Friday, 20 July 2018

Jamaican Canadian Association Holds Training for Candidates in Municipal Elections

By Neil Armstrong

With the Ontario municipal elections approaching in October, the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) will be hosting free campaign training for all candidates from the Black community who are running for the positions of trustee, city councillor, regional councillor, or mayor in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Elections for municipal government are held every four years on the fourth Monday of October. The next municipal election will be held Monday, October 22, 2018.

Anyone planning to enter municipal politics has a window to file nomination papers from May 1 up until 2 p.m. on Friday, July 27.

On July 29, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the JCA’s political advocacy committee will host “So You Think You Can Run” at the JCA Centre in Toronto in which candidates are invited to attend this event with 3-4 members of their core team.

The team includes campaign manager, fundraising coordinator, communications lead, canvass coordinator, and/or volunteer coordinator.

They will get a crash course in Campaigning 101 from experienced speakers who will to share their knowledge and strategies in service of the Black community.

Facilitated by Danielle Dowdy, chair of the JCA political advocacy committee, the guest panelists are: Rob Davis, founder of Campaign Solutions Inc.; Desmond Cole, activist and freelance journalist; Stacey Berry, CEO, BStellar Consulting Group; and Tiffany Gooch, political strategist, Enterprise & ENsight Canada.

In April 2017, the JCA held a similar election readiness event for anyone planning to run in elections in 2018. The panelists then included Davis, Gooch and Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, City of Hamilton.

Candidates should RSVP to by July 25.

According to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), these are the requirements for who can become a candidate: 
  • Candidate must be a resident of the municipality or a non-resident owner or tenant of land in the municipality or the spouse of such non-resident owner or tenant;
  • a Canadian citizen and at least 18 years old;
  • not legally prohibited from voting;  and not disqualified by any legislation from holding municipal office.
  • You will need 25 signatures on your nomination form and must pay a fee of $100 ($200 for mayor).

“When you think about candidates for federal or provincial elections, you usually think about the political party that each candidate represents. In municipal elections in Ontario, candidates are not elected to represent a political party,” says the AMO.  

[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, July 19-25, 2018.]

Toronto Caribbean Carnival Attracts New Sponsors

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Anthony Berot    Masqueraders displaying their costumes at the official launch of the Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival at Nathan Phillips Square on July 10, 2018. The festival runs until August 12 with the Grand Parade happening on August 4.

This year’s Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival has some new sponsors onboard including the rideshare company, Lyft, and Hertz car rentals, among others.

Denise Herrera Jackson, CEO of the Festival Management Committee (FMC), says Lyft has come on as the ride of the carnival and has some incentives for their new and existing customers, including a $20 ride credit to new users.

“Lyft is pretty new in Toronto. They came in for Pride. In fact, when we met with them the marketing manager was saying ‘everybody says you’ve got to get in touch with that carnival in Canada. Don’t do anything else but you’ve got to get in touch with that carnival in Canada.”

She said Hertz is giving a 30 per cent discount for rentals and several sponsors remain supportive of the festival.

The carnival held its official launch at Nathan Phillips Square on July 10 with a cultural showcase of its upcoming events.

There were performances by the Toronto Mas Bands Association, the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists and the Ontario Steelpan Association providing a glimpse of to expect at the summer celebration. 

There will be a photographic exhibition, a follow-up from last year, and Herrera Jackson says since then several photographers formed an organization and will present an exhibition.

She said there was a young group of masquerade designers, Sugarcane Designs, which held a hackathon at Ryerson School of Designs last year to come up with some creations.

“They went back to them and they have a new number of designs,” said the CEO who noted that some were on display at the launch.

“That is a great partnership because you see the traditional masquerade design but this is incorporating 3D Technology and other forms for design to really and truly make up costuming.”

This is the second year for the Junior Carnival King and Queen Showcase which Herrera Jackson said was so admirable to see “little kids, like three or four, their parents making sure that their children start getting a love for who they are, what they can be involved in and being so supportive to make it happen for them.”

