternatives that we’ll share so they can’t say that they didn’t know,” said attendee Calfin Lafkenche, a Chilean human rights organizer and coordinator of the Indigenous Minga solidarity network.

Indeed, closer to home the climate crisis is already impacting access to food. Devastating heat, unprecedented cold and other extreme weather events have contributed to world food prices soaring by an unprecedented 31 per cent in the past year alone.

Most of us are feeling the pinch, but for people living in poverty, this price increase could be a death sentence. 

One in eight households in Canada is already living without enough food to meet their nutritional needs. For Indigenous peoples, it’s nearly one in two households.

As these crises mount, it’s becoming clearer that food security and climate change are linked problems with linked solutions. But we need to look beyond the limits of charity, and turn our emphasis to the protection of human rights, be it the ones currently enshrined in international covenants or the ancestral rights of Indigenous peoples over their territories.

Thankfully, the foundation for a right to food has already been laid for us. It’s enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. It is more specifically detailed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Canada ratified in 1976. As a result, Canada has a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food – an obligation it’s failed to honour for decades and has failed to imbed domestically.

This holiday season, the most generous thing you can do isn’t simply to donate leftovers or cans from your pantry or write your annual cheque. It’s to challenge yourself to stop learn more about food justice advocacy in Canada, especially within affected communities that have been organizing for decades. It’s to contact your elected officials directly and ask them how they plan to respect, protect and fulfil Canada’s right to food especially in the context of the climate crisis. And it’s to call out corporations and politicians when they use charity as a shield and a prompt for their own harmful and continued inaction.

We must think of food insecurity as we do the climate crisis – as a pressing issue of political and societal will. Only then can we truly ensure that Canadians’ have a real right to food.

Paul Taylor is executive director of FoodShare Toronto.

@nowtoronto 

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Letters to the editor: Raising the flag on Remembrance Day was right thing to do https://nowtoronto.com/news/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-raising-the-flag-on-remembrance-day-was-right-thing-to-do https://nowtoronto.com/news/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-raising-the-flag-on-remembrance-day-was-right-thing-to-do#respond Sun, 14 Nov 2021 17:04:16 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=738218 Plus, term limits for councillors, the elephant in the room on climate change and Scarborough's best BBQ secret in reader mail

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A reasonable compromise on Remembrance Day

Re Remembrance Day and reconciliation: Is it time to raise the flag? (NOW Online, November 4).

Raising the flag late on November 7 and lowering it again every Indigenous Veterans Day on November 8 and every National Truth and Reconciliation Day after that is a reasonable compromise.

When the flag was initially lowered, Trudeau should have announced that it would be for a specific period of time such as one month or until some important anniversary date related to Indigenous history. Lowering it indefinitely subject to negotiations was an unwise move.

By international standards, Trudeau has an unusual approach to the flag. Any country which has had colonies or slavery has enough anniversaries of injustices, killings and unnecessary deaths to keep its flag at half-mast more or less permanently. 

Bruce CouchmanOttawa

Albany not the oldest private club in Canada

Your articles on Hidden Toronto are great, but the second line in print on the Albany Club (NOW, November 7-14) should read that the club is “among” Canada’s oldest private clubs. The St. James Club in Montreal was established in 1857, pre-dating Confederation.

Richard HaskellToronto

Time to rename Jarvis Street?

Re Hidden Toronto: Graymar House (NOW Online, November 7). Maybe we should consider changing the name of Jarvis Street back to its original New Street?

Paul JamiesonFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Readers’ Choice questions

Re Readers’ Choice 2021 (NOW, November 11-17).

Your list for the best places to eat starts out OK, but the best Italian food is Terroni? And the best Japanese is Kinton Ramen? The Keg for best Steakhouse?

Jeff WareFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Scarborough the place for BBQ

Oh, horsefeathers! Art of BBQ Smokehouse in Scarborough is the darn best barbecue joint in the GTA.

T. David From NOWTORONTO.COM

Props for St. Stephen’s House

I’d like you to consider a “community” category for Readers’ Choice so the public can vote on the best respite centres and facilities offering social services in the city. This will help top shelters or drop-ins get support or bad ones improve meals, service or insensitive staff. I’ve great things to say about St. Stephen’s Community House!

Elaine H.From NOWTORONTO.COM

The elephant in the room is a cow

Re Factory farming is Canada’s sacred cow on climate change (NOW Online, November 2).

Thank you for this informed and timely article about the literal cow in the room. We absolutely cannot meet climate targets with ongoing animal agriculture and the concomitant methane emissions, deforestation, and biodiversity loss.

Teela P.From NOWTORONTO.COM

Joe Cressy does the honourable thing

Councillor Joe Cressy has done the honourable thing to not run for re-election (NOW Online, October 30). It needs to be enshrined in law that councillors can only serve two terms, otherwise, the trend for councillors to be lifers will continue and stagnation will be the result

Carl CanmoreFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Dune’s climate change message

The core message from Dune (NOW Online, October 4) is that a planet can be the protagonist in a life or death drama.

Climate change is a disease that is infecting our biosphere and causing mortality at an increasing rate. The successes in controlling the spread of COVID-19 came from unprecedented global cooperation. Safe and effective vaccines were developed. Perhaps treating climate change as a global public health issue would enable us to successfully control climate change.

Moses ShuldinerToronto

@nowtoronto

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Hidden Toronto: First Catholic bishop’s residence https://nowtoronto.com/news/hidden-toronto-first-catholic-bishops-residence https://nowtoronto.com/news/hidden-toronto-first-catholic-bishops-residence#comments Sun, 14 Nov 2021 15:51:47 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=738207 It’s barely noticeable today under the crush of condos but it once was the home of the man behind Upper Canada’s Catholic crusade

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Architectural Conservancy Ontario

What

First Catholic bishop’s residence

Where 

113 Jarvis

Why you should check it out 

In the religious annals of old Toronto, John Strachan, Upper Canada’s first Anglican bishop, remains the most notable public figure.

Known for his Tory politics (which preached obedience and subordination) and ties to the Family Compact, Strachan also served on the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. Today there are schools and a street named after him near where his two-storey manse once stood at University and Front. It was there that loyalist forces gathered on the first night of the rebellion against the Family Compact led by Mackenzie in 1837. 

Strachan was an outspoken critic of the rebels. The clergy held terrific sway over the politics of Upper Canada. His only equal in that regard was Alexander Macdonell (also known as McDonell). A staunch Tory himself, Macdonell would become Strachan’s religious counterpart as Upper Canada’s first Catholic bishop.

Like Strachan, Macdonell was born in Scotland, and his Catholic upbringing preached obedience to the Crown, but he was perhaps an even more strident crusader of Tory values. Indeed, he would take up arms in defence of the Crown in a number of wars, including in the War of 1812, when he raised a regiment against American Revolutionary forces.

His biography hypothesizes that his enthusiasm for defence of the Crown was born out of “an acceptance of the inevitable” but also offers that it was “more likely, it reflected the conviction of the Catholic clergy that only loyal submission would bring relief.”

