Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Canadian Jazz Icons to be Celebrated for Their Legacy

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed            Oscar Peterson

Photo contributed          Oliver Jones

Two Canadian jazz icons will be honoured at a special concert to mark Canada’s 150th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Ontario in December.

“Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones: A Celebration” will bring several musicians together on one stage, including legendary jazz pianist, Monty Alexander; JUNO and Emmy Award winner, D.D. Jackson; Montreal Jazz Festival grand jazz award winner, Robi Botos; Marc Cary, and several others at the Living Arts Centre on December 9.

Peterson died in 2007 at the age of 82, Jones is 83 and retired in 2016.

“It’s really about the legacy. It’s a Canadian story that I don’t think is told quite often enough,” says Frank Francis of Caliban Arts Theatre who is the artistic director of the event.

Speaking from his home in New York, Alexander says he is delighted to have been invited to honour Peterson and Jones, “two incredible pianists, with Oscar Peterson being a total icon of history in music.”

While playing in New York in the 1960s, Alexander went to a club to see Peterson, “the master pianist and one of the greatest” perform.

“I saw him play and it was beyond anything you’d see. He carried a presence and was a great artist with power and yet such elegance at the same time. And certainly that affected me in a grand way.”

The Canadian pianist introduced Alexander to MPS -- a company that he recorded with -- and told them that they should record him. As a result of Peterson’s recommendation, Alexander ended up making several albums in Villingen, Germany.

“He carried a world of how this thing can go when you sit at a piano and own it. When you play the piano you own it. Every note you play is an extension of who you are, what you are. I always felt that from the first time I sat at a piano I just felt that this piano was my friend.”

Alexander, a Jamaican, said there was a kinship that he shared with Peterson and Jones because of their West Indian heritage.

Both of the Canadian pianists were born in Little Burgundy, Montreal. Peterson’s parents were from St. Kitts and the British Virgin Islands, and Jones’ were from Barbados.

He said there was a close camaraderie between Peterson and Jones, who he didn’t know that well.

 “This was a man from on top of the mountain,” he said comparing Peterson to Usain Bolt and Muhammad Ali.

He said Peterson was a generous man filled with a lot of humour and he will play something to reflect on what he meant to him.

Photo contributed      Monty Alexander

Ron Westray, Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance at York University, says he’s very excited to be the musical director for “anything, all things Oscar Peterson” because “we don’t see enough of these.”

He says this is an opportunity to remind people of what they have here in Canada.

Westray, an American jazz trombonist who has been living in Canada for eight years and has been the holder of the Chair since it was created, says these are great musicians so he will kind of oversee their conceptualization of the material.

“These are guys who are conceptual musicians so my idea became more of a research idea. Get the raw materials ready for them, get the scores ready for them – Oscar’s scores – and allow them to interpret these movements in a way that they normally handle their music.”

Westray says the musicians seem okay with his approach.

He is the creator of an outreach program called the Oscar Peterson Jazz Mobile -- a traveling unit that goes around to area schools that don’t have the resources and expose them to jazz live concerts.

Francis says the musicians “are all sort of students of Peterson.”

“They’ve all sort of been inspired and influenced by him one way or another,” said Francis, noting that Dave Young, bassist, who played with Peterson and Jones will also be on the bill.

He said Jones was closely related to Peterson because they were both child prodigies and went to the same church in Montreal. Their families were relatively close, he said, and Jones was kind of Peterson’s little brother.

“But he is a giant, and I think while he’s here I figured he might be retired but while he’s here we should actually also acknowledge him. He doesn’t necessarily need to play but he needs to know that he’s remembered.”

Jones will be presented with the Living Arts Centre Lifetime Achievement Award.

Francis describes it as a mini-festival with four acts -- “So, you’re in for a treat. Everyone will tell their story a little bit differently so it won’t be the same right across. Everyone will have their moment to say what they want to say. I think that’s important.”

He said one of the things that is inspiring about this story is that typically when people think of jazz, they think of African Americans, but here are two incredible African Canadian men “who are actually coming out of the Caribbean and sort of make their way onto the scene the way that they have.”

“It’s really to speak to the African Canadian impact on this country as we celebrate Canada’s 150th,” says Francis.

Natalie Lue, CEO of the Living Arts Centre, says the event represents “the finest assembling of jazz talent ever on the main stage at the Living Arts Centre.”

Meanwhile, Kelly Peterson, Oscar’s widow, is looking forward to the celebration of both men.

“It’s wonderful to have them honoured together. Oliver has always been an encouraging voice for younger artists just as Oscar was, so I think it is especially appropriate that this special evening will include not only the statesman of jazz, Monty Alexander, but also the younger voices who are the future of this marvelous music.”

The program will feature a mix of primordial music written by Peterson and Jones and original material written by the three generations of artists who will be performing. 

Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Living Arts Centre's web page,, and by phone through its Box Office at 905-306-6000

[This story has been published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2017.]                                                                

Black High School Students Organize Conference to Combat Stereotypes

By Neil Armstrong

Tonika "Toni" Morgan and d'bi.young anitafrika at the second annual Black Brilliance Conference at Downsview Secondary School in Toronto on November 21, 2017.

Several black secondary school students from fifteen schools in the Toronto District School Board recently gathered at Downsview Secondary School in North York for the second annual Black Brilliance Conference.

The student-led conference is committed to shifting the negative perception people have of black youth through student advocacy, education and encouraging black youth to use their voices for change.

Approximately 150 students met on November 21 to share their experiences in student-run workshops that covered topics such as hair, micro-aggressions, police brutality, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, toxic masculinity, and housing. 


Housing: Yo what are your ends?
Do you want to understand why the feds are always circling your block? Does where you live impact your chances of getting to post-secondary? Understand the stats that reveal the strategic containment of black people.

Microaggressions (Racism): Why You Sneak Dissin’?
Are you tired of being sneak dissed? Find out how racism and microaggression connects and how to deal with the issue.

Toxic Masculinity: Poison Da Mandem
Are you tired of the man code? So much stress on da mandem, come free up.

Don't Touch My Hair: Are the gyals tired of people saying your hair is fake even though it's real? Are the boys tired of hearing their hair is too nappy? Do strangers feel they can touch and comment on your hair? Are people surprised to see that your hair can grow past your neck? Come and can comb out your problems.

Microaggressions: Yes I'm here early, yes I have 2 parents and No, I don't know how to braid hair. Put a stop to : the Sneak Dissing' and Come thru.

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: Why are your parents always on your case? Come learn how the effects of slavery can be passed down from generation to generation.

Police Brutality: Watch out for the OPPs
This workshop will talk about everything from racial profiling to intimidation and how to deal with the “jakes.” Find out about your rights and how to use them.

Carvela Lee, a member of the executive committee of the Black Brilliance conference.

Carvela Lee, 17, a Grade 12 student and a member of the conference’s executive committee, said this was an opportunity to bring some of her ideas to life.

The other executive members – all in Grade 12 – are Shon Williams,
Shenel Williams and Audrey Sanchez-Figueroa.

“I felt, like, by me joining the committee I could get my ideas out there and to make an impact in someone else’s life.”

She said they chose the topics based on what’s going on in their lives and how well they can relate to certain things.

