Sexual Violence on Campus: Arrested and Charged

campus

*trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence*

The year of 2015 was one that reignited the discussion of sexual violence on post-secondary campuses across Canada and the United States.  While activists, students, feminists and scholars have been having these conversations and screaming for acknowledgement of an epidemic happening on our campuses, this topic was thrust into the spotlight this past year.  This happened in a number ways including Ryerson’s new sexual violence policy, the airing of CBC Fifth Estate’s School of Secrets and the Hunting Ground, stories of Jian Ghomeshi’s time in post-secondary education, the filing of Human Rights Complaints against post-secondary institutions including University of British Columbia and York University, Lady Gaga’s “Until it happens to you”, and the continuous hard work of activists to put a spotlight on this issue and demand a response from universities and colleges.

Despite greater public awareness of the epidemic of sexual violence on campus and new policies made by some schools, huge gaps remain in addressing sexual violence on campus.  These gaps put students at risk, re-victimize survivors, push survivors off campuses, deter reporting and are discriminatory based on gender, considering the majority of sexual assault survivors are woman-identified.

A major gap that post-secondary institutions have failed to address is perpetrators of sexual violence on campus, specifically those that are under investigation or have been arrested and charged.

On January 9th, York University Security Services released a security bulletin about an arrest made in a sexual assault case.  A York University student was arrested and charged with sexual assault following reports from two students during the Fall 2015 semester.  The security bulletin gave no information about if this student was still on campus and what actions would be taken to ensure student safety.

PhD student and activist, Mandi Gray contacted York University Security Services for more information about the student and the arrest.  Mandi is in the process of filing a human rights complaint against York University for how they handled an assault by a fellow student and colleague.  The trial beings February 1st: https://www.facebook.com/events/812545115537982/.

The security officer who took Mandi’s call was extremely rude and disrespectful to her and provided no information about whether the student who was arrested would be returning to classes on campus for the Winter 2015 semester.  Her concerns about sexual violence, student safety and a serial rapist being present on campus were dismissed and brushed off by the security guard.  This is how survivors are treated by post-secondary institutions.  Being apart of the York University community, Mandi knows who this student is and he is still on campus.

This student is charged with sexually assaulting two students yet remains on campus.  This means that the two women are starting their Winter 2016 semester knowing the man who assaulted them could be around every corner they turn on campus.  If they are in the same program, they may be in the same classes as him.  If they work for the same department or internship, they may have to share an office with him.  How is this fair to these two students?

Rapists being present on campus habe been an issue that post-secondary institutions are unwilling to address.  One of the common responses is that the perpetrator’s education will be interrupted if they are removed from campus.  Post-secondary institutions are more concerned about a perpetrators’ education than a survivor’s right to safety on campus.  Another common response is that post-secondary institutions allow perpetrators to remain on campus to avoid law suits.  Again, a survivor’s right to safety is overlooked.

If a student perpetrates sexual violence on campus, they are a threat to student safety and should be treated as such.  If a student is arrested and charged for sexual assault, or is under investigation by police or the school, they should not be allowed on campus.  While this would be ideal and the safest solution for survivors and students, post-secondary schools have not responded in this manner.  They have continued to allow perpetrators to attend classes and be present on campus.  If schools are unwilling to remove perpetrators from campus, steps need to be taken to ensure survivor and student safety.  If a student is charged with a violent crime against other students, and is going to be on campus, shouldn’t security be monitoring them?  Survivors are told to utilize security services to ensure their safety on campus following sexual assault, why not have security walk with perpetrators to ensure student safety?  This would protect all students.

If post-secondary schools are concerned about lawsuits from students who are barred from campus, there are ways to address this.  Due to the state of our criminal justice system and rape culture, convictions in sexual assault cases are extremely rare, which could open opportunities for perpetrators to sue colleges and universities for wrongfully suspending them and denying them an education.  A way to address this concern is to place students who have been arrested and charged for sexual violence on home instruction.  They would still be able to take classes but would have to do so online and would not be permitted on campus.

If post-secondary institutions are not going to take the appropriate steps to protect students on their campuses, they need to release the names of those who have been arrested and charged so students can take their own measures to be safe on campus.   Allowing serial perpetrators to freely attend classes and be on campus unnecessarily puts students at risk.  Safety is a right, post-secondary education is privilege; It’s time for post-secondary institutions to value the rights and safety of every student over the privilege of post-secondary education for one.