Alexander Macdonell, 1823-24, by Martin Archer Shee. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Before his arrival in Upper Canada, Macdonell raised a Catholic regiment to defend British interests during the Irish Rebellion in 1798. The regiment would be disbanded and, with the men left destitute, Macdonell persuaded the Crown to give them land in Upper Canada in return for their loyalty.

Macdonell would first settle in Glengarry in the Kingston area. When he arrived in York for a visit in 1806 on a mission from the church, Catholics were few and far between. 

The town had a population of approximately 200 people, of whom less than a quarter were Catholic. In all of Upper Canada, there were only three Catholic priests and three Catholic churches.

Macdonell reported his finding to his superiors in the church and would be given the task of acquiring land to establish more churches in the town. A plot near George on present-day Adelaide would be set aside “for the purpose of erecting a chapel for public worship.” But it would be destroyed by fire during the War of 1812. 

By 1822, the Catholic population of York would grow to some 1,000 adherents. Macdonell would move from his posting in Glengarry to York and build a home at the corner of Jarvis and Richmond in 1832.

These days it’s barely noticeable under the crush of condos and sign for Mystic Muffin. But it once was the home of Upper Canada’s Catholic crusade.

Writer William Foster Coffin described Macdonell as “a medieval churchman, half bishop, half baron, [who] fought and prayed, with equal zeal, by the side of men he had come to regard as his hereditary followers.” Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the Irish poet and politician, would refer to him as the “greatest Tory in Canada.”

Macdonell was a man of many talents, despite his seeming subservience to the Crown. Chief among them were his powers of political persuasion.

As a member of the Legislative Assembly, he would eventually push for government salaries to be paid to Catholic priests and teachers in the colony in return for their loyalty to the Crown.

But unlike some of his other endeavours, the effort would be met with indignation by Anglican Church heads of Upper Canada, and Strachan in particular. Turns out their political ties were not enough to overcome their religious differences.

Samuel Engelking

Read all of NOW’s Hidden Toronto stories here.

Hidden Toronto is a weekly feature exploring the city’s alternative history through contemporary landmarks

@enzodimatteo

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Op-ed: City needs its own mental health and addictions strategy https://nowtoronto.com/council-needs-its-own-mental-health-and-addictions-strategy https://nowtoronto.com/council-needs-its-own-mental-health-and-addictions-strategy#comments Fri, 12 Nov 2021 17:58:20 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=737886 The most expensive and most coercive options, such as jails and involuntary hospitalization, usually become the net into which people fall

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motion tabled by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mayor John Tory and passed at this week’s City Council meeting will create a comprehensive mental health and addictions strategy for the city.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Addictions and Mental Health Ontario and Children’s Mental Health Ontario commissioned Ipsos Public Affairs to conduct a survey. It found that more than 80 per cent of Ontarians experiencing increased mental health and addictions challenges as a result of COVID-19.

Usually, the most expensive and most coercive options, such as jails and involuntary hospitalization, become the net into which people fall. 

But the problem is not just one of more money. The problem is also about how money is spent, and where and whether people can find (and access) the supports that do exist. 

A mental health and addiction strategy is needed to make sense of the “system” that is in place, which is not really a system at all, but a variety of hospital and community services. 

For those struggling with mental health issues and addictions, basic needs for food and shelter can also go unmet, which is a trauma in itself, creating a downward spiral. For many, the pandemic has intensified their vulnerability.

But Toronto cannot wait for the province or the federal government to meet the needs of the most diverse city in the world. It’s time to develop our municipal and community-oriented support services to reduce the backlog of the thousands of people waiting for mental health and substance use-related issues. This has been done in Calgary and it has led to increased public engagement and investments by the provincial government.

Although the majority of the funding for mental health and addictions agencies in Ontario is provided by the province, the funds actually flow from the federal government.

In 2019, Toronto City Council asked the federal government to adopt a Mental Health Parity Act. The idea was to meet the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s target of one dollar spent on mental health services for every dollar spent on physical health, as detailed in the report Advancing the Mental Health Strategy for Canada: A Framework for Action (2017–2022). 

The reality, however, is that they are not putting forward a Toronto-specific plan to support local challenges. Now it’s up to the City to create a strategy that will prioritize local residents and the establishment of non-coercive community-based support services.  

Such a strategy should be properly resourced and include dedicated staff and experts accountable to the community.

This newest initiative by City Council could represent a high watermark for Toronto with benchmarked outcomes.

It will be hard work. But it’s work that community mental health advocates are keen to do. Let’s begin.

Jennifer Chambers is executive director of Empowerment Council. Susan Davis is executive director of the Gerstein Crisis Centre. Steve Lurie, is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

@nowtoronto

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Readers’ Choice 2021: Toronto’s best activists, politicians and public spaces https://nowtoronto.com/news/readers-choice-2021-torontos-best-activists-politicians-and-public-spaces https://nowtoronto.com/news/readers-choice-2021-torontos-best-activists-politicians-and-public-spaces#respond Thu, 11 Nov 2021 13:02:00 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=737718 From activist campaigns and podcasts to beaches and bike trails, NOW readers pick the best of the city

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For the “Cityscape” category in our annual best-of-Toronto Readers’ Choice poll, NOW readers name the people, activist groups and politicians making a mark on the city, as well as their favourite public spaces and local attractions.

Best Activist

Desmond Cole

He’s not in the public spotlight as much as he used to be. These days, Desmond Cole prefers to do his thing closer to his fave  grassroots causes. That’s not to say that he doesn’t resurface from time to time – like he did this summer over park encampments – to remind us all what it takes to keep fighting the good fight. One of Toronto’s best known activists has lessons to teach, after all. It’s just not always in the places you expect to find them.

@DesmondCole

Runner-up

Paul Taylor

@PaulTaylorTO

Best Activist Campaign

Encampment Support Network

From the moment the city went into a coronavirus-imposed lockdown it was clear the shelter system, which has been underfunded for years, couldn’t deal with the crowds and didn’t have the space to provide the physical distancing needed to prevent the spread of the virus. Encampments would soon start popping up in parks. But the city was clearly not ready to deal with the politics of that. Enter the Encampment Support Network.

The volunteer group of activists and locals jumped into the breach to provide basic essentials and advocate on residents’ behalf in ways that centred around the needs of the unhoused instead of traditional referral services. It was a radical experiment in giving agency to those most affected by homelessness – until the cops moved in.

encampmentsupportnetwork.com

Runner-up  

Fridays for Future

fridaysforfutureto.org

Best Activist Group

Black Lives Matter–Toronto

Most of its Toronto founders have moved on to bigger projects, but the mark made on the city during a feisty decade-long rise has left an imprint that continues to attract new and younger people to the cause of Black liberation.

24 Cecil, blacklivesmatter.ca

Runner-up  

Students for a Free Tibet Canada

studentsforafreetibet.org

Best Beach

Woodbine Beach

A boardwalk, sand and scenic views of the city skyline and majestic lake – also, sunbathing, snack bar, popcorn vendors, carnival music (on good weekends) and volleyball. Did we mention the playground and Blue Flag beach? And all of it within walking distance of Ashbridges Bay and Martin Goodman trails.