“This year, mine is Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and what I’m doing in my workshop is basically focusing on the generational gap between parents and their children, and how that affects us. And how slavery played a role in our relationships and how we navigate the world.”

Lee said that at the end of the event she wants “everyone to be real with themselves because these issues are real.”

“People are just pretending that things aren’t happening so what I want from this is people to start acknowledging so that we can get better.”

Shon Williams, who facilitated the workshop entitled “Toxic Masculinity: Poison Among the Mandem,” said they discussed “difficult topics that highlighted the expectations around "manliness" of a black male and how their role is played out throughout our community.”

“Things got very intense when students were asked about how a man would be judged if they didn't act according to the expectations around being a "man.” We were able to expand by breaking down the elements of a stereotypical black man, and expressing our inner feelings in an intriguing mask exercise. We asked guys to write on the front of the mask what they show to the world, and on the back of the mask, what don't they let the world see. I could definitely tell that they were ready to let go and just take over the workshop, but that’s what made it the workshop to be at. It was so amazing to be around that atmosphere, it brought out a vibe that I couldn’t deny at all,” he said.

Tinuola Akinwande, an organizer of the first Black Brilliance conference held at Downsview Secondary School in 2016.

Tinuola Akinwande, 18, who organized the first Black Brilliance Conference in 2016 at the school and is now a student at Carleton University studying political science, said the conference is a response to a school-based trip to Harvard University organized by Tonika “Toni” Morgan. Forty-three students were on the trip.

“Basically, coming back from that trip I felt inspired. I felt empowered so I just thought what I felt was a once in a lifetime chance, especially, like, I felt so lucky and so grateful that I needed to share some of the experiences that I observed in Boston here.”

She said at Harvard the graduate students held workshops where they talked about things that applied to her as a black woman.

“So because of that, I’m just, like, we need this, because as I see in my school or in my community, too many people who are like me, too many people my age are just not motivated. They don’t know their purpose. They don’t know what they can do, despite their colour or their gender or their orientation or anything else.”

Akinwande saw Black Brilliance as being a platform for students, especially in the TDSB, for marginalized people to speak about their issues “especially in an education system that doesn’t really educate people upon other diasporas and histories.”

She said Downsview Secondary gave her a place to grow and a place to express herself and although Black Brilliance is student-led it could not happen without the help of the administrators and the adults involved, including Amita Handa, student equity program advisor at the TDSB.

Morgan, who was able to do a Master’s in Education at Harvard through crowd-funding in 2015, has graduated and just completed a fellowship there and is based in Boston. She flew into Toronto for the conference.

“It’s incredible, it’s humbling to watch it just play out in the way that it is because I think we often underestimate what our students have the potential to do. I think the only goal was to kind of show them a new world, not realizing that you’re actually a torchbearer. And by showing them this world, you’re handing the torch over to them,” said Morgan.

She said the students took that and they ran, and when she saw that she imagined how much more she should have done with them on that visit to Harvard.

“It’s changing me at my core because education is something I’ve always valued but I always felt like I’ve been denied for a number of reasons. I’ve always had to prove my worth to some teacher,” Morgan said, noting she had to do so on the day of the high school conference too.

Morgan took ten years to gain a Bachelor of Arts in equity and diversity studies at Ryerson University, which she attended while supporting herself and working in various jobs.

When she was accepted into Harvard, she turned to crowd-funding to help pay her tuition and living expenses. This resulted in donations amounting to $95,000.

The keynote speaker, d’bi.young anitafrika, a celebrated African-Jamaican dub poet, said she had to show up for young, brilliant black people.

 “The incredible thing about black brilliance and black excellence is, I feel that it is intrinsic to us. It takes black brilliance and black excellence to not only survive but to thrive internally, spiritually, and yes, we’re facing enormous challenges because of the historic scenarios that we have experienced as a people. For us to be where we are right now you can imagine the kind of internal resilience and perseverance and strength. We have to acknowledge that,” she said.

Morgan said the students came to Harvard in April 2016 for a conference about what it means to be black “with the age of Trump kind of looming over us as a possible outcome of the election.”

She said that was the grounding workshop, which she organized, where they got to talk about those kinds of things.

And just before that they were with students at the law school talking about these things. The law school students taught them things like the Socratic method and to ask their real questions.

“I remember one student said, ‘Tell us how you reconcile the fact that you are attending the oldest and probably most racist organization, one of the first racist organizations in America, as a black student. You’re going to graduate, that could very well mean it’s going to suggest that you embody the same values as the institution. How do you reconcile that as a black person?’”

Morgan said all the topics explored at Black Brilliance came up on that visit to Boston where the students discussed what it means “to be black and excellent and brilliant at the most prestigious university in the world, knowing at the same time that it was built on a legacy of injustice and oppression.”

Anitafrika said while growing up she was exposed to spaces where she was taught to critically think.

This was from being around the dub poets for whom critical thinking was an important part of discussions.

She was elated to see this opportunity for critical thinking by the high school students gathered at the conference.

Students from the following schools participated in the conference: Emery, CW Jeffreys, Westview, Northview, Lawrence Park, Runnymede, Humberside, Central Tech, North Albion, George Harvey, Marc Garneau, Oakwood, Richview, and Lakeshore.

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2017.]

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Physician Calls on Community to Strategize About its Health and Wellbeing

By Neil Armstrong 

Dr. Onye Nnorom, associate program director of the Public Health and Preventative Medicine Residency Program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.  Photo credit: Matthew Pompey

A public health and preventative medicine specialist says the Black community needs to have a long-term vision and to strategize regarding its health and wellbeing.

Dr. Onye Nnorom, associate program director of the public health and preventative medicine residency program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto was the keynote speaker at the third annual forum on black health, organized by the Black Health Alliance on November 4 in Toronto.

The event was entitled “A Sound Mind: Building a Black Health & Well-being Strategy” and Dr. Nnorom’s presentation was under the rubric – “And Still We Rise…New Approaches to Old Problems: Setting Our Own Agenda.”

Participants met in breakout sessions to focus on poverty, housing, food insecurity, mental health, youth perspectives and HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Nnorom advised them to keep in mind that racism is “toxic/detrimental to our health and well-being and it is affecting us in every facet of our lives, throughout the life course.”
She said there has been some progress in reducing disparities in North America but it is not enough and emphasized the need to have a long-term vision of what community wellbeing looks like “for us and future generations.”
Nnorom, the vice president and chair of the Black Physicians Association and a family physician at the TAIBU Community Health Cenre, also called for a focus on youth and other vulnerable populations.
She urged them those in attendance to advocate for race and ethnicity-based data so they can identify and champion interventions that work.
Dr. Nnorom had them all saying: “We face challenges, but still we rise. The revolution will not be televised; it's happening, live. In solidarity, stay calm and decolonize. We must have a long-term vision and strategize.”
Sections of her talk were inspired from poems such asStill I Rise” by poet, Maya Angelou,The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by poet, Gil Scott-Heron, and “Keep Calm and Decolonize” by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Canadian Cree singer-songwriter.
Using the definition of ‘revolution’ from the Webster dictionary as “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm,” Dr. Nnorom said it is “not swift/sudden/violent, but there is a fundamental change that is occurring across North America.”
She said change is happening, it is too slow but steady --sometimes over generations – and that most of it due to policies not directly related to the provision of healthcare.
We need to advocate for race and ethnicity-specific data to identify disparities but also to measure progress in Canada, and to identify and prove what works.”
Dr. Nnorom, who is also the University of Toronto MD Program black health theme lead, encouraged participants to “continuously identify and question the negative messages we have been taught about other groups, each other and ourselves.”
“All forms of racism, discrimination are related forms of oppression,” she said.
She also underscored the importance of understanding indigenous history, oppression and advancement.
“It took a long time to establish racial inequities; it will take time to correct it. We need to understand and teach about our own history and oppression in this country and throughout ‘the colonies’ populated by the African diaspora.”
She told them to remember that discrimination based on our intersectionalities (income, ability, gender, sexual orientation) is counterproductive, and to appreciate “the impact of intergenerational trauma on our present state.”
The Black Health Alliance (BHA) is a not-for profit, charitable organization focused on the health and wellbeing of Black Canadians.