Sources:

http://security.news.yorku.ca/2016/01/09/security-bulletin-9-january-2016/

Photo from: http://knowyourix.org/campus-dating-violence/

Santa Needs Sensitivity Training

santa

Over the past year, I’ve been visiting a 10 year old boy with a disability at his group home.  I met him three years ago at a hospital I volunteered with; when he was leaving, group home staff invited me to come see him because they saw he had bonded with me.  I now visit him weekly and we are best friends.  This has been a year of “firsts” for my friend as he spent his life in a hospital.  The group home has provided him with so many childhood experiences that I realize we take for granted.  With that being said, this was his first time travelling to the mall to get his picture taken with Santa.

My friend was dressed in a red sweater and khakis, all ready for his Christmas picture.  His worker and I helped him practice telling Santa that he wanted Dora and Barney for Christmas.  As we waited in line, we asked him if he was excited and talked up Santa.  It was finally my friend’s turn to see Santa; we took him out of his wheelchair, put him on Santa’s lap and that is where Santa let us down.

Santa seemed awkward and uncomfortable with my friend on his lap.  He didn’t ask my friend’s name or what he wanted for Christmas, he wouldn’t even really look at him or speak to him.  This wasn’t how Santa treated the kids before and after my friend; smiling, asking their name, talking to them about what they wanted for Christmas, everything a mall Santa is supposed to do.  Although my friend is smaller than the average 10 year old, he is verbal and talks a lot.  He sat on Santa’s lap singing and talking, looking so happy yet Santa couldn’t even respond or look at him.

I’m extremely disappointed in Santa; I could understand if he was concerned about how to hold my friend or that he may hurt him due to his physical disabilities but that wasn’t the case.  If he was concerned about hurting him, he would have asked us.  He couldn’t be bothered to talk to a little boy with a disability, a little boy who has never in his life been to see Santa outside of a hospital.  I don’t know if my friend noticed this and I really hope he didn’t.  I kept trying to prompt Santa by telling my friend to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas; Santa didn’t get it.

The holidays are for all children who celebrate, not just those that are able-bodied.  My friend is just as special, spirited, unique and worthy of Santa’s time and attention as any kid standing in that line.  He has interests which he bases his Christmas wishes off of, just like every kid who has grown up celebrating Christmas.  This goes for all children with disabilities who celebrate Christmas.  They look forward to opening presents, putting out milk and cookies, decorating the tree, writing letters to Santa, and visiting him at the mall.

This specific experience relates to the systemic issues of ablelism, and the discrimination against and marginalization of folks with disabilities.  This involves our entire world learning and unlearning what we have been told and assume about people with disabilities.  This issue reaches far beyond my friend visiting Santa but regardless, there’s a little boy whose first visit to Santa may have been spoiled by the person he was most excited to see, and I’m sure there are many more kids experiencing this.  If you are a parent, family member, friend, worker, etc. to a child with a disability, I suggest avoiding the Dufferin Mall for your Christmas pictures this year.

 

 

Rally to Stop the Social Cleansing of Toronto’s Homeless

ocap2

On November 3rd, hundreds of people gathered at City Hall as part of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Rally to Stop the Social Cleansing of Toronto’s Homeless.  The rally was timely as councillors were debating the George Street Redevelopment Plan, which was approved.  George Street is home to Seaton House, which is at the centre of the George Street Redevelopment Plan.  Seaton House is the largest shelter in Toronto that provides a number of services to single men experiencing homelessness.  This “revitalization” plan is a fancy way of saying pushing those who experience homelessness out of the neighbourhood.  It is a piece of a larger plan to push the homeless and poor to the city’s outskirts as gentrification continues to sweep the downtown core.  Its underlying goal is to clean up the downtown area of shelter and support services.

While the George Street Redevelopment Plan is to keep some emergency and long-term care beds, it does not take into account the 200 shelter beds that will be lost in this renovation.  The loss of these beds is part of a bigger shelter crisis in the city of Toronto.  Despite a 2013 promise by the city to keep shelters at 90 percent capacity, several shelters operate beyond capacity and turn folks away due to a lack of beds.  The night before the rally, shelters were operating at 98-99 percent capacity.  This is extremely alarming considering we have not yet reached the winter months.  The crisis is amplified by the closing of shelters and rooming houses across the city including Hope Shelter at College and McCaul.

ocap3

The George Street Redevelopment lacks a clear and appropriate plan for those it will be displacing.  The current plan is vague and does not take into account for the complex needs of these men.  The plan follows the current trend of relocating shelters to wards on the outskirts of the city.  This trend includes programs such as Streets to Homes.  The problem with moving shelters to wards on the outskirts of the city is that services and supports that have expertise in homelessness are all located in the downtown core.  Having shelters located downtown allowed people to access the services they need without having to worry about the cost of transportation.  Without these services being readily available, people will fall through the cracks resulting in an increase in police involvement, jail, emergency services, hospitalizations and deaths.