She said the Junior Carnival Parade and Family Day in Neilson Park, Scarborough has been growing in leaps and bounds because of the support they are getting from the Malvern community.

The city also appreciates the festival being held outside of the downtown core, she said.

Photo credit: Anthony Berot  Denise Herrera Jackson, CEO, Festival Management Committee speaking at the official launch of the Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

With regard to funding from the three levels of government –municipal, provincial and federal – the CEO said the FMC belongs to a group of festivals called the Majors – 11 of them.

They get $625,000 in cash but they get maybe $200,000-$300,000 in services for things like garbage collection, and support from other areas of the city like transportation, road closures, etc.

Herrera Jackson said the funding from the province is competitive funding. They apply to the ‘Celebrate’ fund which is based on them coming up with a new initiative every year.

“That’s new in a sense because it makes us get out of our comfort zone and bring in new initiatives in the festival. So this year we’re talking about trying to make sure the musical part of our festival comes forth.”

She said the federal government requires applying to a fund to which there are several applicants. Applicants do not receive the amount that they need because the fund is apportioned to all those who applied.

This is where some of the challenges are, said the CEO, who believes it is important to encourage “our people to say if you really love our festival and we put it on could you please support us when we ask you to pay an entrance fee.”

Putting on the festival in Exhibition Place costs closely $600,000 for security, fencing, renting, etc.

“So, when people try to say that it’s free, it should be free, you may want it to be free but we’re paying for it,” she said.

Herrera Jackson said this year the FMC joined an organization called Fame which is made up of some major festivals across Canada, like the Calgary Stampede, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Ottawa Jazz & Blues, festivals in Quebec.

Fame seeks the support of the federal government for these festivals and this year is advocating for money for security which is becoming more critical.

La-Toya Fagon, a chef of twist catering, who is from Mandeville, Manchester was at the Grace Kennedy tent at the launch providing refreshments made from the company’s products for the VIP area.

As a chef, Fagon was trained in French and northern Italian cuisine, so she is overjoyed to come back to “my heritage and my roots and to take our food and elevate it is an honour rather than it is work,” she said about participating in the annual carnival.

Her company has been around for 16 years and doing well in the last 8 years as a partner of TIFF and personal chef to the Raptors basketball team, she proudly said.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, July 19-25, 2018.]

Friday, 13 July 2018

Jamaican Canadian Artists Cop Dora Awards for their Performance

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: John Lauener    FLOOR'D won the Outstanding Performance - Ensemble Award in the independent theatre category.

Two artists of Jamaican heritage are among the recipients of the 39th Annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards for the 2017-2018 season.

Produced and presented by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA), the awards celebrate excellence in Toronto theatre, dance and opera.

In the dance division, the ensemble of Holla Jazz’s “FLOOR’D” won the outstanding performance - ensemble award, while in the independent theatre division, Raven Dauda nabbed the outstanding performance – female category for the Adedo Collective and The Watah Theatre production, “Addicted.”

The star-studded ceremony was held at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto on June 25.

FLOOR'D is a soulful and propulsive performance of dance, live music, and raw energy, all in the spirit of jazz. It draws inspiration from Katrina Hazzard-Gordon’s renowned book, “Jookin: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture.” 

The work showcases the dynamics, relationships, and interactions of dancing bodies inspired by the arena of jook houses and how these bodies compose music - jazz and the blues. Dances in the jook included the Charleston, the shimmy, the snake hips, the funky butt, the twist, the slow drag, the black bottom, the fish tail, and the grind and more.

 “This is actually the first time these seven dancers were working together so to be acknowledged for that among the first time that they’ve worked together is really exciting. It’s nice to be acknowledged,” says Powell about the win for FLOOR’D which is Holla Jazz’s first production.

Powell, who was born in Canada and is a Toronto-based dancer, choreographer, producer, and founding artistic director of Holla Jazz, was first exposed to dance through family social gatherings, basement parties, and backyard barbeques hosted by her parents (Grenadian mother, Jamaican father) and older siblings.  