The recently passed Anti-Racism Act, 2017; Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan; Interim Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism and the International Decade for People of African Descent make it timely to build sustainable and meaningful action with a Black Health and Well-being Strategy, it said.

“Without a strategy aimed at improving elements within public systems that have a detrimental impact on black lives, we will continue to be over-represented among those who are suffering and under-represented among those who are fully engaged,
benefitting from and thriving in society,” said BHA president, Dalon Taylor.

“The time for a black health and wellbeing strategy is long overdue. A coordinated initiative to strengthen the capacity and resiliency of the Black community is needed,” she explained.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 23-29, 2017.]

Black Community in Peel Meets to Discuss Crucial Concerns

By Neil Armstrong

From left: Sharon Fletcher, Danielle Dowdy, Yolande Davidson and Audrey Campbell at the 'JCA Let's Chat' event in Brampton, Ontario.

The frigid temperatures did not dampen the enthusiasm of many members of the Region of Peel’s black community who attended a town hall meeting to discuss issues affecting their lives.

Organized by the political advocacy committee of the Jamaican Canadian Association, “JCA Let’s Chat,” is the first of a quarterly series and was held at Xaymaca, a local restaurant in Brampton, Ontario on November 9.

In her opening remarks, JCA president, Adaoma Patterson, noted that Jamaica is among the top ten places of origin of people living in Peel, particularly those living in Brampton, and to a lesser extent Mississauga.

She pondered what that meant in terms of political power, noting that in the 1980s politicians used to come to the Jamaican community regarding various matters.

That has changed to the extent that a politician told Patterson in 2015 that “your community does not vote.”

The forum was held to discuss the issues impacting the black community and the role that the community can play in them.

Patterson noted that Brampton West has been identified as having the highest number of Jamaicans per capita of any riding in Canada.

Garnett Manning, a former Brampton city councillor; Michelle Richards, co-chair of the Peel Police Black Advisory Committee; and Kathy McDonald, Peel District School Board trustee spoke on issues such as political engagement, policing, the child welfare system and education.

The facilitator was Danielle Dowdy, who along with Yolande Davidson and Audrey Campbell organized the event.

Manning said democracy demands participation and that a free democratic society elects its leaders through the process of voting.

He said some people could be apathetic but the beneficiaries of the system are those who participate.

The former councillor said there are three steps to political involvement, starting with the individual.

“It begins with you and it ends with you,” he said, emphasizing the importance of parents taking their children to the polling station on election day so that they see them actively participating in the process.

Manning also told them that they could be ‘squandering an important opportunity’ if they do not vote strategically.

“Think about what you want candidates to have on their platform,” he said, encouraging them to run as candidates too.

The aim is to have candidates run and win, said Manning, noting that people coming together strategically was how he won as councillor in 2003.

Speaking on street checks or carding, Richards said Peel’s chief of police, Jennifer Evans, has said she will not stop it.

Richards urged the community to challenge such checks by contacting a division staff sergeant to file a complaint.

Regarding school resource officers, she said the police told her that they have been operating in schools for 25 years to create a safe environment and that there has been a reduction in the youth crime rate.

As someone who works in child welfare, she said the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is not the place to call for general assistance.

She said schools are a feeder into the child welfare system noting that some teachers will call the CAS if they think a child is at the risk of harm – which is very subjective.

Richards said the CAS operates on a fear-based perspective and that once anyone is involved in the system it can be an assumption of risk, which varies.

She told parents that they are not obligated to let CAS in their homes and to demand to see what the agency has written about them.

McDonald said children are the community’s most precious resources and as a school board trustee her platform is to help marginalized kids in general, black boys and kids in poverty, in particular.

Speaking on the Peel District School Board’s plan to support black male students, “We Rise Together,” released in October 2016, she said there is “power in our community, power in our voices.”

“As a community we have to be vigilant and hold the board accountable. It’s really important that we use our voice. We, as the community, need to come out more and advocate for our kids.”

She said it is important to engage the community about what the board is doing with modern learning.

The school board trustee wants to “arm our parents with the knowledge of what the system has” so that they know what is available to their kids within the school board.

She encouraged them to attend the board meetings and to ask questions on any matter of concern.

Some in attendance spoke of the need for a common vision, a strategic plan that everybody buys into; others spoke of the need to get involved in a cause.

The next town hall will be held in Mississauga and on the agenda they hope to discuss economic power, collective wealth and establishing a credit union.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 23-29, 2017.]

Monday, 20 November 2017

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Canadian Chapter) Celebrates its 21st Anniversary

By Neil Armstrong
Photo credit: Eddie Grant. From left: me (Neil Armstrong), Ron Fanfair and Michael Van Cooten -- recipients of the 2017 Jack White Community Service Award.

Photo credit: Eddie Grant. Megan Whitfield and Mark Brown of the CBTU presenting the award.

Photo credit: Eddie Grant. A closeup of the Jack White Service Award which was presented to me on Saturday night.

Having fun at the masquerade ball with Akhaji Zakiya, left, and Camille Begin of Heritage Toronto who later unveiled the plaque in memory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  Photo credit: Eddie Grant

The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Canadian Chapter celebrated its 21st annual awards dinner, dance and fundraiser with a masquerade ball under the theme “Our Journey Continues.”

The event, which was held at Le Parc Banquet Hall in Thornhill, Ontario on November 18, was also the occasion for the unveiling of a plaque by Heritage Toronto in memory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

This will be installed at the Roundhouse Park, near Union Station in Toronto, soon.

The other Heritage Toronto Award will honour the late Stanley G. Grizzle who worked for twenty years as a sleeping car porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

It will be mounted at the Stanley G. Grizzle Park across from Main subway station in 2018.

The date of the CBTU anniversary event also marked the 99th birthday of Grizzle who died on November 12, 2016.

On August 22, 2007, Brenda Librecz, general manager of the city’s parks, forestry and recreation department recommended that the Main Street Parkette be renamed in honour of Grizzle.

“Stanley G. Grizzle was an influential black leader within the Canadian labour movement and a Human Rights activist. He was born in Toronto on November 18, 1918 to parents who emigrated in 1911 from Jamaica. Stanley G. Grizzle resided
for 20 years at 231 Chisholm Avenue, one block from the Main Street Parkette,” notes a report to the Toronto and East York Community Council from Librecz.