The City of Toronto has said that the beds Seaton House held will go into other wards.  These wards have not been named.  OCAP wrote councillors, inviting them to come to their rally or publicly state that they would have a shelter in their ward.  Not one came forward saying they would support a shelter being built in their ward and none came to the rally, despite it being held during the lunch break.  Even as OCAP and allies took over the second floor rotunda, making lots of voice, no one came out to address the concerns.  Councillors won’t take a shelter in their ward yet voted “yes” to the George Street Redevelopment.  Being unwilling to have a shelter in a ward is discrimination and prejudice.  While this rally was to keep existing services and shelters in the downtown core, OCAP emphasized the need for shelters and services in all wards.

ocap4

OCAP’s demands are to keep shelter beds in the neighbourhood.  The Sherbourne and Dundas area has the infrastructure for shelters and services.  Meanwhile, the city is struggling almost 3 years after the Hope Shelter’s properly was sold to find a replacement.  It’s time to stop selling infrastructure for support services to condo developers, especially if the city is unable to find a suitable replacement.  It’s time for the city to step up and make shelter a priority as opposed to giving into neighbours mobilizing against shelters.  Last winter was a deadly one for the City of Toronto’s most vulnerable; with even less shelter beds for this coming winter, even more people will die on our streets.  The decisions made at City Hall have deadly consequences outside its walls; it’s time for councillors to take that reality seriously.

 

Benched: Raps in the Playoffs

raptors

The playoffs for the Toronto Raptors this year were not pretty… They were swept 4-0 in the first round of playoffs against the Washington Wizards.  Highlights of the series included failed attempts at rebounding, an easily broken down defence, missed free throws and overall, a lack of drive and energy.  Lou Williams was awarded the Sixth Man Award which was the only good thing that happened to the Raps the entire playoff period.  By the time the fourth game was over, Jurassic Park (aka Maple Leaf Gardens) was almost empty as disappointed fans made their way home early.  As a former basketball player, the team’s performance was quite disappointing and frustrating to watch.  Aside from watching the Raps seem to forget the basic fundamentals of basketball, what was even more disappointing was seeing what happened when a player lost control.

During the first quarter of Game 4, Kyle Lowry was given a technical foul.  He was unhappy with a call made by referees regarding a foul on Paul Pierce.  He protested this call by firing the basketball to a referee as he walked off the court.  It’s a good thing that referee has good reflexes or it would have hit him square in the face.  I was shocked that a player would do that to a referee but I was even more shocked that Lowry continued to play until being pulled for his third foul.

I played basketball for almost 10 years.  If I had done that, I would have found myself glued to the bench for at least the rest of the quarter.  I think Lowry should have been pulled by the Raptors coaches and made to sit on the bench at least for a few minutes.  I don’t care if it’s playoffs; I don’t care that you’re one of the team’s top players; I don’t care how much money you make playing basketball professionally; that behaviour is unacceptable.

I’ve had teammates who have sworn at coaches, given referees attitude and been disrespectful to other players, and was always embarrassed by this.  If I was on the Raptor’s coaching team I would be extremely embarrassed and tell Lowry to glue his behind to the bench.  By allowing him to continue playing, it sends a message that losing control like that is okay.  To put it simply, a grown adult did not like what happened and had a temper tantrum.  We see it all the time in sports and it’s not okay.  What if that referee didn’t get his hands up in time?  He would have had a broken nose and maybe a concussion.

I really hope the Raptors can get it together for next year.  I hope they learn how to box out properly in order to get rebounds, practice their free throws, run a ton of suicides so they’ll never stop moving fast and come up with a better defensive strategy.  Most of all, I hope they learn that firing a basketball at a referee and other unsportsmanlike behaviour has no place in a game as beautiful as basketball.