1675 Lake Shore East

Runner-up  

Kew Beach

2075 Queen East

Bloor Street bike lanes looking east
Samuel Engelking

Best Bike Lane

Bloor Street

The pandemic has caused the city to rethink public space and new bike lanes have surfaced in previously unimaginable places like Yonge, University and even the Danforth. But it’s Bloor, a lane that was two decades in the making and received a much-needed revamp before the pandemic, that set the standard for connectivity and accessibility. It’s redefined Toronto’s main east-west spine.

Bloor West from Avenue Rd to Shaw

Runner-up  

Danforth

Danforth from Broadview to Victoria Park

Best City Councillor

Gord Perks

It’s hard to imagine that Gord Perks has been a Toronto councillor for almost two decades, having first been elected in 2006. But while others were sucked into the partisan and stifling vortex of city politics, Perks has managed to stay above the fray while remaining true to the cause of social democracy. Perks remains a fierce defender of all that’s good about Toronto.

416-392-7919, gordperks.ca

Runner-up  

Brad Bradford

416-338-2755, bradbradford.ca

Best College

George Brown College

The college named after founder of the Globe and a father of Canadian Confederation has been a mainstay in the city since it opened in 1967, offering courses in applied arts and technology and growing to three campuses, including a recently opened waterfront campus and an affiliation with Ryerson. More than 25,000 students from 35 countries take its correspondence courses. Today, it rates as one of the best research colleges in the country.

200 King East, 160 Kendal, 3 Lower Jarvis. georgebrown.ca

Runner-up  

Humber College

205 Humber College, humber.ca

Best Continuing Education School

York University

York U has long been thought of as not quite making the grade when it comes to higher education in the city – at least, compared to the more prestigious University of Toronto. But it has carved out an illustrious history in its own right as a centre for student activism and progressive politics at its campus north of the city – and now a centre for continuing education. A massive expansion has seen the university grow to the fourth largest in the country with a worldwide reputation for liberal arts, environmental studies, business and law.

96 The Pond, yorku.ca

Runner-up  

The Chang School of Continuing Education – Ryerson University

297 Victoria, ryerson.ca

Best Enviro Group

Toronto Environmental Alliance

Environmental groups come and go with the winds of change that usually mark the rise and fall of social movements. But this Toronto-based non-profit has successfully campaigned to make the city a greener, more sustainable and equitable place for more than 30 years, with an emphasis on local climate change, toxics and waste reduction issues.

30 Duncan, torontoenvironment.org

Runner-up  

Environmental Defence

environmentaldefence.ca

Best Library

Toronto Reference Library

Raymond Moriyama’s creation just north of Yonge and Bloor doesn’t get enough credit as an architectural landmark. But it took a pandemic and it’s closure for Torontonians to appreciate its important contribution to the culture of learning in the city. Its return to business this month has served to remind book lovers and architectural aficionados alike of its timelessness. Visitors have been all over Twitter about it.

789 Yonge, 416-395-5577, tpl.ca

Runner-up  

Beaches

2161 Queen East, 416-393-7703, tpl.ca

Best Local Podcast

Parkdale Haunt

Did you know one of the world’s most popular horror podcasts comes out of Toronto? True to its name, Parkdale is the setting of this clever audio-fiction thrillride, following two friends – played by creators Alex Nursall and Emily Kellogg – as they navigate a spooky Victorian house reno.   

frequencypodcastnetwork.com/podcasts/parkdale-haunt

Runner-up

Sandy & Nora Talk Politics

sandyandnora.com

Statue of Ned Hanlan at Hanlan's Point Beach in Toronto
Samuel Engelking

Best Local Tourist Attraction

Toronto Islands

The Toronto Islands are easy to take for granted. To most locals, the ancient oasis-come-amusement park has just always been there to use at our leisure. Two major floods in the last five years and restrictions brought on by the pandemic have refocused attention on its importance and uniqueness as both a tourist and local destination. It has also sparked discussion on whether the airport occupying its western flank should be converted into greenspace. Maybe it’s an idea whose time has come.

A 13-minute boat ride from Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay, 416-396-7378, pfrcustomerservice@toronto.ca

Runner-up  

CN Tower

290 Bremner, cntower.ca

Best MP

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith won another election handily in Beaches-East York in September, to no one’s surprise. He enjoys immense personal popularity in the riding owing to the fact that he’s blazed his own trail as an MP, sometimes even going against his own party. That usually doesn’t bode well for future political prospects, but it’s only a matter of time before higher-ups see Erskine-Smith like his constituents do.

1902 Danforth, beynate.ca

Runner-up  

Julie Dabrusin

1028 Queen East, juliedabrusin.libparl.ca

Best MPP

Bhutila Karpoche

The province’s first Tibetan-born MPP is part of a young core of rising NDP political stars from Toronto. First elected in 2018, the Parkdale-High Park MPP has served as deputy opposition whip and the NDP’s shadow minister in charge of mental health and early childhood learning. It’s her third time being named best MPP by NOW readers. It may still be too early to start thinking about her as leadership material, but who knows.

2849 Dundas West, bhutilakarpoche.ca

Runner-up  

Marit Stiles

1199 Bloor West, maritstiles.ca  

Best Neighbourhood

The Beaches

Longtime locals call it the Beaches. Others call it the Beach. Whatever your preference, it’s hard to beat Toronto’s playground by the lake straddling Queen East from Kingston to Vic Park. From its local history to lifestyle and proximity to downtown, it’s become one of the city’s – and country’s – most desirable neighbourhoods. Now if we can only keep the development pressure threatening to turn Queen East into condos-ville at bay….

Runner-up  

Parkdale

Best Newsletter

Beach Metro-News

The Beaches’ local source for community news distills it all in one weekly newsletter.  

beachmetro.com

Runner-up  

City Hall Watcher

graphicmatt.substack.com

High Park in fall 2020
Samuel Engelking

Best Park

High Park

When John Howard donated his lands to the city in the late 1800s for the creation of a park, he was inspired by New York’s Central Park. While it never achieved that status – at least not internationally – at nearly 200 hectares in size, Toronto’s High Park is still recognized as one of the most significant urban green spaces in North America. It’s also one of the most important ecological preserves that’s enjoyed by Torontonians and visitors year round almost 150 years since its founding.

1873 Bloor West, toronto.ca/highpark

Runner-up  

Riverdale Park

550 Broadview, toronto.ca/riverdale-park

Best Pool

Sunnyside Pavilion

It’s hard not to take one look at the Sunnyside pavilion and be catapulted back in time to a Monet-like scene of its 1920s heyday, with women in one-piece bathing suits and swim caps and men in handlebar moustaches lollygagging the day away by the lake. Ah, if only we could be there too. Back then there was no pool and the pavilion acted as change rooms for the beach. But after two summers of especially cold temps, a pool was constructed to go with the pavilion. Toronto has been in the swim ever since.

1755 Lake Shore West, 416-392-7915

Runner-up  

Monarch Park

115 Felstead, 416-392-7831  

Best Public Space

The Harbourfront

A federal government plan to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront was born in the 1980s as development along the water’s edge slowly choked off access to the lake. Harbourfront was designed as a destination, but few could know back then that it would mark the beginning of revitalization of the lake shore. The addition of beaches, trails and other pedestrian-friendly features has turned the area into a public space destination.