In 1998, Umbrella Press published “My Name’s Not George: The Story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada” written by Grizzle with John Cooper.

Earlier this year at the 5th annual Underground Freedom Train Ride on July 31, Yolanda McClean, president of the CBTU, gave a sneak preview of the plaque in memory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters which was unveiled at the 21s anniversary event. 

At one time in Canada’s history, the only job that was available to black men was that of a sleeping car porter.

“On May 18, 1945, the Brother of Sleeping Car Porters became the first Black union in Canada to sign an agreement with a white employer, the CPR. Among other benefits, porters’ starting salaries increased, they received pay for dead-time on the road, and due process. They could also be promoted and in 1955 George Garraway, Roy Hall, and William Lowe became the firs Black conductors in North America.

“The BCSP’s organizing efforts and civil rights advocacy left a powerful legacy that impacted Canadian human rights policy and labour relations,” notes a flyer from the CBTU.

There were also scholarships presented, and four journalists were honoured for their work with the 2017 Jack White Community Service Award. The four were: Ron Fanfair of Share newspaper, Michael Van Cooten of Pride News Magazine, Lorraine Endicott of Our Times, Canada’s independent labour magazine, and me (How does one write about one’s self on their own blog? My colleague, Eddie Grant, will have the full story on the event and the recipients in the North American Weekly Gleaner.).

Jack White was a Canadian Labour Union activist. A native of Truro, Nova Scotia, he was the first elected black representative of the Iron Workers and one of the first CUPE National staff representative from a minority background. He was one of the first black Canadians to run for election to the legislative assembly of Ontario as an NDP candidate in the 1963 election.

The Jack White Community Service Award is given to those individuals or organizations that have focused their efforts on the betterment of the community.

“Your dedication to reporting and covering issues that are significant to the Black Community has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated by CBTU Ontario Canada Chapter. Thank you for all that you have done and all that you continue to do for our community,” notes the letter sent to recipients of the award.

The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Ontario), Canada is an affiliated chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (International). 

 The Ontario Chapter consists of members from international and national unions residing predominately in Ontario, but also in Quebec and across the country.

In its mission, the CBTU (Ontario), Canada “seeks to fulfill the dream of Black trade unionists, both living and deceased, who throughout our labour history in Canada have courageously and unremittingly struggled to build a national movement that brings our collective strength and varied talents to bear in an unending effort to achieve economic, political and social justice for all.”

In 2018, the CBTU will hold its Hub Club Camp for children ages 9-12, 13-17, and young adults 18+, from July 9-13, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. The CBU 4th annual golf tournament will be held on August 14 at the Richmond Hill Golf Club at 8755 Bathurst Street in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Jamaican Lawyer Celebrated By Her Canadian Alma Mater

By Neil Armstrong
Dahlia Bateman, corporate/commercial lawyer in Toronto, Canada.  Photo contributed

A Jamaican corporate/commercial lawyer, Dahlia Bateman, has been inducted into the prestigious Bertha Wilson Honour Society at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
It recognizes extraordinary alumni and showcases their geographic reach and contributions to law and society.
The Schulich School of Law at the university established the society in 2012, in tribute to Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, the first woman appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal and the first female judge of the Supreme Court of Canada. 
According to dean of the law school, Camille Cameron, Bateman was selected for the Bertha Wilson Honour Society for her “contributions and achievements as a student, a lawyer, a committed community member, leader and volunteer.” 
She was lauded for being a “credit to the law school, university, profession and community”.  
Bateman started out in private practice in general litigation. A fierce litigator, she quickly won a major decision in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice protecting a patient’s right to refuse medication. 
More recently, she won an appellate decision that helped to define the law on declaratory relief while protecting a plaintiff’s right to a jury trial. 
After 13 years since graduating from Dalhousie, she has firmly established herself in the legal arena.
While at Dalhousie, she was the university ombudsperson from 2002 to 2004, the student representative on the law school admissions committee, a member of the standing committee of the Indigenous Blacks and Mi'kmaq Initiative, and vice-president of the Black Law Students Association. 
Upon graduation from law school, she received the prestigious David M. Jones Memorial Award.
A strong believer in giving back, Bateman has balanced her work and family life with advocacy and volunteerism. 
She serves on various boards in the Greater Toronto Area, including St. Leonard’s Place, a transitional home for formerly incarcerated men, and the A-Supreme Nursing Foundation which assists vulnerable senior citizens.

Bateman is also a member of Toronto District School Board’s black students advisory committee where she assists in drafting policies intended to increase graduation rates among black high school students and to address systemic anti-black racism. 
She is a mentor for students, particularly those who have an interest in pursuing a career in law, and volunteers in the Ontario Bar Association’s elementary school mock trial program. 
Her commitment to lending a hand beyond Canada’s borders to advance the well-being and education of youth is demonstrated in her Jamaican projects.
As someone who was born in Manchester, Jamaica she sponsors back-to-school programs there by paying for students’ tuition, transportation, food and school supplies for low- income families in that parish and Clarendon. 
Bateman is also a volunteer advisor for the Canadian Executive Services Organization, an international economic development organization which offers humanitarian assistance and professional advice to organizations in over 120 countries around the world. 
She is is regular guest on local radio programs commenting on topical or legal issues, and is a frequent speaker at conferences.  
Bateman has received awards from the Manchester High School alumni association and the Knox College alumni association (New York Chapter), representing her alma maters.
[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 16-22, 2017 issue.]

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Opioid Crisis is Adversely Affecting the Black Community in Toronto Too

By Neil Armstrong

Shannon Ryan, executive director of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) and Michael Nurse, a harm reduction worker.

Black people in Canada’s largest city are dying as a result of the opioid crisis gripping Toronto but no one seems to know how many because that kind of data isn’t kept.

Shaun Hopkins, manager of the Needle Exchange Program at Toronto Public Health (TPH), says the city is not collecting that type of information in any coordinated way at the recently opened safe-injection site in the Dundas Street East and Victoria Street area downtown.

“Because the site that we’ve opened is a temporary site we don’t have our data collection instruments set up to kind of track ethnicity and background right now. In the future we will have that information but right now we don’t,” she said, noting that they’ve only been operating since August 21.

She said the temporary site was set up to respond to increasing concerns about the opioid crisis in Toronto and some things are not being collected in this context because it was set up in a hurry.

Nick Boyce, director for the Ontario HIV and Substance Use Training Program and a member of the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (TOPS) says the authorities
don’t do a good job of collecting data in Canada so any analysis would be more anecdotal.

Boyce said they don’t collect ethnicity type data of people accessing those services.

“We don’t even have a good estimate on the number of people who use drugs in the province or the city. We just don’t have good epidemiological data and the thing would be so anecdotal at this point as far as I’m aware,” he said.

In May this year, Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health and Provincial Overdose Coordinator, and Dr. Dirk Huyer, Chief Coroner for Ontario issued a joint statement on opioid data.

"The opioid crisis in Ontario is a growing and evolving problem, and one we are continuing to work diligently to combat.”

They said gathering accurate data on the impact of opioids is a key part of the Strategy to Prevent Opioid Addiction and Overdose. 