When she was nine her parents enrolled her in ballet, modern jazz, and tap classes because they saw that there was something that she wanted to do but piano and soccer weren’t working out for her. 

Dance was the one that stuck with her at a young age and inspired her to continue dancing and pursue a professional career

Powell’s vocabulary encompasses a wide rage of dance styles that also include hip hop, house, and vernacular jazz.  

She experienced a knee injury in 2012 and was out for a while which forced her to think about the things that were important to her. During that time she realized that “social dancing, dancing with other types of bodies, dancing and interacting with other people was what really inspired me.”

“That’s when I came closer to connecting with jazz because jazz has a whole social history as well, particularly for Africans who came to America and how that whole evolution of the dance started.”

Grant awards from the Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council supported her New York residency research period, guided by Professor Moncell “iLLKozby” Durden.  

This was the start of Holla Jazz – “an arena where all jazz dances, hip hop, and house intersect to reinvigorate the idea of freedom and unity of the dance styles that bring meaning and hope to our communities.”

Photo credit: John Lauener   Raven Dauda received the Outstanding Performance - Female award in independent theatre for her play, 'Addicted.'

“Addicted” follows Penelope Day, an alcoholic at the end of her rope who finds herself at the mercy of Saving Grace, an unconventional rehab facility and its motley crew of residents. 

While in treatment, Penelope comes face to face with her inner demons, revealing the ugly truth about her family’s destructive past. Leaving Penelope to question what is real, what is not, and if in fact she will survive. 

It is written, performed and created by Dauda, and is described as a “tour-de-force multidisciplinary monodrama that will unapologetically get you hooked.”

“It’s my family’s story, it’s my own personal experience interwoven with my own creativity, interwoven with my beliefs and views that I have with myself, the world, with addictions so it just really validate everything as to who I am not only as a human being but a spiritual being and it’s just wonderful being recognized in that way,” says Dauda, who was born in Ottawa in 1973 to a Jamaican mother and a father (now deceased) from Sierra Leone.

Dauda worked with d’bi.young anitafrika whose methodology – a self-actualization method – helped her to look at her life.

“This story came about just as a way of me just getting in touch with myself,” said Dauda, noting that the story deals with ancestral pain and trauma, and is liberating.

Her mother always pushed her to explore her artistic talent, reminding her of relatives, like the late social anthropologist and musicologist Olive Lewin, and that theatre is in her blood. Lewin’s father and Dauda’s maternal grandfather are brothers.

Dauda is working on bringing the show back to Toronto and also touring it, but right now she is doing a lot of television and film -- playing a doctor in “Star Trek” and working on the show “Private Eyes.”

The other Jamaicans nominated were: d’bi.young anitafrika (outstanding direction of ‘speaking of sneaking’ and outstanding performance – female ‘Lukumi: A Dub Opera’), L’Antoinette Stines (outstanding choreography of ‘Lukumi: A Dub Opera), Ordena Stephens-Thompson (outstanding performance – individual in ‘Risky Phil’), and daniel jelani ellis (outstanding new play for ‘speaking of sneaking’).

Playwright, Djanet Sears, who has a Jamaican mother and a Guyanese father, was nominated for outstanding direction of ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.’

[A story initially written for the North American Weekly Gleaner.]

Decisions of New Government of Ontario Causing Concern

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed   Nadine Spencer, president of the Black Business and Professional Association

Now that the new Progressive Conservative cabinet of twenty-one members has been sworn in, some of Premier Doug Ford’s actions are raising concern among Jamaica-born community leaders.

The swearing in took place at the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen’s Park on June 29.
The ministers are: Doug Ford, Premier and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs; Christine Elliott, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care and Deputy Premier; Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Treasury Board; Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility; Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing;Vic Fedeli, Minister of Finance and Chair of Cabinet; Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities; Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; and Sylvia Jones, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

Other ministers are: Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues; Monte McNaughton, Minister of Infrastructure; Caroline Mulroney, Attorney-General and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs; Rod Phillips, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks; Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Minister of Indigenous Affairs; Laurie Scott, Minister of Labour; and Todd Smith, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, and Government House Leader.