Runner-up  

Toronto Islands

Best Radio Personality

Matt Galloway

CBC Radio’s long-time early morning host has moved to a later time slot with The Current, but he remains at the top of his game as the voice of all things Toronto. Galloway embodies the city and, like the city itself, he’s nice to a fault and smart, but no pushover.

@mattgallowaycbc

Runner-up  

Heather Bambrick

heatherbambrick.ca

Harbourfront Centre skating rink at night in winter
Courtesy of Harbourfront Centre

Best Skating Rink

Harbourfront Centre Rink

City Hall’s rink gets all the glory for its arches and unmistakably downtown feel, but there’s nothing like cutting some ice to the sounds of the city’s coolest DJs and the cold slap in the face from the wind off the lake at Harbourfront’s rink.

235 Queens Quay West, harbourfrontcentre.com

Runner-up  

Greenwood Park

150 Greenwood, toronto.ca

Best Social Justice Group

Black Lives Matter–Toronto

There’s been enough good works by BLM over the last half decade in Toronto to fill a book or two (see Best Activist Group category) but Toronto is nowhere near achieving social justice. There’s no end point in that struggle – at least, not in the foreseeable future. That will only be realized when groups like BLM are no longer needed.

24 Cecil, blacklivesmatter.ca

Runner-up  

Encampment Support Network

encampmentsupportnetwork.com

Best University

University of Toronto

Canada’s seventh oldest university is regularly ranked among the top universities and research centres in the country. The school is home to more than 90,000 students and more than 700 undergraduate and 200 graduate programs. U of T has positioned itself as a leader in climate action. In October, the school announced a plan to divest from fossil fuel companies in its $4 billion endowment fund in the short and long terms, and is working toward net-zero emissions.

27 King’s College, 1265 Military Trail, 3359 Mississauga, utoronto.ca

Runner-up

York University

yorku.ca

Lower Don River
Glenn Sumi

Best Walking Trail

Don River Valley Park Trail

To those familiar with it, this choice is a no-brainer. Occupying some 200 hectares from roughly the foot of Canoe Park to Eglinton, the Don Valley trail snakes through some of the best greenspaces, natural features and picnic areas in the city. There’s also art installations and things like frisbee golf and archery to do along the way, not to mention the wildlife. Take your bike to make a day of it.

donrivervalleypark.ca

Runner-up  

Taylor Creek

260 Dawes, 416-392-8188  

Best Youth Organization

Students for a Free Tibet Canada

The emphasis is on education for this national nonprofit youth group that has been bird-dogging human rights issues and abuses and energizing democracy efforts back home.  

studentsforafreetibet.org

Runner-up  

Friends of Ruby

489 Queen East, LL01, friendsofruby.ca

Read more 2021 Readers’ Choice poll results here

@nowtoronto

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Ontario pauses plan to lift capacity limits on dancefloors https://nowtoronto.com/news/ontario-pauses-plan-to-lift-capacity-limits-on-dancefloors https://nowtoronto.com/news/ontario-pauses-plan-to-lift-capacity-limits-on-dancefloors#respond Wed, 10 Nov 2021 21:00:57 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=737619 Restrictions will remain on nightclubs, strip clubs and bathhouses for at least another month

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Dancing indoors in public will remain restricted in Ontario for at least another month now that some public health indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

In a news release on Wednesday afternoon, the Ford government said it will not lift remaining pandemic restrictions in “higher-risk settings” on November 15 as previously planned “out of an abundance of caution.”

While an increase in new COVID-19 cases was anticipated as people move indoors during winter months, the reproduction number and percent positivity rate have “increased slightly” over the past week, the province said.

The reproduction number – or R – represents the average number of cases infected by a single case. The number now stands at 1.04, which means the virus is spreading.

The seven-day moving average for new COVID-19 cases is now 502, up from 379 last Wednesday. Ontario reported 454 new cases in the past 24 hours, including 42 in Toronto. This time last week, Toronto confirmed a single-day increase of 64 new cases.

As a result, existing capacity limits and physical distancing requirements will remain in place on establishments with dancefloors, such as nightclubs, event spaces and reception halls, as well as strip clubs, sex clubs and bathhouses.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore said Ontario will reassess whether it’s safe to lift capacity limits in these venues 28 days from November 15.

“Throughout the pandemic our government has taken a cautious approach to reopening, ensuring our hospital capacity remains stable and the province continues to report one of the lowest rates of active cases in the country,” health minister Christine Elliott said in a statement. “To protect our hard-fought progress and ensure we can continue to manage COVID-19 for the long term, more time is needed before we can take the next step forward in our reopening plan.”

Nightclubs and strip clubs are among the only businesses where the vaccine certificate program is in effect that have not returned to full capacity.

On October 28, the province lifted all capacity restrictions on standing-room concerts. However, if a concert venue – or any other business with dance facilities – hosts an event with dancing then the capacity restriction of 25 per cent to maximum of 250 people applies.

Strip clubs do not have a set capacity limit but must restrict the number of patrons by ensuring a two-metre distance between people.

Today’s news comes as Sudbury temporarily rolls back the lifting of restrictions to re-enter step 3 of the reopening plan in response to a spike in new COVID-19 cases. In a document explaining the measures, local health officials said Greater Sudbury has the highest case rates in Ontario “by far.”

Sudbury has 219 active cases, the highest the region has seen since April 2020. The city is reporting a case rate of 14.57 per 100,000 people. Toronto’s case rate is 1.35 per 100,000 people.

Hospital admissions and ICU capacity remain stable, the province said.

The Ford government is aiming to lift all pandemic restrictions by the end of March 2022.

@KevinRitchie

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Erin O’Toole stops the bleeding – for now https://nowtoronto.com/news/erin-otoole-stops-the-bleeding-for-now https://nowtoronto.com/news/erin-otoole-stops-the-bleeding-for-now#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2021 20:51:21 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=737525 Despite the recent purge of some vocal anti-vaxxers, the Conservative party leader continues to pander to extremists in his caucus

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The news out of Ottawa on Tuesday should have been about how the Liberals haven’t held a caucus meeting since the election and how some Grit MPs are miffed about that. Rumours of a possible Liberal-NDP coalition – an idea that doesn’t strike either party’s base as a good one – are also in the ether.

Instead, most of the day’s news out of the nation’s capital was about the anti-vax revolt and purge in the Conservative caucus of Erin O’Toole. 

The embattled Conservative party leader announced his shadow cabinet on Tuesday. Anti-vaccine MPs – or, at least, those who have been public in their opposition to vaccine mandates – have been banished from O’Toole’s shadow cabinet.

Among them is former leadership contender Marilyn Gladu, the Sarnia MP behind the renegade group of MPs who went public last week to raise “civil liberties” concerns around mandates requiring vaccine disclosure of MPs. Gladu appeared in a CTV interview on Sunday to suggest COVID-19 is not that dangerous at all – compared to polio. She’s since issued an apology and retraction saying the comments were “inappropriate” and a “distraction.” 

