Ryerson Stands with #BlackLivesMatterTO

blmto

http://theeyeopener.com/2016/04/ryerson-students-march-with-blm-to/

Garnering a lot of media attention lately has been Toronto’s very own Black Lives Matter movement. A very pertinent social justice issue of our time, the Black Lives Matter movement holds its roots in our neighbouring country, the United States, where the current racial climate is centred on the persecution of the members of the black community. There have been numerous injustices involving the various police officers in different states of America, wrongly persecuting black individuals, namely, young black men. Unfortunately, for the majority, the result has been death for these wrongly persecuted individuals. This has led to a revolution in the black community; the Black Lives Matter activists used their voices to speak out on such injustices and bring honor to the fallen people of their community. They have protested various streets in the United States, asking government officials and police department officials to end the racial profiling and racial discrimination. The powerful voices of the Black Lives Matter movement in the States has been heard all around the world – including our very own neighbourhood, Toronto.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto – Coalition was is made up of Black Torontonians working in solidarity with various communities in our local streets of Toronto to work towards a common goal: social justice. This group has acknowledged the deep racial discrimination and stigmatization that black communities in the States have been going through, and have noticed similar patterns of behaviour in our very own neighbourhood. Currently, the Black Lives Matter Toronto activists have been fighting for justice for the death of Andrew Loku.

Andrew Loku was a 45 year old man, living in an apartment building on Eglinton Ave. W and Caledonia Ave. On the evening of July 4, 2015, Andrew was disturbed in his sleep by a significantly loud noise from his upstairs neighbours. He asked them continuously to minimize the noise, so that he can be able to sleep, but the noise persisted. Overwhelmed by the loud noise, and being unable to sleep, Loku grabbed a hammer and began banging it against the apartment hallway doors and walls. The police were called to address this particular noise. Within seconds of the police officer’s arrivals, a police officer shot Andrew Loku twice, killing him in the hallway of his apartment building.

Andrew Loku was regarded by all those who knew him as a kind and friendly man. He was a husband and a father to five children, and lived alone in Toronto, while working to bring his family to Canada from where they currently live in South Sudan. He graduated from George Brown College in the construction program, and worked various jobs to make ends meet for himself and for his family back in South Sudan.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition has challenged the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to release the name of the officer who shot Andrew Loku, having not been in immediate danger or threat himself. The identity of the officer has remained un-released while the SIU investigates logistics of the situation – such as whether or not officers were notified that the building in which they were responding to, the building that Andrew Loku resided in, was leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association. This apartment complex offered affordable housing services for people suffering with a mental illness. The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition have worked tirelessly in protest, rain or shine – snow or sun, to plead to government officials, such as Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, to address this serious injustice. As such, the officer who fatally shot Andrew Loku has not yet been charged for this unjust act nearly a year after his untimely death.

I have had the privilege of visiting the hub of the protests on 40 College Street, where I met protestors from BLM-TO. It was an environment unlike any other. While one would imagine a protest to have quite a tense, aggressive, and hostile energy, the BLM-TO exuded nothing but love and hospitality to all those who observed and/or joined the protest. There was food, water, warm blankets, gloves, and hats being passed around to the protestors – not just from amongst one another, but from the on-lookers as well. There were shouts of social justice, peace, and equality. There were cries and pleads of putting an end to racial profiling and discrimination, and a plea to the SIU and the Toronto Police Department to be accountable for their actions. There was music, dancing, motivating speeches, laughter, and deep discussions to honor the valuable black lives lost to racial injustices.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Ryerson students in solidarity with BLM-TO on campus the other day. The march was organized by numerous student groups on campus, in collaboration with BLM-TO, to protest social justice in and around the Ryerson community. With Ryerson being at the very heart of Toronto, it seemed only natural that Ryerson students stand in solidarity with our community. Among the student groups during this march for social justice included the Ryerson East Africans’ Students Association (REASA); Ryerson Student Union (RSU); and the United Black Students at Ryerson (UBSR). During the march, the students in protest used their voices to urge other fellow students to show their support by donating supplies, food, water, warm clothing, etc to the BLM-TO Coalition, to encourage the progression of the protest. Students on campus were eager and receptive to what Ryerson students and BLM-TO had to say, and showed their solidarity with the movement. It was a refreshing and culturally enriching experience to have witnessed – and frankly, it made me even more proud to be a Ram and a Torontonian.