“As part of our commitment to openness and transparency, Ontario is now launching the Interactive Opioid Tracker, which is a web-based tool that makes available a wide range of data on opioid-related morbidity and mortality. As the data shows, the opioid problem is affecting people of all ages, right across Ontario,” they said.

Data from the interactive tool suggests there has been a steady increase in opioid-related harms in Ontario for more than a decade. Since 2003, the number of deaths has increased 136 per cent; more than 850 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes in 2016.

Boyce thinks Ontario is on track to lose more, maybe one thousand people this year, not all opioid related.

But Michael Nurse, a harm reduction worker at the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) who is on the frontlines of the opioid crisis and is from the Caribbean, says he is becoming more aware of the amount of people of African descent that are using needles.

He says there are no real statistics on how many people in the African community die from drug overdose.

Nurse knows of three who overdosed and died but the reason he knew in one case was because the family knew that he was also a person who use drugs and confided in him.

Michael Nurse

On August 12, TOPS and Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance (THRA) opened an unsanctioned overdose prevention site in Moss Park as a crisis response to growing numbers of overdoses and overdose deaths in Toronto, an increasingly toxic drug supply, and a lack of coordinated government response to this public health emergency.
Data collected during the site’s first 12 weeks, until October 29, show the following: 1,976 injections witnessed, 85 overdoses stopped or reversed, approximately 3,064 visits to the inhalation tent, 1246 naloxone kits distributed, and 130 volunteers, plus 48 medical volunteers. They raised over $30,000 entirely through voluntary donations from concerned individuals and organizations.
“If we were not there to provide these interventions, at least 85 people would be in emergency departments, costing the system thousands of dollars, or they would be dead. Not one person has died of an overdose at the Moss Park site – or in any safer injection site or overdose prevention site, in numerous cities around the world. Regrettably, people have died from overdoses in Moss Park during hours we were not open,” said Boyce.
The overdose prevention site at Moss Park is opened daily from 4:00-10:00 p.m. and staffed by people who use drugs, injection drug experts, frontline harm reduction workers, nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, and other concerned community members. All of its funding is raised through crowdfunding and donations.
Opioid drug poisonings and overdoses result in people not being able to breathe, which can result in brain damage, other health issues and death.
These overdoses can be stopped or reversed with close monitoring, stimulation, provision of oxygen and, when necessary, administration of naloxone, a drug that temporarily reverses opioid overdose.
As someone who does outreach, Nurse says the key thing is to develop trust with people and in that relationship they will “begin to reveal who they are and where they’re at.”

He cited the example of a Somali man who approached him recently to ask for some kits for himself and others in the Gerrard Street and Sherbourne Street area. He said the man’s friends had not disclosed their issues so wouldn’t ask him.

Nurse said governments can fund certain programs but do not really respond to the exact needs that people using drugs have.

In order to stop people from falling through the cracks, he said the outreach and service agencies are able to bridge that gap.

Nurse said African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) people using drugs hide that fact because of the stigma applied to the use and the shame that they live with.

Shaun Hopkins, manager of the Needle Exchange Program at Toronto Public Health.   Photo contributed

Hopkins says there is so much stigma and discrimination associated with injection drug use that people sometimes don’t want their family members to know, or their friends to know so that can be a barrier.

She says if their friends and family members do know that they use opiates then TPH would be willing to train a family member or a friend to have them come in and get a naloxone kit so that they can intervene if someone is overdosing.

Hopkins said it is a serious situation affecting a number of different people, and people are dying and it’s a public health emergency.

“One of the barriers, I think, is that stigma and discrimination about drug use, and so some people don’t let the people that can help them know that they’re using. And that’s an important step because those could be the people who are intervening if they do overdose.”

She noted that there are concerns about some of these programs, like the supervised injection service, that it’s going to bring people who use drugs into the neighbourhoods where these services exist.

Hopkins said TPH has tried to create three fairly small, supervised injection services for the people who are currently using its services. They are at The Works, at Parkdale Queen West Community Centre, and at South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

“They all have existing harm reduction programs so what we’re doing is putting injection booths and making injection services available to those people who are already using that service. These are life-saving services -- harm reduction – they’re proven to work and not to increase the likelihood that people are going to use drugs. And just makes it safer for them, and so being more accepting we know here that people are going to continue to use drugs despite our best prevention efforts at public health and other organizations throughout the city and the country.”

Hopkins said people use drugs for a variety of reasons: to cope with trauma, mental health issues, or perhaps it was an injury that they sustained and they were prescribed pain medication and that got out of control a little bit for them.

She said these are people who TPH is trying to do everything it can to ensure that they receive dignified services, that they have a place that’s clean and sterile for them to inject the drugs that up until now they’ve been forced to inject, sometimes, in an alleyway, in a bathroom.

“It’s not very hygienic, they’re rushing, they could overdose and no one would know that they’re there.

“There are a number of initiatives we know that they work and they will have an impact in preventing opiate overdose so we need to implement those programs now and do everything we can to make those programs as accessible to people as possible.”

Regarding the media attention the opioid crisis is receiving now, Hopkins said it seems to be a new phenomenon but The Works has been in existence for over 25 years and over that time TPH has been delivering harm reduction services, including distribution of injection supplies, supplies for safer crack-smoking, and overdose prevention.

They have also trained, in the past, a number of their clients on CPR so if they or someone that they’re using with is experiencing an overdose they’ll know how to intervene.

She said TPH started its naloxone distribution in 2011 because they did not want to wait until there were a number of deaths, but instead wanted to prevent every death that they could.

“The one very concrete thing that we can offer people at that time was naloxone. Supervised injection services had just been made easier to apply for – there’s funding now, its becoming part of the array of harm reduction services across Canada. Harm reduction programs have been operating for a number of years to prevent overdose deaths,” she said.

Hopkins thinks TPH has done a good job, however, the difference now is that there are more dangerous drugs on the street.

“There is more fentanyl available, it’s higher potency, people who inject that run a high risk of overdosing. And there’s also fentanyl in some of the other drugs, like heroin, we’re finding here and so the numbers of overdose are going up.”

She said there has been media recognition of the problem and that it is a North American issue, certainly Canada-wide.

“I think there’s more attention because there are higher numbers but we’ve always lost people, unfortunately, and every life that we’ve lost is preventable so we need to put these things in place to prevent further unnecessary deaths.”

Hopkins said the more programs that they can get up and running, more supervised injection services, maybe mobile services to get to more hidden populations – all of these will help.

There are a lot of places in the City of Toronto that are far from the three federally-approved supervised injection services that are going to be fully opened this fall and winter and so they need to do some development, she said.

“I know in DC they have a program, a supervised injection service specifically for women. Now, maybe we need to get to that level of kind of specialization for different groups that don’t feel comfortable coming in to the existing program. So, I think we need to work hard at making these services as accessible as possible.”

Going forward, Hopkins said they would be implementing drug testing, just specifically for fentanyl, using test strips that will detect fentanyl in the drugs that people are bringing in.

“Some people actively want to buy fentanyl on the street and so that’s what they’re looking for and hopefully getting it if that’s what they’re paying for. And then other people will be purchasing heroin and not looking to get fentanyl. And so these test strips will be able to detect if there’s fentanyl in the drug but it doesn’t detect potency so there’s a need for something. We’re applying for some money to be able to do more specific testing, in terms of potency, so that people can make a more informed decision about their drug taking limit here,” she said.