Mark Strahl, another who called vaccine mandates “discriminatory,” has also been bounced from O’Toole’s shadow cabinet, as has Saskatchewan MP Rosemarie Falk. 

Leslyn Lewis, the former leadership rival who finished a close third to O’Toole, was also noticeable by her absence among the shadow cabinet selections. Perhaps it’s little surprise given her recent anti-vaccine outburst, but Lewis’s relegation to the backbenches is nevertheless a sign of growing animosity between O’Toole and the party’s social conservative wing that helped win him the leadership.

Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs, a former shadow minister for public safety – and point person for the pro-gun lobby in the party – was also dropped. She was a lone voice in the party to speak in support of a vote on O’Toole’s leadership after the election.

But O’Toole couldn’t keep all the jackals in his caucus at bay – including two prominent members of the hardcore in the party who want his job.

Pierre Poilievre, the irascible one, was given his finance portfolio back in exchange for keeping his leadership aspirations in check (for now). Michelle Rempel-Garner, another in the party’s right wing, has been moved out of health and handed natural resources, presumably to bolster O’Toole’s fraying Alberta base.

Candice Bergen, meanwhile, another former leadership aspirant, remains deputy leader despite her MAGA proclivities.

O’Toole may have learned a valuable lesson about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer since becoming party leader. But he could also have sent a stronger message about who is in charge by dumping the anti-vax crowd in his caucus altogether.

Instead, O’Toole continues to play footsies with – if not pander to – extremists in his party. It’s a dangerous game. The longer he humours his opposition, the weaker he looks. For O’Toole, the challenges to his leadership are coming not only from within but without. 

Rumours of a possible Liberal-NDP coalition in Ottawa to prop the Liberal minority for the next two years (possibly three) is threatening to further marginalize the Conservatives – not to mention, make O’Toole a sitting duck for anyone who might want to replace him. Any coalition is more likely to be a loose arrangement than anything written on paper.

But O’Toole has predictably amped up his rhetoric as a result, channelling Stephen Harper to call the idea “radical.” He’s been using the word or variations of it a lot lately to characterize the opposition and distract from questions about the radicals of a different stripe in his own caucus. O’Toole’s moves have stopped the bleeding for now.

But it’s doubtful all the shuffling of chairs on the ship makes him look any more in control to the Canadian electorate that rejected him two months ago, for the simple reason of how at odds he is with his own caucus on not only vaccine mandates but a whole range of issues. He’s been in damage control mode ever since.

@enzodimatteo

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It’s time for governments to end support for coal, oil and gas https://nowtoronto.com/news/its-time-forgovernments-to-end-support-for-coal-oil-and-gas https://nowtoronto.com/news/its-time-forgovernments-to-end-support-for-coal-oil-and-gas#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2021 16:37:34 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=737409 Oil and gas jobs have steadily declined in Canada, amounting to one per cent of the workforce

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For years, Alberta’s government has been spending millions of its citizens’ dollars to defend and promote the most profitable industry in human history, despite dire warnings of how that industry is fuelling a global climate crisis that threatens human health and survival. It also leaves the province on the hook for everything from “stranded assets” as the fossil fuel market winds down to cleaning up thousands of abandoned and orphaned oil and gas sites.

At least Alberta’s government makes no secret of its support for fossil fuels, especially the tarry bitumen it wants to export to the world. Other governments talk about the need to address what they agree is a climate emergency, and develop plans and targets, all while paying for pipelines with tax dollars, subsidizing oil and gas and promoting rampant methane fracking for liquefied “natural” gas.

The twisted premise appears to be that the human-created economy and its jobs take precedence over environmental concerns, regardless of how critical they are. But support for coal, oil and gas fails even on that flimsy argument.

It’s important that working people from sunset industries get support and retraining if they want it, whether their jobs are threatened by growing automation or declining markets and the urgent global energy transition. In rethinking our economic priorities, we must also rethink the ways we work. But even under current systems, better economic and employment opportunities exist in the expanding clean tech sector.

Jobs in oil and gas have been declining steadily in Canada. The industry currently employs about 160,000 – one per cent of our 15 million workforce.

But this only shows that an energy transition needn’t bring the economic catastrophe fossil fuel supporters predict. The truly overwhelming economic fact is that the accelerating impacts of global heating – from floods, droughts and wildfires to disease spread, pollution and refugee crises – are extremely costly and will get even more so if we fail to confront climate disruption.

Evidence continues to mount on the catastrophic consequences of failing to address the climate emergency, with reports from international bodies including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, World Bank, World Health Organization and more spelling out the increasing urgency.

With governments continuing to promote and subsidize fossil fuels even as they meet for conferences like COP26 in Glasgow to hammer out solutions and agreements, it’s no surprise the world isn’t on track to avoiding the worst climate impacts.

A recent study by the UN Environment Programme and others found that current plans and policies will keep global oil and gas production rising for the next two decades, with coal production falling only slightly. According to the Guardian, “Detailed analysis of 15 major fossil fuel-producing nations found that the US, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and China all project increases in oil and gas, while India and Russia intend to increase coal production. Only two of the countries expect oil and gas production to decline: the UK and Indonesia.”

It also found the world has directed more than US$300 billion of new public financing to fossil fuel activities since the COVID-19 pandemic began – outpacing public investment in renewable energy. The Guardian also notes that the world’s 60 biggest banks have provided US$3.8 trillion in financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Those who have been pleading for decades about the need to curtail fossil fuels have repeatedly been told that a transition “can’t happen overnight.” But that’s been an excuse to keep it from happening at all, as we clearly see now. And despite growing evidence, we’re still being treated as enemies by governments like Alberta’s.

It’s not just environmental advocates that are calling for fossil fuels to be left in the ground, for subsidies to end and for carbon sinks like wetlands, grasslands and forests to be protected and restored. It’s a massive majority of scientists, world leaders, thinkers and international agencies.

We’ve heard a lot of promising talk from world representatives in Glasgow. Let’s hope it’s not more “blah blah blah,” as Greta Thunberg says. Our jobs, health and lives depend on ambitious action to get off fossil fuels. Governments must lead, and politicians must remember they’re elected to serve the people, not a single, declining, destructive industry.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.          

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

@nowtoronto

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Ontario’s COVID winter is looking like a bad James Bond movie https://nowtoronto.com/news/ontarios-covid-winter-is-looking-like-a-bad-james-bond-movie https://nowtoronto.com/news/ontarios-covid-winter-is-looking-like-a-bad-james-bond-movie#comments Tue, 09 Nov 2021 21:32:42 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=737207 Hopefully, No Time To Die, the latest installment in Ian Fleming's series, doesn't end up being a metaphor for a fifth wave of the virus

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Caught the latest Bond instalment, No Time To Die, at the Cineplex with my oldest kid on the weekend and forgot to bring along proof of vaccination. Yikes. It’s been a while. A photo on my phone of my kid getting vaxxed seemed to do.

There was no mask enforcement for moviegoers.

While movie theatres have been allowed to return to 100 per cent capacity since early October – along with sports venues – it still seemed odd. Masks mandates are supposed to be in place.