If you would like to donate and show your support and solidarity, BLM-TO can be found here:

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Facebook

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Twitter

blacklivesmatterTO@gmail.com

40 College Street, Toronto, ON

Resources:

http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-loku

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2015/07/07/andrew-lokus-death-by-a-police-bullet-came-quickly-witness-says.html

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

I don’t know if Samuel Taylor Coleridge knew how accurate his verse from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was when he wrote it. The World Health Organization estimates that everyday billions of people around the world drink water that will kill them because they have no other source. These people are forced to drink contaminated water because there is no safe water. Drinking contaminated water leads to infection and ultimately death from things that we don’t even consider diseases in the minority world, conditions like Diarrhea kill people everyday. The World Health Organization reported that 1.4 million children die from Diarrhea every year. This is why March 22 is World Water Day, to raise awareness about the global issues of unsafe water and lack of access to water. Ryerson Urban Water hosted Walk4Water on Tuesday to raise awareness about the lack of quality water sources and the lack of access to water around the world. The 6Km walk on Tuesday represented the length that women and children in the majority world must walk to reach a water source multiple times a day.

Ryerson Urban Water is a multidisciplinary group from natural and social sciences, engineering, and education that want to advance the understanding and provide solutions for urban water issues using a holistic approach. They work to educate the public, industry, and government on urban water issues through educational programs, community outreach, and training. Additionally, they provide a platform/forum for discussion and exchange of ideas on urban water issues for the general public, scientists, engineers, industry, policy makers, and the different levels of government.

Living in Toronto for my whole life it is hard to imagine having to walk father than my tap for clean, drinkable water. What’s even harder to imagine is that there are people in Canada who don’t have access to clean water. Even though Canada has probably some of the cleanest water in the world and has access to a vast amount of fresh water there are still people living without equal access. Our provinces and territories have a responsibility to provide us with clean water and our cities have the responsibility of treating that water to ensure that it is safe for use. But what happens when you don’t live in a traditional city or town? What happens when you’re isolated on a manmade island and ignored by people around you? Your life slowly deteriorates into the poisonous water that surrounds you.

This is the reality for the Indigenous people of Shoal Lake. On the border of Ontario and Manitoba there is Shoal Lake, this is home to two First Nations communities, Shoal Lake 39 and 40. Almost 100 years ago the City of Winnipeg wanted a clean water source and they came to an agreement with the Province of Ontario to use the water of Shoal Lake. To access this water they built a 135Km aquaduct along with canals to divert muddy water and in doing so turned the land of Shoal Lake 40 into an island. The people of Shoal Lake 40 have been living in isolation on this island ever since, using a barge to access the mainland in summer and walking across the ice in winter. During the spring thaw and the fall freeze the mainland is entirely inaccessible.

The people of Shoal Lake 40 do not have access to clean water. Their island is surrounded by the muddy water that is diverted away from the water that Winnipeg uses. The only way the people of Shoal Lake get clean water is by having community members truck in bottled water from Kenora. This is not only expensive but it is harming the micro and macro-environment. Due to the isolation of Shoal Lake 40 they cannot remove anything from the island, this means that garbage piles up contaminating the land and water. The obvious solution here is to make a water treatment plant that serves Shoal Lake and if this was not an Indigenous community this would have been done decades ago. However, the community of Shoal Lake 40 has been told repeatedly that their population is too small to justify the cost of a water treatment plant. Too small to justify access to clean water, too small to justify access to a healthy life, too small justify life.

In 2000 the community of Shoal Lake 40 was put on a boil water advisory which means that their water was contaminated to the point that it would only be safe to consume if it was boiled first, to kill the bacteria that infests it. Why was it allowed to get to that point and how long were these people drinking contaminated water for? I can’t answer these questions but I presume an uncaring government played a role. A government that prides itself on the work we do around the world, keeping peace and aiding those in need when our own people are dying in isolation. Our people are dying because they don’t have access to medical professionals, they are dying because we are stealing their clean drinking water, they are dying because they fall through the ice trying to access the outside world, and they are dying because we are turning a blind eye. How much longer must the people of Shoal Lake 40 wait for access to clean water?

There is one spot of hope in this whole tale and this is the new Liberal Government. In December of 2015 Justin Trudeau came to an agreement with the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba to build Freedom Road. This is a connecting bridge between Shoal Lake 40 and the rest of the country. No longer will the people of Shoal Lake live in isolation. However, they will continue to live with contaminated water. After almost 100 years of isolation the Indigenous community of Shoal Lake 40 will have unobstructed access to the mainland, but how many more centuries have to pass before they can drink water from their taps as easily as I can, as easily as we all can?