Sources Used:
http://www.ctvnews.ca/sports/raptors-fall-to-wizards-in-game-4-bow-out-in-a-first-round-sweep-1.2345993

Photo: www.gettyimages.ca

Hashtagging Mental Health

PRP

On April 23rd, Peel Regional Police responded to a distress call in Brampton.  During this interaction shots were fired but fortunately the man at the center of the distress call was not injured.  I generally get my news through Twitter so that is where I heard about this incident.  It was tweeted by the Peel Regional Police and read “#PRP involved in shooting after responding to distress call involving #EmotionallyDisturbedMale on DorsetDr. in Brampton.  SIU notified”.

The part of the tweet that caught my attention was that “emotionally disturbed male” was hashtagged.  I responded to Peel Regional Police’s tweet asking why it was hashtagged and that I felt it was unnecessary and disrespectful.  I have received no response and the tweet has not been removed or edited.  I clicked on the hashtag, wondering if this had become a tag used to describe men experiencing mental health issues.  Fortunately, it has not and the only Twitter user who has used that hashtag is Peel Police Services.

There are so many things wrong with this tweet and I’m shocked only two people responded asking why “emotionally disturbed male” was hashtagged.  First, this hashtag served no purpose whatsoever; I don’t understand why anything of that nature would be hashtagged.  Let’s look at who police are referring to when they say “emotionally disturbed”.  When police respond to distress calls involving “emotionally disturbed” individuals, they are really responding to individuals who may be experiencing distress due to mental health.  They may have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, etc.  They may be experiencing psychosis and do not fully understand what is happening.  They may be experiencing life circumstances that have lead them to a state of crisis.  Experiences of “distress” are complex and diverse; they should not be denounced to a hashtag.

Hashtagging mental health in this way shows a lack of respect for people with mental health diagnosis, people in crisis and their experiences.  There has been a lot of recent discussion around police and mental health.  This discussion has revolved around police often being the front-line workers for people experiencing mental health issues and how there needs to be better training for officers.  Hashtagging mental health in such a disrespectful way combined with a history of people experiencing mental health issues being shot and killed by police, does not indicate a future where police will be able to effectively deal with distress calls regarding mental health.

A change in action requires a change in attitude.  If police are going to be trained to effectively respond to people experiencing mental health issues without the interaction turning deadly, there needs to be a change in the way police services views people who experience mental health issues.

If you don’t think this hashtag is a big deal and does not disrespect people who experience mental health issues, I leave you with this thought.  If that hashtag was replaced with other individuals at the center of distress/police calls such as victims of domestic violence, would you be offended?

The G-Word: Gentrification

gentrification

Say it with me Toronto folks…gentrification.  That is what is happening in downtown Toronto.  Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into “deteriorating” areas.  While those in favour of gentrification argue that residents who previously lived in these areas will move back, in reality most are displaced.  We’ve seen it in Regent Park; low income and affordable housing is sold to real estate developers who build condos.  How exactly would the former tenants of that area move back if it’s not affordable housing?

Gentrification has been making its way across the entire downtown core with high rise condos going up while affordable housing disappears.  The City of Toronto is about to kick the gentrification project up a notch with its new plan for homeless shelters.  The city plans to open shelters in the suburbs outside of the downtown core.  There is a need for shelters in the suburbs but I think this plan will be used to displace and push those experiencing homelessness out of the downtown core as part of the continuous gentrification process and the “social cleansing” we see before large events.

Why do I think this?  Hope Shelter, which is located at College and McCaul Streets and had 124 beds, is about to close its doors because the building has been sold.  In a system that is already overcrowded and bursting at the seams, even one bed is too many to lose.  The City has been working with the Salvation Army to help find the men who were staying at Hope Shelter a place to stay but cannot say if this location will be downtown.  We keep seeing shelters closing downtown while the City plans to open more in the suburbs.

In a recent Toronto Star article a resident at Hope Shelter, Derek George, discussed how moving shelters to the suburbs would cause hardship for people experiencing homelessness in Toronto.  Many supports and services that people who are homeless access are located downtown.  This includes drops-ins, food banks, meal programs, hospitals and medical services.  Having to stay at a shelter in the suburbs also brings up the issue of transit and its cost.  Staying in a shelter downtown means you can generally walk to access services.  Being in the suburbs would require people who are homeless to take transit to access these services.  This is a huge barrier.

I also think the plan for shelters is a piece of the gentrification puzzle because of the population demographics in the suburbs.  In the Toronto Star article, Liane Regendanz from St. Stephen’s Community House discussed how while there is more poverty in the outer suburbs of Toronto, that poverty are the working-poor as opposed to street-involved homeless populations that we see downtown.  While all wards should have accessible shelters, it seems that a massive influx in suburban shelters is not the service most needed in that area of Toronto.  In this case, shelter beds would be available in the suburbs and people who are homeless would have to travel there to access that service as downtown shelters will be closed or are overcrowded.