Indeed, Cineplex’s health and safety guidelines state that employees are required to wear masks. Moreover, their seat reservation system is supposed to automatically ensure that “provincial guidelines for distancing are followed.” At least, that is what their website says. Only, it’s not what’s happening since Ontario lifted restrictions for cinemas and theatres in early October.

Tickets were being sold without any regard for physical distancing because theatres don’t have to anymore. The middle section in the theatre where we sat was packed. People were sitting elbow-to-elbow while sections on either side were empty.

Some may have been enjoying the feeling of closeness. But the couple sitting next to us left shortly after the movie started. Maybe it was the violence in the opening scene that was a little unnerving for their kid. Or maybe it was the woman behind us who kept coughing periodically.

That was the other thing – while proof of vaccination was required there was no basic screening for those entering the theatre to determine if they were experiencing any COVID symptoms.

It might have been advisable to encourage patrons to wear their masks. It’s a requirement as we’re still in the throes of a fourth wave. But there was no mention of masks during the customary public service announcement before the film – the one asking Cineplex customers to be nice to their fellow citizens. 

The folks taking part in the public service announcement were physically distancing, but there was not even a suggestion that wearing a mask might be a good idea. We are talking about an indoor environment after all, and COVID is an airborne virus. Exercising caution would be in order. 

The contradictions have been pointed out before. A friend went to the Leafs game the other night, where you’re only supposed to remove your mask to eat or drink. But who’s looking anyway?

It doesn’t make sense, of course. It’s not prudent to go without a mask anywhere indoors. We don’t do it at the supermarket. We don’t do it at government offices. But more folks are flouting the rules and we’re powerless to do anything about it because enforcement is non-existent.

It was foolish for the Ford government to throw caution to the wind and allow such large gatherings without enforcement in the first place. It was foolish for the Ford government to not require health-care workers to be vaccinated. And it’s foolish for the government to be contemplating lifting vaccine restrictions altogether in the new year.

The number of COVID cases is going up. There were more than 600 on Monday, the highest case count in over a month. The trajectory has been on an upward swing for some time. The all-important R-number is back over 1, which means cases will continue to double every week to 10 days or so. 

Most of the cases are, not surprisingly, among the unvaccinated. But even the head of the province’s COVID advisory table says it’s time to revisit capacity limits. 

Only, there’s no turning back the clock in most people’s minds. Besides, there’s been enough going on to keep the public’s attention off COVID – namely, an election next spring and Ford throwing around goodies to make himself look good. Last week it was an announcement of a raise of the minimum wage. This week it’s a highway to mostly nowhere that (surprise) taxpayers will be footing the bill for just so Doug can grease the palms of his development friends.

Ford is betting on people getting used to the new normal – or at least, whatever semblance there is of it. He may be right (for the time being). His approval ratings are ever so slightly up.

Hopefully, we won’t be contemplating whether we’ll have a Christmas in a few weeks’ time – it’s not something people are prepared for, just like the last scene in the movie.

In that, Bond is trying to save the world from a deadly virus, too. Only he has to blow up an island to do it. Let’s hope it’s not a metaphor for what awaits Ontario this winter.

@enzodimatteo

Updated on Wednesday November 10 at 6:41 pm. An earlier version of this story misstated that a “vast majority” of Cineplex employees were not wearing masks. The story has been updated.

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Canadians pessimistic that COP26 will address climate emergency https://nowtoronto.com/news/canadians-pessimistic-that-cop26-will-address-climate-emergency https://nowtoronto.com/news/canadians-pessimistic-that-cop26-will-address-climate-emergency#respond Tue, 09 Nov 2021 17:23:09 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=737253 Nearly one in five respondents to a new poll didn't think human beings were the cause of a warming planet

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Most respondents to a new poll have a bleak view of the UN climate conference COP26 in Glasgow.

Among the 1,611 people surveyed by the Angus Reid Institute, 43 per cent were “not confident at all” and 42 per cent were “not that confident” that major global emitters will make meaningful progress on controlling or reducing their emissions.

Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin are not attending the conference. Their countries rank first and fourth, respectively, in annual emissions. The United States is second and India is third. Canada ranks 11th.

Canada, however, is among the highest per-capita emitter among western industrialized nations, surpassed only by Australia.

The poll also showed that 19 per cent of respondents feel that natural changes are driving the warming of the planet. That’s down from 24 per cent two years ago.

This belief has been adamantly rejected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has concluded that human activities are “the root cause of global warming.”

The planet is about 1.1° C warmer, on average, than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The Paris Agreement in 2015 aimed to limit overall warming to 1.5° C.

British Columbia had a taste of what a 1.1° C world felt like this past summer with a record breaking heat wave, which killed nearly 600 residents, and out-of-control wildfires. 

Slightly more than half of respondents in the Angus Reid poll do not believe the government is doing enough to address “climate change.”

The institute’s report did not use the term “climate emergency” or “climate breakdown,” which are two terms preferred by activists and British newspaper the Guardian. However, the Angus Reid report made one reference to the “ecological crisis.”

“Perhaps more disturbing, a majority of Canadians appear resigned to the fate of a warming planet and the ecological crisis unfolding,” the report stated. “Half say global efforts will ‘probably not’ help to reverse the effects already being felt – from severe weather events, to floods and forest fires – while one-in-five (19 per cent) say it’s either already too late or that they have no faith at all in mitigation efforts.”

These views were more pronounced among younger people. Only 18 per cent of female respondents under 35 expressed a belief that the effects of climate change can be mitigated or reserved. For men under 35, that rose to 31 per cent. 

This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight. With files from NOW staff

 @charliesmithvcr

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Letters to the editor: Where’s the beef on climate change? https://nowtoronto.com/news/letters-to-the-editor https://nowtoronto.com/news/letters-to-the-editor#comments Sun, 07 Nov 2021 14:49:13 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=736941 Plus, a different kind of Bovine Sex Club, remembering Indigenous war vets and awesome Danforth Village in reader mail

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Beef farming is preserving Canada’s grasslands

In his Op-Ed, Factory farming is Canada’s sacred cow on climate change, (NOW Online, November 2) Shane Moffatt of Greenpeace suggests targets to reduce meat production and consumption in Canada would be beneficial to climate and nature. As a local beef farmer, I’d like to suggest that could be harmful to climate targets and preserving natural spaces.

In Canada, 44 million acres of grasslands and pastures are cared for by beef farmers and ranchers. This includes 35 million acres of native temperate grasslands, one of the most endangered ecosystems in the entire world. It is also one of the most stable carbon sinks – carbon that would largely be released if these lands were cultivated or developed. In fact, protecting grasslands has been identified as one of the largest natural climate solution opportunities in Canada and the families that raise beef cattle are preserving the majority that remains intact.

Since grasslands evolved under grazing pressure, the ecosystem and wildlife that live there require a keystone herbivore to survive and thrive – a role now played by cattle. In fact, the farms and ranches where beef cattle are raised provide the majority of wildlife habitat on all food-producing lands. I see this in my own pasture where cattle share the land with the threatened Bobolink. A loss of land where cattle are raised means a loss of habitat, including homes for more than 60 species at risk.