Nurse said many people who attended the funeral of one of the overdosed persons he knew only understood that the person had a sudden death.

“I heard from that family a lot of shame that the person was actually an intravenous drug user or drug user, period, and a lot of shame that they weren’t able to intervene and save them. A lot of guilt and a lot of shame and families, I find, in our communities don’t really disclose that.”

He said a lot of that also has to do with how the ACB communities approach drug use as “a moral defect, a defect in character, and in so doing we don’t build supports and agencies that allow people to come in and feel welcomed.”

Nurse said whenever he gets the biggest reprimand for doing harm reduction outreach it is usually from people within the African community.

There is one man who persistently reminds him that he’s doing the devil’s work.

Nurse says he is willing to listen to people’s points of view but will continue to do his work with the hope that over time they will change their views.

“But my question is usually, in my mind, so this is what I’m doing, what are you doing? Because it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and judge, but that is what we do. I find in a way that it allows us to not have to feel any responsibility. Sometimes, it is a weight to look around you and see brothers and sisters suffering and feel powerless to do anything about it. And if you could get that mindset that, hey man, they’re doing their stuff, I’m doing mine, it allows you to take your hands off and walk away with a certain comfort, but our drug use is hidden, there’s a lot of stigma.”

Nurse also knows of another family in which a cousin was struggling but other people in the community didn’t know.

When she was away they thought she “just run away with her worthless ways” but she was a drug user and she was struggling with it. So when she died the family didn’t say she died of a drug overdose. A member of the family shared the information with him.

The person knew that he did harm reduction work and would ask him from time to time about various things.

He said at present there is a woman in Brampton who is suffering from the results of a drug overdose and the only reason that is known is because the story made the news. There is a battle between the family who wants to keep her on life support and the hospital that wants to take her off.

“Buried inside there is the mention that it resulted from a drug overdose. If it wasn’t that big story that she was in that situation due to a drug overdose it probably would not have come out,” he said.

The harm reduction worker said if one were to visit South Riverdale or Moss Park there are usually memorials to people who died as a result of their drug use.

“You probably wouldn’t find any names from the African community on any of those memorials because for one, most of the African people would not really want to associate in that community to say, hey, I am an intravenous drug user. And we have no contact with people who feel safe enough or supported enough to come and say ‘I’m going to let you know that I’m a drug user. I’m going to come in here regularly and get your support. I make my statement. I disclose myself and I will live as I am,’ so we don’t have that kind of connection in the African community. Most of the services for drug users in the African community are supported by churches and churches are very judgmental, in terms of drug use,” he said.

He said the Taibu Community Health Centre in Scarborough is guided by a harm reduction philosophy and is the only African-based service organization he knows of in the city.

In terms of areas in Toronto, like Jane and Finch, Woolner Avenue, Falstaff Avenue, down Vaughan Road, Ossington Avenue, Nurse said apart from the outreach of Black CAP he knows of no organization that focuses on this community.

Nurse said one of the challenges and one of the setbacks from that is that people do not come out for the supports where they are.

The harm reduction worker said he was using crack cocaine for probably about 15 years before he found out where to get a clean crack pipe.

“I used to see people with them now and then. I didn’t even know where they existed and that was before I became homeless -- because once I became homeless then I had to come into shelters and stuff and I got exposed to the broader services that were there.”

Nurse said he hid the fact that he was homeless and would hide and sneak into buildings within his community and would sleep on the top of the stairs, and hide underneath after they were closed.

“I didn’t even know that there were shelters available that I could come and walk into and sleep because I didn’t want anyone to know that I was homeless,” he said.

Nurse said there was a time when people didn’t want anyone to know that they smoke crack but then crack use is a thing that will reveal itself.

He said needle use can be hidden and it is hidden. “It is hidden from the stigma, from the judgment and from the shame that exist in our communities. And they’re people dying from it. You see the one thing about African people who use intravenous drugs and living in that community -- that sort of transient homeless community -- is that people disappear. You just lose sight of people, you don’t know, and this is all people – white, black, Chinese.”

Nurse, 66, has not used any drugs in five years. He remembered just before he stopped using in October 2015 that in July of that year he had an overdose.

“I had stopped using and then I started to use some marijuana and the reaction was kind of sudden. And my heart muscles went and I collapsed at South Riverdale. I went there for coffee and I collapsed there, and they called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital and I was told that I had a muscle spasm of the heart.”

He remembered that while in hospital they were doing some tests and assessments. He was there for three days and one morning while walking towards the nurses’ station he overheard a conversation about the demand for beds and how they could meet it.

Nurse heard the head nurse say, “What about that guy there in bed three, we might as well kick him out because all he’s going to do is go back out and get high again so why are we wasting the bed on him?”

It took a while for him to realize that they were talking about him.

“That is the way that the authorities treat people, particularly if you’re a black man dying from drugs, they’re like why are we going to bother anyway.”

He said this is the tragedy of drug use in general, intravenous drug use in particular, and this overdose crisis is that it is hidden.

 “Until we decide to embrace human beings as human beings, it is going to remain hidden and we will continue to feel the tragedy because the impact of it hits because we’ve got children who don’t have parents.”

He said there are families who lose productive members and they don’t get support from the community.

“It’s not just that one person dies when using drugs. It affects generations and we turn our heads from it and pretend that it isn’t happening and we judge the people that it’s happening to.  But, if we look, harm reduction didn’t start in the black community; it started in the white community. It’s because people started to care about each other and figured these lives are important, these lives have value just like ours, and they opened up to it and they made a stand,” he said.

Nurse said the pop-up overdose prevention site in Moss Park is another example of the government not responding to the need.

He said for years there was a long discussion about pop-up sites and the need to change the law so that people wouldn’t get arrested. Then they had to do renovations to the buildings, he said, in order to accommodate and all the while people were dying.

“It took a group of volunteers – harm reduction workers – just like it started with handing out crack kits, who decided we’re going to organize this thing, we’re going to get nurses, and boom, one day they set it up in the park. Cut through the red tape, cut through the government stalling and the harm reduction pop-up site was in the park happening.”

The harm reduction worker said this has transformed city hall and that he has never seen such political currency, in terms of changing people’s attitudes and people’s positions.

“All of a sudden, The Works, which is a Toronto Public Health operation, all of a sudden they were going to do a quick emergency site. None of it happened until the people on the ground – the harm reduction workers – figured, ‘Look, we dealing with this every day. The people are dying, we know we need this site, let’s just do it.’ Because then the commonsense of it, the practicality of it is right there and nobody can say, hey don’t do it. Even the police in this division decided you know what you guys have organized this so well, we just going to not bother you, we’re not going to arrest anybody,” he said

In his analysis, Nurse said if one looks at the current change in laws around marijuana use where there is an effort to legalize recreational use of marijuana it is happening mainly within communities of people outside the African community.

“If you look at the discussions around setting up dispensaries it is outside of our community, yet all of this marketing and all of this is happening on the backs of the efforts that were made within the Black and Caribbean community. People have gone to jail to establish this market. I looked at the price that they said that they were going to charge - $10 – that’s the price that was developed within the African Caribbean community.”