There are also Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education; Michael Tibollo, Minister of Community, Safety and Correctional Services; Jim Wilson, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade; John Yakabuski, Minister of Transportation; and Jeff Yurek, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Photo contributed  Paulette Senior, president & CEO, Canadian Women's Foundation, right.

Paulette Senior, president & CEO, Canadian Women's Foundation says the Foundation is disappointed that the Ministry of Status of Women will be merged into the Ministry of Children, Social Services and Women's Issues, and that the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation will be merged into the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Affairs.

“Focused, standalone commitment is crucial to improving social conditions for women and girls, and making progress on our commitment to reconciliation in Ontario. These are critical issues that impact not just women, but Ontario, and its ability to thrive socially and economically. Ontarians will need to hold policy makers to account to ensure that these issues are still being prioritized,” she said.

Some community members have wondered if the Ant-Racism Directorate, established by the Liberal government, will go ahead with its strategy to address anti-Black racism in Ontario.

Simon Jefferies, a spokesperson for the new provincial government says the anti-racism directorate falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and the Parliamentary Assistant, Prabmeet Sarkaria, will play an important role in over seeing it.

“We will work to combat all kinds of racism and hate across the province,” said Jefferies.

Photo contributed  Marie Clarke Walker, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress

Meanwhile, Marie Clarke Walker, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, says she is very concerned about the current political situation in Ontario.

“We have just elected a premier who has indicated that his support for Donald Trump is “unwavering”.  We are all aware of the disdain for the marginalized and the rise of racism and discrimination since the election of 45 that is making its way through communities in Ontario evidenced in the last provincial election and the PC leadership races both provincially and federally as well as the rise of blatant advertising for people to attend racist meetings, join hate groups etc.” 

Reacting to the response from the spokesperson, Clarke Walker said she would hope that “all forms of racism (not kinds) are addressed, however, Anti-Black Racism as a particular form that has been proven to be systemic, negatively impacting our communities implicitly and explicitly at every level needs to be specifically addressed.”

She noted that the fact that the new government has put the Anti Racism Directorate under the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is a huge problem.

“Issues like racial profiling brought many to really understand the extent to which anti-black racism is embedded in our day-to-day lives. The profiling leads to criminalization of an entire community - and that’s what we are trying to stop. I would actually consider it exacerbating the racism already evident within the system.” 

Nadine Spencer, president of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), says she would like to see a prioritization of equity for Black communities in Ontario.

The new Cabinet is much less diverse than I’d have hoped. It’s disappointing that the party and the Cabinet don’t reflect the demographics of Ontario. I don’t see the Black community represented, and it’s concerning that our voices aren’t at the table,” she said. 

Spencer said the amalgamation of portfolios and the downsizing of core ministries are also likely to affect Black families and communities in disproportionately negative ways.

The BBPA president said while she agrees that it’s important to fight all kinds of racism, “to do this effectively, we need to account for the different forms that racism takes.”

“Black people in Canada have a distinct history, and experience a set of challenges that are unique to being Black. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.”

Like Clarke Walker, Spencer is also concerned about the placing of the ARD under the same umbrella as correctional services.

“To me, this is a dangerous move that implicitly criminalizes communities of colour. Unfortunately, as we've seen, the systems that are supposed to keep the public safe can be the very ones that endanger the lives of Black people. ‘Community Safety' needs to mean safety for all communities. Our government needs to listen to all communities to understand what this actually requires,” she said.

[An edited version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, July 12-18, 2018 issue.]

Despite Largest Single Seizure of Guns by Police, Shootings Still a Concern

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed  Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement

Despite recently making the largest single seizure of crime guns in the history of the Toronto Police Service (TPS), gun violence in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area continues to be a concern for the police and residents.

A nine-month investigation by the TPS resulted in a major disruption of a street gang that has criminal activities extended throughout Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area and into other parts of the country, the United States and even as far away as the Caribbean.

Speaking at a press conference after the gang bust on June 21, Police Chief Mark Saunders said the investigation of the Five Point Generalz dubbed “Project Patton” was based on intelligence the police had that led them to suspect that the gang was operating as a criminal organization.