With COP26, there will be a lot of discussion about the impact of animal agriculture on global emissions. Context in this conversation is imperative. There are large regional differences and impacts associated with raising cattle in different parts of the world. Canadian beef has one of the world’s lowest greenhouse gas footprints and farmers and ranchers are fully committed to continuous improvement.

Reducing our beef consumption is not the silver bullet. For Canada to be a climate leader on wildlife habitat we all hope it to be, an environmentally responsible and economically viable beef industry is a key partner, not a target.

Rob LipsettPresident, Beef Farmers of Ontario

Political parties too entrenched in the fossil fuel industry

Re Despite “code red,” governments continue to support fossil fuels (NOW Online, November 3).

If we want to see real, effective environmental change in Canada, Canadians will need to be bold and choose to elect neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives. They are far too entrenched with the fossil fuel industries to ever be truly willing to do what’s necessary.

Christopher KingFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

Bovine Sex Club for frustrated Conservatives

I found it interesting that there were articles on both the Albany Club and the Bovine Sex Club in the most recent print issue. They were very informative.

I had thought the Bovine Sex Club was an association for lonely or adventurous cowboys. But it’s good that the two clubs were named the way they were. If the names had been reversed, there might have been some very confused or frustrated Victorian Conservatives.

Bruce CouchmanOttawa

Recognizing Indigenous war veterans

Re Remembrance Day and reconciliation: Is it time to raise the flag? (NOW Online, November 4)

Excellent article. It’s a real change to read something well researched and thoughtful. I didn’t know about November 8 being Indigenous Veterans Day and will make an effort to join in special recognition of this day.

Brian GreenwayFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

An awesome look at Danforth Village

Re Last dash to Danforth Village (NOW, November 4-11).

Just wanted to say that this article is awesome. It’s thorough and does an incredible job of educating alongside its wariness on gentrification.

I moved into a place on Dentonia Park in July and have made a list of places to try now! Keep up the great work.

Meaghan AcklandFrom NOWTORONTO.COM

@nowtoronto

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Op-Ed: Housing policies are failing women and gender-diverse people https://nowtoronto.com/news/op-ed-housing-policies-are-failing-women-and-gender-diverse-people https://nowtoronto.com/news/op-ed-housing-policies-are-failing-women-and-gender-diverse-people#comments Sun, 07 Nov 2021 13:52:22 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=736928 A first-of-its-kind survey in Canada documents key accessibility issues and housing rights violations across the country 

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Canada’s housing crisis is deepening with each passing year and women and gender-diverse people are bearing the brunt of soaring housing costs and inadequate action from all orders of government. 

Recent findings from the Pan-Canadian Women’s Housing & Homelessness Survey, conducted by the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network, illustrate that policies consistently fail to address the unique circumstances of women and gender-diverse people. 

The survey is the first of its kind in Canada conducted through grassroots engagement and with the participation of more than 500 women and gender-diverse people in 12 provinces and territories. It documents key housing issues and housing rights violations across the country. The results show that gender intrinsically shapes pathways and experiences of housing precarity.  


The invisibility of homelessness

Women’s experiences of homelessness are largely invisible

Women are more likely to rely on relational supports in order to avoid the violence they experience in shelters and on the streets. This hidden form of homelessness makes them vulnerable to other forms of violence, whether that be engaging in survival sex to keep a roof over their head, staying in relationships with abusive partners or couch-surfing in unsafe and inadequate housing. 

For those who turn to shelters and emergency services, more than 30 per cent are refused access and those with disabilities report many accessibility issues.  

Many public systems meant to serve individuals experiencing housing issues are underfunded and functioning beyond their capacities. This leads to specific populations, such as Indigenous peoples and queer and trans people, seeking help from systems that often fail to meet their unique needs. The result is traumatization from systemic and structural failures.  

Judgment and discrimination

Approximately a quarter of the participants reported experiencing discrimination and judgment at shelters, illustrating challenges in navigating the systems in Canada.

Around 80 per cent of women experiencing precarious housing have histories of trauma. Similarly, queer and trans people report higher levels of discrimination from landlords compared to heterosexual people.   

The survey also shows that disabilities are significantly linked with housing precarity, with 80 per cent of the survey participants reporting a disability.  

Importantly, the survey also reveals that child welfare involvement is linked to affordability issues, evictions and experiences with human trafficking.  

For women, queer and trans grassroots advocates who have been fighting for better housing outcomes for decades, this information is not new. The survey paints an extensive statistical portrait that echoes their stories and strengthens their voices. 

The path to housing justice

For women and gender-diverse people, transformative change is needed that’s focused on eradicating chronic poverty and addressing gendered disparities in labour force participationlow social assistance rates and lack of supports for those with disabilities.  

Women’s and gender-diverse people’s homelessness is a profound violation of the right to housing under the National Housing Strategy Act, as well as other human rights.

We need to start treating it as such. To chart a better path forward, governments must adopt a gendered, rights-based approach to housing.  

Khulud Baig is a housing advocate and policy researcher with the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network. Kaitlin Schwan is director of research at The Shift and co-chair of the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network’s Steering Committee. 

@nowtoronto 

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Hidden Toronto: Graymar House https://nowtoronto.com/news/hidden-toronto-29-jarvis https://nowtoronto.com/news/hidden-toronto-29-jarvis#comments Sun, 07 Nov 2021 13:09:44 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=736760 It was an important part of the commercial core of old Toronto, but the history of 29 Jarvis remains mostly a mystery

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City of Toronto Archives

The Haymarket Weigh House outside Graymar House, circa 1970.

What 

Graymar House 

Where 

29 Jarvis 

Why you should check it out 

It’s listed simply as 29 Jarvis in the city’s registry of heritage properties. No special names. No indication of a notable Torontonian who once owned it. The registry indicates it was built sometime between 1830 and 1840. And that it was a hotel at one time.

St. Lawrence Market historian Bruce Bell reports that Graymar House, as the building was known when it was a hotel, “catered mostly to farmers that were coming into our city from their farms in Richmond Hill, Scarborough, etcetera, and would stay there on Friday night so they would be close to the market when it opened at 5 am on Saturday morning.”

The building’s connection to a row of commercial properties facing Front Street is also noteworthy. Sure enough. Just outside the hotel stood the weigh house for the hay market where hay brought in from local farms would be weighed and sold to wholesalers on the street. 

“Hay was the gasoline of its day,” says Bell.

It’s believed, says Bell, that Henry Bowyer Lane, the architect who designed the first city hall on the current site of St. Lawrence Market, also designed Graymar House. Bell notes “the same two-tone brick was used.” But it’s not entirely clear when Graymar House was built.

Back when the area at Jarvis and Front formed the commercial core of the old Town of York, there were few buildings made of brick. Campbell House, the Grange and the Bank of Upper Canada just around the corner on Adelaide were made of brick. Campbell House and the Grange would later be moved to their current locations to be preserved and make room for the old town’s growth.

Smaller brick-making operations existed at the time, but it wouldn’t be until the end of the 19th-century that the Don Valley Brick Works would supply a growing city with the clay to fire rapid development.

Jarvis Street, then known as New Street, was the road that was designated to blaze the path for the expansion of the town northward. 