He said there are black people who got criminal records from within that marijuana industry and that hasn’t been addressed.

“We’re going to have a community that is going to lose substantially the money that has been generated from the sale of marijuana. But yet, we as a community, continue to maintain the stigmatization and the shaming of people who operate in the drug industry rather than advocate for changes in laws and changes in practices so that people can develop and join into this market in a respectable and meaningful way.”

The harm reduction worker said there are people in jail who are from the community and when they come out they will come back into the community and there is no mechanism for welcoming them back – in terms of skills development or making them feel that they can live.

“This is an opportunity to raise awareness. It is an opportunity to say, hey, what about this, what about that, because we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it and it hurts,” said Nurse emotively.

Shannon Ryan

Shannon Ryan, executive director of Black CAP, says staff has participated in a range of training, including naloxone and fentanyl.

“I think as an organization we really recognize that harm reduction and drug use is not just siloed in the harm reduction program. Drug use really affects all of the populations that Black CAP works with – people living with HIV, queer communities, homeless communities, under-housed communities, people on the street – and as a team we need to build our capacity to be able to work with those communities and to understand the context of risks and how to respond to some of those risks, should an overdose present itself in our reception area. I think there’s a real good chance that could happen. I think we want to make sure we’re an open space for all folks that Black CAP works with and as a result we need to be prepared to create as safe a space as possible.”

Ryan said they will be doing additional training in this area as well because although they are better prepared to respond to this issue they’ve got a lot more work to do.

Nurse noted that community health centres are accessible and they are welcoming.

However, he said a lot of agencies, even ones that say they’re following a harm reduction philosophy, are not welcoming and they discriminate.

“Even when we as a people work within agencies that follow a particular philosophy or set of policies, we still bring about that judgment and shaming on people even by the way we look at them, the way we talk, the way we answer questions. But community health centres have developed and are developing a lot of good programs that are welcoming to everybody. And I find that is our best access really to awareness, to education that builds awareness, and also to resources that help us develop skills and to deal with challenges.”

Nurse said the challenge is that within areas where there are high populations of African people there are no services available and he describes this as a tragedy.

“It’s like saying we don’t deserve this service. We don’t deserve this care.”

Ryan said there is historical underinvestment from government in relation to black-specific services doing this kind of work.

He said Black CAP and Taibu are the only two organizations in the city of Toronto who are funded to do this type of work, specifically with black people and substance use.

“This is for a population of more than a quarter million people in a community where substance use as much as we want to deny it is incredibly common whether it’s alcohol or marijuana or crack or what have you. We’re not seeing as much investment as we need. We need the government of Ontario, we need the City of Toronto to really double and triple and quadruple its investment in these areas. There’s a gap in services but it also comes down to governments recognizing they need to invest in services in this area,” he said.

In terms of how family and friends can help their loved ones, Nurse said first there has to be a connection, somebody has to initiate that connection.

“Even if it’s a family member saying, okay, let’s reach out to support, like to grieve, to strengthen, to talk because that isn’t happening and dialogue has to happen and if there’s no dialogue happening there’s nothing happening.”

He wants to see the embracing of people in the ACB communities who have made decisions “that have developed more challenges in their lives than everybody else.”

“We need to recognize that people are hurting and that when people are hurting within our communities our communities hurt,” he said.

Nurse thinks the biggest barrier is shame and self-esteem.

“I mean supports are necessary, but in terms of creating an initiative, I don’t think people realize when you’re in that place where you feel like you’ve exhausted everything and you feel worthless. It comes with that sense of being powerless to change anything.

“At that place in time you’re really looking for an opening, you’re looking for a reason to believe. That is where the community comes. You’ve got to develop that sense that as a community we’ve got to be based really on compassion and encouragement. We’ve got to be giving people hope. If we’re not doing that then we’re not really functioning as a community. Those are the things that I find that we need to build.”

The harm reduction worker said there is a movement within government to recognize that funding is necessary to provide people with safe space and there’s also a change in the mindset of police, “in particular, so that what is happening here is that where there was a broad criminalization of drug use, at least now there’s an opening of response as a health crisis rather than as a wave of crime. That, in  and of itself, is a huge change.”

There is an after hours harm reduction drop-in held once a month on Wednesdays at Black CAP.

“It’s a drop-in where we invite folks who are street involved or under-housed, who typically live in downtown Toronto to come in and participate in, I think, a couple of important things. One, is a safe space where you’re not hopefully going to be judged for your history with substance use. You’re just going to walk in and you’ll be hopefully among your peers and not experience judgment, rejection. It’s also an opportunity for us to do harm reduction education with folks to say this is emerging practice, do you know what an overdose looks like, do you know what to do, do you know the risk related to this drug or that drug so we can do some of that work. But also I think more often than not, it’s just a space for black people who are using substances to come together to have a conversation about the issues that are most important to them that day,” said Ryan. 

Nurse said trust and safety are missing on the street for people who use drugs.
“To find a safe space, that is a gem, where you can open up to people around you,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hopkins said at the TPH safe injection site people are able to inject their drugs that they bring in and that there is a bit of a misconception for some people that TPH is providing drugs for injection but they are not.

“People bring their drugs into the site and they go through a bit of an assessment. It’s a very brief assessment about the drugs that they’re intending to use. Have they had any overdoses in the last little while? Is there anything that might be affecting their tolerance and the likelihood that they would overdose? Because that just helps us to be more ready, so if we know that someone is bringing fentanyl in we’ll be a little bit more on guard about watching them for signs of overdose. Or if they’ve been sick or in jail where maybe they’ve had a break in their use, or their tolerance is down, then we can watch them closer,” she said.

Hopkins said after the assessment they are placed in the injection area where they sit at a table and inject their drugs, while staff supervise from a respectful distance to make sure everything is okay.

“If the person needs help with what needle to use, what injection supplies to use, not everybody is really good about knowing what all the harm reduction supplies are and how to use them properly. So, we’ll help with injection technique if people need help with that, if they’re having problems finding a vein or they’ve had a lot of injection-related wounds helping them to prevent that in the future choosing another site where they can inject into maybe some vein that they hadn’t used before.”

She said they try to keep people for about fifteen minutes after because if they’re going to overdose it will probably happen within that time.

The manager said if someone overdoses they will intervene with some oxygen or naloxone and call 911, if the person needs that level of medical intervention.

While they are there, TPH also provides counseling and support so if they want to talk to a staff member they can, or if they prefer a peer with lived experience that they are more comfortable with talking about what they’re experiencing they can do that too.

Toronto Public Health also gives take-home naloxone so if somebody is an opioid user or uses with other people who are at risk of opioid overdose then TPH will provide them with a naloxone kit and make sure that they know how to use it.

If the substance user comes in with someone else then they also make sure that the person knows how to use the naloxone kit.

The public health department has also provided referrals, counseling and support to a number of the people that have come in to use the site.

Hopkins says what TPH recommends to people is that they have family members or friends get trained on how to use naloxone, how to recognize overdose and then how to intervene even if it’s just calling 911 and staying with the person if they don’t feel comfortable administering naloxone.