They also believed that the gang was involved in illegal activities that posed a direct threat to community safety.

Project Patton involved more than 800 police officers from Toronto, Halton, Waterloo, London, Guelph, Barrie, RCMP, Durham, Windsor, Ontario Provincial Police, Peel and York.
Seventy-five people were arrested with more than 1,000 charges laid.

The seizure included 78 firearms, 270 rounds of ammunition, 75 firearm magazines, plus an additional 55 over-capacity magazines, drugs including cocaine, fentanyl, carfentanil, heroin and marijuana, and a total of $184,000 in cash. 

Sixty of the handguns were bought in Florida and allegedly smuggled across the border and intercepted by Toronto Police in Cornwall – making this the largest single seizure of crime guns in TPS history, said Don Belanger, acting inspector of the Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force.

Police are confident that the raid has effectively disrupted and dealt a significant blow to the gang’s hierarchy and operations.

Saunders said the Five Point Generalz is a dangerous street gang that has its roots in the Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West area. 

He said the street gang uses firearms for business processes and has no hesitation in using firearms. 

“When we talk about gunplay in the city, street gangs play a huge and massive role in that type of activity.”

Since the start of the year, as of June 25, Toronto Police statistics indicate that there have been 257 victims of shootings and 199 incidents, the latest being on June 24. Last year there were 248 victims and 170 incidents during the same period. 

Photo contributed  Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association

Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, says the JCA continues to be concerned about the escalation of violent crime in the Greater Toronto Area. 

“This is an issue affecting not just Toronto but the cities surrounding Toronto and is a reflection of the economic and social inequities that exist in our area. Now more than ever government and the community sector must work together to ensure resources are allocated to neighbourhoods most in need. Now is not the time to cut budgets and programs that support our children, youth and their parents who are often struggling to make ends meet and have limited opportunities,” she said.

Police Regional Police Chief Jennifer Evans says the escalation in gun violence, not only within the region, but across the GTA is concerning.

“We at Peel Regional Police know that getting to the bottom of gun violence is about more than just making arrests, it’s about preventing gun violence in the first place. That means keeping kids from joining gangs, increasing trust with our community to enhance crime reporting, and continuing to strengthen relationships,” said Evans in a press release.

Chief Saunders said the vast majority of people in the city of 2.8 million people feel safe but there is a need to have a holistic approach examining the root causes of gun violence. 

Reacting to four fatal shootings of the weekend of June 23, Mayor John Tory said Toronto is a safe city but gangs need to be taken off the streets.

Meanwhile, Louis March, a Jamaican who founded the Zero Gun Violence Movement in 2013, says the recent shootings in Toronto are almost predictable because of the trends.

He said there was a 100 per cent increase in homicides resulting from shootings between 2013 and 2016. 

He noted that after 2005 -- “The Year of the Gun” -- there were 52 homicides, but in 2013 there was a significant reduction to 22 “because people woke up and realized that you had to get the youth engaged in positive work programs.”

The youth outreach programs were set up by the city and province resulting in youth engaging youth as they were going through their troubled times, keeping them occupied, directing them to the right resources and supports when necessary, he said.

March says the rise in shootings in 2013 could be attributed to some of the funding for these programs coming to an end.

“But then we realized that in communities where there used to be one or two guns that used to be shared, rented, borrowed amongst the people, all of a sudden everybody had one or two guns themselves.”

He said his organization saw an increase in the supply and caliber of guns and a decline in the age of those using guns – from those in their 20s and 30s to teenagers – and they saw an increase in the brazenness of the shootings. 

March said social media was being used by the perpetrators to “glorify, predict, challenge, retaliate” resulting in an uptick of violence in the city but “nobody was listening.”

He also said the poverty gap has widened and while in some communities, like Rosedale, there are many supports and resources; in Rexdale there’s the total opposite.

Youth in some neighbourhoods have told him that it is easier for them to get guns than to get jobs.