This plan is going to remove hundreds of people who are homeless out of the downtown core.  Not only are services located downtown, but this is their community.  Gentrification of such a large area can seem like a slow process so why does this plan for shelters seem so sudden and fast?  Could have something to do with the Pan-Am Games being hosted in Toronto…

Sources Used:
http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/03/29/homeless-fear-toronto-plan-to-open-suburban-shelters.html

Photo: theblinker.com

Spring in all it’s Splendor… trashed.

A pile of black melting snow reveals garbage and a broken shopping cart

With the beautiful spring weather and the melting snow comes the trash. The piles of cigarettes butts, cups, scraps of paper, even shopping carts. Sadly, we have come to expect this as a rite of passage into warmer weather. But why? It is really so hard not to litter?

All of this trash makes me wonder how much money the city is spending to clean up for people who litter and pollute. So here are some of the facts that might surprise you. They did me. Did you know that in 2003 the city of Toronto collected 14 tonnes (this equals about 2,800 garbage bags) of street waste daily. 8,000 tonnes are of cigarette butts are littered by Canadians every year.

Most litter occurs within 5 metres of a trash bin. The average distance that someone will carry trash for is 12 paces. The majority of the litter collected is composed of cigarettes packages and cigarette butts, fast food packaging, newspapers, beverage containers and chip and candy wrapping.The city employs 145 litter pickers, 38 by-law officers, and 55 litter vacuums. We spend $16 million dollars annually to clean up the street waste that people unthinkingly litter.

And what do litterers have to say for themselves? The city did a survey of people who have littered at least once in the past month. 54% say they are lazy, 46% of people didn’t care, 32% said that the item was small and therefore it didn’t matter. 60% of people didn’t even realize that it is illegal to litter and only 28% of people under the age of 18 are aware littering is a crime. The survey showed that young people who are new to the city are more likely to litter.

The sad thing is that almost half of all people who see litter are more likely to litter. So what does this tell us. Well, the majority of litter comes from smokers, younger adults and people who are new to the city, despite the availability of trash bins people will drop their garbage rather than walk 13 paces to the bin and ultimately all of us pay to clean up after people who litter.

The big question is what do we do about this? The city’s survey suggested TV ads or billboard campaigns. Or we could always hire more by-law enforcement officers and actually fine people when they litter. Or we could have anti-littering campaigns in high schools. I don’t know if any of these would help to solve the problem of litter, but we have to start somewhere.

Inaccessibility at Ryerson

With the AODA deadline for accessibility fast approaching, ensuring accessibility should be on the minds of designers, urban planners and well, everyone. This is sadly not the case. For example, Ryerson is a leading university, and yet, accessibility still not on the forefront of planning. If you have been downtown lately you will have noticed the new student centre which is being built. What you may not have noticed, are the stairs. The front of the building is stairs. No ramp, no stramp, but stairs. The ramp, disability and accessibility are hidden at the back of the building.

photograph of the contruction of Ryerson's new student centre

Think about how this could have been done differently. Think about how ensuring universal access could have highlighted the forward thinking that should be bred in a university setting. Think about the design potential. Think about the implications of not including access in a student centre.

 

photograph of a stramp

Ever been to a dance studio on campus? If you are a wheelchair user you haven’t. They aren’t accessible.

Even this student blog is an example of inaccessibility on campus. This blog is hosted on the blogging platform, WordPress. It is considered one of the most accessible platforms but only if the blogger uses the accessibility features. For example, all images should be described for screen readers. On WordPress this is easily done. Simply use the alt text. I have even written a blog on making your blog accessible and yet this blog isn’t. To be fair student bloggers are not asked to ensure accessibility or instructed in the accessibility features of the platform.

A university should push boundaries and limits. It should make students and the public think about issues with its programs, buildings and policies. It should be inclusive of all people and bodies. Inaccessibility on any university campus implies that disabled people don’t attend university. They aren’t dancers, they don’t read blogs, and they are more than happy to be forced to the back in order to enter a student centre. Is this the university that you want to attend? We students pay thousands of dollars to attend this institution and we should demand that everyone be given equal access.