But the Great Fire of Toronto on April 7, 1849, also known as the Cathedral Fire for taking out St. James Church, gutted all the buildings in the market as well as the area between Jarvis and Church all the way north to present-day Adelaide. Wind threatened to blow the fire further west and north but a rain shower would spare the area west of Church. 

While city records indicate that the construction of Graymar House was completed in 1840, Bell says there’s some evidence to suggest it may have been built after the fire.

Nevertheless, even before fire ravaged the market, the winds of political change and plans for redevelopment were already afoot to extend New Street’s reach north beyond Wellesley. That decision would prove fortuitous, laying the groundwork after the fire for the re-establishment of the market area as a commercial centre and for future economic growth of the city.

The expansion northward began with the purchase of the estate of Samuel Jarvis in 1845, for whom the future Jarvis Street would be named. 

The road leading up to Jarvis’s estate, known as Hazel Burn, lay just north of the market at Jarvis and Queen. The 50 hectares it sat on was originally parcelled off to Samuel’s father, William, the first registrar and secretary of Upper Canada.

Jarvis, like his old man, was a member of the Family Compact that ran the colony.

But unlike his father, he was a lout. According to his biography, Jarvis was “a man of questionable competence.” That may be understating it. 

In fact, he had been forced to sell the estate he inherited to repay some £4,000 he stole from the Indian Department in Upper Canada, for which he served as chief superintendent.

The department headed up relations with the colony’s Indigenous population, but Jarvis and others who ran it seemed more concerned with lining their pockets.

A commission set up to look into the department’s operations uncovered widespread briberyfraudreligious discrimination and “lack of interest in the welfare of the Indians” under Jarvis’s watch.

Prior to Jarvis’s troubles in the Indian Department, he was charged with murder in 1817 over the death of 18-year-old John Ridout after a gun duel between the two men had gone awry. The dispute was reportedly over money, some 100 pounds. 

Jarvis would be acquitted. No surprise there. The following year he would marry Mary Boyles Powell, the daughter of William Dummer Powell, the judge who presided over his trial. Despite various blots on his public record and reputation, he would go on to lead a life of leisure after his retirement in 1847.

“Samuel Peters Jarvis, attempting the life of an 18th-century tory squire, had become an anachronism,” is how his life would be encapsulated in his biography.

Graymar House would go on to become an anachronism of sorts in its own right. In 1984, it would receive a heritage designation, around the time when the building was occupied by a Golden Griddle. It’s been home to a number of different establishments since then, continuing a 200-year history in the market area – albeit less noteworthy – that actually goes back to the arrival of French explorers and fur-traders in the mid-1600s. The Pioneer Memorial just steps from the former Graymar House tells that story.

Samuel Engelking

Read all of NOW’s Hidden Toronto stories here.

Hidden Toronto is a weekly feature exploring the city’s alternative history through contemporary landmarks

@enzodimatteo

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Remembrance Day and reconciliation: Is it time to raise the flag? https://nowtoronto.com/news/remembrance-day-and-reconciliation-is-it-time-to-raise-the-flag https://nowtoronto.com/news/remembrance-day-and-reconciliation-is-it-time-to-raise-the-flag#comments Thu, 04 Nov 2021 12:57:58 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=736299 Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says flags flying at half-mast to remember residential school children should be raised as “a symbol of unity,” but that’s not the position of the Royal Canadian Legion

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Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole has written an op-ed in the Toronto Sun calling on the Trudeau government to raise the Canadian flag at federal buildings come Remembrance Day on November 11. The National Post published a slightly different version of the piece.

The flags have been flying at half-mast outside federal government buildings since the discovery of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the former site of the Kamloops residential school in British Columbia in May. 

Since then, the bodies of thousands more Indigenous children have been uncovered at other former residential school sites in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Some 6,000 Indigenous children are estimated to have died at residential schools, which were run mostly by the Catholic church as part of the Canadian government’s 130-year-plus policy of forced assimilation.

O’Toole argues that Remembrance Day – a day set aside to honour Canada’s war dead – is the appropriate time to raise the flag. He writes that the government should “not allow symbolic gestures to be a substitute for the serious and concrete action we need to take as a country” on reconciliation.  

And he says that “a national monument in Ottawa to serve as a permanent reminder of the tragic history and present-day impact of residential schools” should be built. Most would agree with the last part, although Indigenous leaders would also like to see more progress on the calls to action set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report into Canada’s residential schools shame.

O’Toole’s suggestion comes off as heartfelt, but there’s no mistaking its appeal to nationalist sentiment.

O’Toole’s article, for example, draws upon his own service in the military. And it mentions the time he was assigned to serve as an aide to John Matheson – the disabled Second World War hero who was part of the post-war effort to redesign the Canadian flag, which up until 1965 was the Royal Union Flag. Matheson was receiving his honorary degree at the Royal Military College in 1993 and O’Toole recalls Matheson’s convocation address touching on the idea that “(a) country is far more than real estate; it is also a state of mind.” 

It’s a curious reference point in the context of reconciliation, because colonialism was all about real estate – which is to say, taking over land that had been the home of Indigenous peoples for centuries and carving it up for settlers to occupy.

Also, O’Toole’s position is not the position of the Royal Canadian Legion, the official umbrella group of Canadian war vets, which plans to raise the flag at Ottawa’s war memorial and then lower it to half-mast again. (The RCL has jurisdiction over the flag at Canada’s war memorial on Remembrance Day. At all other times, it’s the federal government’s call on whether the flag should fly at half-mast.)

The Legion’s chapters across Canada are being encouraged to follow suit and return flags to half-mast following Remembrance Day ceremonies. 

Leaving aside the political motivations that may be behind O’Toole’s positioning – he’s refused, for example, to acknowledge systemic racism exists in Canada – his call is seriously misguided.

He fails to mention in his article that some 7,000 to 12,000 Indigenous men and women also served in Canada’s wars in Europe and Korea. And that many of them also live (and lived) with trauma from their experiences in residential schools.

A monument to commemorate their efforts was erected just down the road from the National War Memorial in Ottawa in 2001. The contributions of Indigenous peoples to Canada’s military go back more than 200 years to the War of 1812. Without them, we might have been part of the United Sates today. In fact, National Aboriginal Veterans Day (now known as Indigenous Veterans Day) has been marked on November 8 since 1994. 

But as with ongoing efforts on reconciliation, acceptance of Indigenous veterans has been slow in coming. 

Indigenous vets were not allowed to share a toast to their fallen comrades with fellow veterans in a Royal Canadian Legion until 1951, including on Remembrance Day. It wasn’t until the mid‑1990s that Indigenous veterans and their families were allowed to lay wreaths or have their own contingent at the National War Memorial during Remembrance Day ceremonies.

While Indigenous veterans fought for Canada, many also joined the military to get out from under the constraints of colonialism. Only, they weren’t accorded the same status – not to mention financial benefits – as their non-Indigenous counterparts when they returned from fighting.

Their experience illustrates that there’s no reason why we can’t honour Canada’s war dead and continue to keep the flags at half-mast to remember the children who never came back from their own tragedy of Canadian history. It’s as it should be until such time as Indigenous communities tell us otherwise.

@enzodimatteo

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