He believes the problem is about socioeconomics and that all the stakeholders, including youth, ex-cons and the families of victims, must be brought together to re-evaluate strategies.

The anti-gun violence advocate wants the federal government to examine its gun control legislation.

Meanwhile, a provincial Progressive Conservative spokesman said the government of Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PCs are committed to restoring provincial funding for anti-gang and anti-gun task forces in Toronto.

[An edited version of this story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, July 5-11 & July 12-18, 2018 issues.]

Summer Institute at Brock Univesity Explores Gang Exit for Youth

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed  Tamari Kitossa, associate professor in the sociology department at Brock University in Hamilton, Ontario

As politicians and police grapple with the rise of gun violence in Toronto, academics, educators and social workers among others will meet at Brock University in Hamilton, Ontario to focus on youth and gangs.

The Summer Institute for Peace in Civil Society will present “Beyond Gang Exit: Communities of practice, researchers and a case for a domestic peace dividend” on July 18 and 19.

Tamari Kitossa, associate professor in the sociology department at Brock University and lead organizer of the summer institute, says part of the reason the institute exists is to figure out ways of conflict resolution, identifying the sources of conflict, and to bring together different stakeholders into having this conversation.

“We keep saying that our youth are the future, so on and so forth, but they’re a number of reports that have come out quite recently in the last two weeks about the level of poverty in Canada and how this is having a detrimental impact for youth. And so we can’t separate the fact that we’re basically designing poverty by policy, and that one of the consequences is that young people are having to develop strategies of coping for themselves, and one of them is, in fact, youth gangs – that’s how kids are coping.”

He said there are programs and expectations that youth should exit gangs, “but there is a) inadequate incentives and supports for doing so and, b) a great deal of ignorance about the ways gangs provide supports for youth, though of course there are significant down sides: interpersonal violence and collateral injuries to others.

Kitossa says the institute wants to begin from thinking about “how do we model conflict resolution, how do we build conflict resolution capacities such that youth can begin to emulate the way that we solve problems.”

 “We’re throwing police at them, we’re throwing prisons at them and what we need to begin to think about is that police and prisons are not the solution to the problems.”

Professor Kitossa noted that people are doing things in various countries and across Canada to enhance peaceful measures in society.

However, he thinks they have not had spaces where they can have academics, practitioners, educators and social service deliverers in one space to begin to think about what conflict resolution looks like in the practice of social work and in schools, for example.

He said the institute is about creating a space where they can look at practices and theories of change, and then “figure out how we can have some sort of collaboration around research and around program development.”

This community engagement project comes out of another project that was held in November 2017. The focus of that one was prison abolition, conflict resolution and peace building.

The conversation was around how to institutionalize this and they figured that one of the best places to begin is with the youth.

Asked what he would say to Chief Mark Saunders and Premier Doug Ford about the current situation in Toronto, Kitossa said he would suggest to them that the first place to begin is to take a step back and look at “the context and the conditions in which the so-called youth gangs that we fear so terribly -- those conditions in which they’re being formed.”

“So, we’re looking at the symptom and treating it as a cause so I would suggest to them that they look very squarely at public policy and I would suggest to them that they look very squarely at policing practices.”

Kitossa said “virtually every five years there are “gang sweeps” in the city of Toronto and this has been happening for the last 30 years.

“When are we going to recognize that this is déjà vu? We keep doing the same thing and the police keep making these big announcements – oh we found guns, we found drugs, then how come they’ve been doing this every five years. So we need to bring civil society into the solution or the resolution of these problems because we know that the best way to deal with conflict is through informal mechanisms. This is not to say we don’t have formal mechanism, but the moment you put formal mechanisms in front of informal mechanisms that’s the moment when we lose the capacity to solve conflict before they manifest themselves into major problems.”

Photo contributed   Yafet Tewelde, program director, For Youth Initiative is one of the keynote speakers.

Kitossa said there are people currently working on truce-making between gangs but they are not heard from in the news media.