When the “Man-spread” is an Issue

man-spreading

Over the past few months, “man-spreading” has become a household term.  The transit controversy was discussed on the evening news, newspaper articles explored the issue and it appeared on social media.  For those who missed the uproar of the term “man-spreading”, it means angling ones legs in a way that takes up more space.  It’s been most noted on public transit and is generally done by men.  I have been wanting to write about this for a while but have been waiting for the parade of ridiculous articles to pass.

There were a lot of opinions and stories on “man-spreading” that diverted from the main discussion.  There were articles on how the seats on the TTC are small and do not accommodate all body types.  True and an important issue, but that has nothing to do with the “man-spreading” discussion.  There were articles about people putting their feet up and taking up seats with their bags which diverted us away from the topic of “man-spreading”.  There were articles about how men need to spread out due to their anatomy and asking them not to was a violation of their rights.  The Men’s Rights Activists had a good time with that one.  The final group of articles was close to hitting the nail on the head but not quite; they discussed men who spread so far that they take up two seats so no one can sit beside them.  This is part of the “man-spreading” issue but there’s a piece that is missing.

For me, “man-spreading” becomes an issue when I’m sitting beside that person.  It’s an issue when the person beside me is sitting with their legs wide open while I’m sitting with my legs together and they’re being crushed against the side of the seat.  Even with my legs like that, the person beside me still has their leg on mine.

Living in Toronto, you have to get used to not always having your own personal space.  It’s not an option during the morning commute where everyone is packed in and pushed up against each other in the subway.  Almost everywhere in Toronto is busy and being in each other’s personal space has become so common we don’t even think about it.

Despite personal space being less common in Toronto daily life, I like to have it when I can.  When it’s not rush hour and I manage to get a seat, that is a time when I can have personal space.  During that time, I don’t want someone’s leg almost on top of mine and to be crushed against the side of the seat just because someone can’t be bothered to close their legs.

Be courteous to other people on transit- stop “man-spreading”.

Photo from: cbc.ca

Toronto, the Reactive

No More Homeless Deaths

In the first week of 2015, two people were found dead on the streets of Toronto.  Both were homeless and sleeping outside in freezing conditions made worse by the wind chill.  Two men, two different location, two lives lost and two nights where the City of Toronto did not open its warming centres despite weather conditions cold enough to kill.  These people died on Toronto’s watch and their deaths were completely preventable.

OCAP and anti-poverty activists went to Mayor John Tory’s office, demanding the warming centres be open immediately despite Toronto Public Health not issuing an extreme cold weather alert.  Tory obliged and asked the City Manager to open the warming centres.  While it’s great the warming centres were opened, this is a reactive action.  We need city officials to be proactive to prevent similar deaths of people who are homeless.

So how can Toronto be proactive in its policies to prevent similar deaths?  First, the warming centres should be open all winter.  There is no day where it is safe to be sleeping on the streets, especially in the winter.  While warming centres are only a band aid solution for issues of poverty, homelessness, affordable housing, etc. they are necessary to keep people safe and alive in our ongoing housing crisis.

At the beginning of January, we learned a lot about the decision making process to open warming centres.  Toronto Public Health is in charge of issuing extreme cold weather alerts which are required to open warming centres.  The temperature must be -15 degrees for this warning to be issued.  City Hall has indicated there is to be some flexibility in this number but this doesn’t seem to have translated into practice.  For example, the night a man was found at Yonge and Dundas, it was -13 degrees with 50 km/hour winds.  These strict and rigid policies are becoming the different between life and death, safe and unsafe for people living on the streets.  The number used to indicate whether or not warming centres should be open needs to change.

We also learned that Toronto Public Health only announces extreme cold weather alerts in the morning.  This means if the temperature drops drastically in the afternoon, below minus 15, warming centres will not be open that evening.  Shortly after Mayor John Tory told the City Manager to open the warming centres, Environment Canada issued an extreme cold weather alert.  Toronto Public Health did not issue an alert for the city because it was late afternoon and they would wait until morning because “the weather could change”.  If anti-poverty activists hadn’t pressured Tory to open the warming centres, they would have remained closed that night despite temperatures being below minus 15.

Toronto needs to be proactive in its warming centre policies, not reactive.  Two people had to die and anti-poverty activists had to fight for the city to open its warming centres.  The first week of 2015 has shown huge and life threatening problems with Toronto’s extreme cold weather policies and when it opens its warming centres.  I think Toronto Public Health has failed in this area and should no longer be responsible for calling extreme cold weather alerts as they cannot seem to adequately do so.

Photo from: OCAP