“But we’re distributing right now the intranasal. I’m sure it’s daunting for someone because you don’t have to use needles and people are concerned about that. It’s a lot easier to administer the intranasal,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to raise awareness. It is an opportunity to say, hey, what about this, what about that, because we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it and it hurts,” says Nurse.

Meanwhile, Boyce thinks the response from the city and the province to the opioid crisis has been late in the game.

“We’ve been sitting in that park since August 12 doing this and we were there in the first place because of the slowness of the response so the opioid deaths have been something we’ve known. This has been happening for over a decade now in Ontario just ever escalating so from a harm reduction perspective we’ve been warning about this, talking about it for a long time,” he said.

He said the opioid epidemic is now starting to get attention because it is the middle class white people who are now being affected and dying.

“When you get pictures in the paper of young white girls that suddenly gets a lot more attention than it used to. That’s a sad reality of the world.”

Boyce referenced a January 2016 article on the Vox website entitled: “Why are black Americans less affected by the opioid epidemic? Racism, probably.”

The writer, German Lopez, alludes to a story in the New York Times that doctors were more reluctant to prescribe painkillers to minority patients, worrying that they might sell them or become addicted.

“The disproportionate impact of the current epidemic on white communities, however, may be one reason the response to the crisis has been fairly different from the response to previous drug epidemics. While the crack cocaine epidemic, for instance, produced a response mostly through the criminal justice system, the opioid epidemic has led mostly to a public health response. Race offers one explanation for that historical discrepancy,” Lopez writes.

Boyce said the Ontario government’s attention to the issue and publicly stating this and putting resources publicly into it recently is a recognition that these kinds of approaches – the harm reduction approaches – are effective.

“And the larger implication around that is really to start talk about this idea of decriminalization. What we’ve done in Moss Park is really create a space where drug use has become decriminalized so the police do not come on site, they don’t harass people on site, they don’t arrest people on site. That has huge implications, in terms of people’s safety and overall health,” he said.

Boyce said the research for the three permanent supervised injection sites – ones involving the formal process of applying for an exemption to Health Canada – was done over five years ago. At the time the suggestion was to have five sites across the city.

In order to operate a permanent site, the city or province needs an exemption from Health Canada so that staff or people coming on site to use do not get charged with drug possession.

Boyce said the three permanent sites are still not actually open but should be within the next month or two.

He said TPH recently had a soft launch at the site at Dundas Street East and Victoria Street. They’re just waiting for some final equipment to be brought in so that permanent site within the next one to two weeks will be up and running.

Boyce said over the five years it took to make a decision about the three sanctioned sites, the numbers have continued to escalate, more people are dying and the drug supply has become more and more toxic.

“So there’s a reason we’re in Moss Park because there’s a lot of overdoses and deaths happening in that neighbourhood and none of the three permanent sites service Moss Park.”

He said some people thought that once the site near Dundas Square opens people who use drugs from Moss Park can head over there, but that won’t necessarily be the case.

“Well, that might be true if you have legs you can walk on and bus tokens, and don’t mind dealing with tourists. But we know talking to folks in Moss Park these are very marginalized people, highly stigmatized. They’ve had trouble with the law; they’re not going to leave their comfort zone or their immediate neighbourhood. Or if you’re in really bad physical withdrawal from drugs and you’ve just got some new drugs to take to stop feeling sick you’re not going to wait to go somewhere, you need to have services easily accessible. We talk about low threshold services so for sure there’s a whole bunch of people in Moss Park that are never going to leave it. But it also means there are other pockets in the city where people are not going to leave their immediate neighbourhood. So we need to make things easy and accessible for people and that means opening sites elsewhere across the city.”

Boyce said TOPS does not have the resources to keep doing that because it is entirely volunteer-driven.

“It’s going to require some sort of government support to start opening more sites. It doesn’t all have to be these big fancy facilities. Sometimes, it’s literally a room and a table and a couple of chairs and someone just to look after you. I’m not sure what’s going to happen moving forward but the fact that the provincial government is now sort of dedicating resources to Moss Park is an indication, I think, that they recognize the value of that kind of service.”

On November 1, TOPS and the THRA held a press conference at Moss Park calling for government help as the winter approaches and they continue to provide life-saving health services outdoors in makeshift conditions.
Since early September, both groups have been engaged in discussions with municipal city councillors, representatives from the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), Toronto Public Health, and Fred Victor Centre, on a plan to sustain the essential lifesaving services and move the operation indoors for the winter, notes a press release.
Given the significant number of people accessing services at the Moss Park site, the ongoing number of overdoses in the area, and that none of the three federally-approved permanent supervised injection sites will service people in the neighbourhood, there was recognition of the need for a permanent site in the immediate area.
A local agency, Fred Victor Centre, expressed interest in applying to Health Canada for a federal exemption to open such a service, which would mean neither clients nor staff would be at risk of criminal prosecution for drug possession while receiving or providing this health service.
However, this is a lengthy process that would take many months; therefore, in the meantime, TOPS believed there was an understanding with the City and Fred Victor to allow the existing Moss Park OPS [Overdose Prevention Site] to move into the basement of Fred Victor Centre, located nearby the current site, and to continue to operate without a federal exemption, until a sanctioned site was ready. The province, through the Toronto Central LHIN, supported the idea and made money available to help operate it, the release said.
“Unfortunately, the City of Toronto and Fred Victor Centre have now backed out of this arrangement; the deal we had been working on since early September has fallen victim to the same forces of bureaucracy and official indifference that have already contributed to so many preventable deaths,” said Zoë Dodd of TOPS. “As yet, the City has failed to collaborate with us to find any alternate interim solution.”
They demanded that the city and province take immediate action to support the sustainability of the Moss Park overdose prevention site.
“The city must work with us to procure a nearby indoor space with electricity, running water, a bathroom, and heat as soon as possible. Until then, the City should assist us in procuring a temporary construction trailer and a place to put it in the immediate vicinity.”
They also asked again that the province publicly declare its support for the vital work of overdose prevention sites in Ontario in responding to this crisis, and to provide the immediate, concrete support these services need to operate and expand.
“The provincial government and provincial public health authorities have the power to take such steps. We also call on the federal government to relax the rules and process for opening sanctioned sites; unnecessarily bureaucratic processes continue to contribute to hundreds of needless deaths,” they said.
One day after the press conference, Dr. Hoskins announced that the province’s Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) would be dispatched to set up an insulated and heated tent at Moss Park.
Since its installation, harm reduction workers have complained that the province told them that open flames used to heat drugs inside the tent would be a fire hazard because of the presence of oxygen tanks in the tent for overdose monitoring and resuscitation procedures.
As a result, the workers are back to using their unheated tent where people using drugs can use their lighter to heat their drugs.
In the meantime, the province is exploring alternatives heating methods to find a solution to the matter.
In a memo to the chair and members of the Board of Health in September this year, Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Panel, focusing on urgent additional measures to address the overdose crisis in Toronto notes that: “While we do not have “real-time” information about overdoses, we know from community service providers, including people who use drugs, that many more overdoses are happening and too many people are dying as a result.”

It notes that the Board of Health (BOH) approved, Toronto Overdose Action Plan,
contains many measures that will help address the overdose crisis but they are not being implemented fast enough to address the current situation.

“We need action now to save lives,” it says.