“Those are the people we need to talk to because we need to understand that we cannot do away with conflict among human being. In fact, conflict is productive, it’s good; it helps us to figure out where the moral boundaries are, where things are working, where they’re not working and when we need to do things differently. And that maybe sometimes the people that we have conflict with, we’re actually imposing on them ways of being that are actually harming them.”

He said civil society groups are engaged in conflict resolution but they are not being supported. He noted that they are the ones that are bearing the burden of ensuring that youth get appropriate services.
Yafet Tewelde will be presenting on the need for alternative justice mechanisms from government to address root causes of violence and criminality, particularly amongst youth and racially marginalized communities.

“I will be arguing that gang registry is useless and not a legitimate means to address criminality,” says Tewelde, program director, For Youth Initiative, whose keynote presentation is “Gang Registry and Black youth in Canada” on the second day of the institute.

Carl James, professor and Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora at York University will give the keynote presentation entitled -- “‘Gang’”: Trope, trap and youth agency – on the first day.

[An edited version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, July 12-18, 2018.]

Saturday, 30 June 2018

City of Toronto's New Anti-Black Racism Unit Gives Update of Plans

By Neil Armstrong

The City of Toronto is seeking twelve Black Torontonians who would like to join the Anti-Black Racism Partnership & Accountability Circle to guide and support the full implementation of the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism.

This was among the updates shared by Aina-Nia Ayo’dele, manager, and Mohamed Shuriye, senior policy development officer of the city’s new Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit at the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) on June 19.

Ayo’dele, a Jamaican who was the community consultant and project manager for the Action Plan, said they chose four community partner agencies to do follow-up sessions: Black CAP, Jamaican Canadian Association, Taibu Community Health Centre and a Somali group in Etobicoke.

She says since the unit was set up there have been several internal updates in the City of Toronto’s departments and staff from the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit are willing to visit any agency or group who wants to hear more about their work.

In December 2017, City Council approved the Action Plan that will be implemented over a five-year term, 2018 to 2022. The implementation will be based on five annual work plans, starting in Year One (2018), and a corresponding progress report.

The next steps include the establishment of the Anti-Black Racism Partnership & Accountability Circle comprised of diverse Torontonians of African descent to support the implementation of the Action Plan.

Each member will serve a two-year term beginning September 2018 and there will be four three-hour meetings a year. A two-day retreat and training session will be taking place September 15 and 16, 2018.

The unit notes that Black Canadians, defined as African descent or origin, African Black Caribbean, African-Canadian, Canadians of African descent, are eligible.

The application deadline is July 27 and those selected will be contacted in early August.

Ayo’dele and Shuriye also encouraged those in attendance to apply for positions on city boards or committees as Toronto residents are needed.

Outlining the process of arriving at the action plan, Mayor John Tory noted in the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism that the city took the many reports on racism that have been written over the past 41 years and put their recommendations in front of people for discussion.

Forty-one community conversations were held by the city in partnership with community organizations.

“We wanted to know which actions Toronto’s Black communities felt would make the greatest difference in their lives.”

These conversations drew more than 800 participants who shared their experiences, their priorities and their concerns.

The mayor noted that the Action Plan has five themes, 22 recommendations and 80 actions that the city will undertake.

The themes are: children and youth development, health and community services, job opportunities and income supports, policing and the justice system, and community engagement and black leadership.

“As some first steps, I met with senior staff, including Black leaders in the Toronto Public Service to begin identifying systemic barriers inside City Hall. I heard a lot about the culture change that needs to happen here, starting with comprehensive training of staff to recognize, understand and shift anti-Black racism thinking and practice,” Tory said.

He noted that aided by community expertise, this work will help seed systemic change that will positively impact service planning, policy development and customer service.

The Action Plan notes that Toronto is the most diverse city in the world. However, the experiences of Black Torontonians and studies continue to show that anti-Black racism still exists in the city, affecting the life chances of more than 200,000 people of African descent who call Toronto home.

It says city-community collaboration will be critical to implementing the plan and ensuring that the actions that are implemented work towards creating equitable outcomes for Torontonians of African descent.

[This story was published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, June 28-July 4, 2018.]