Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Some Books Worth Reading This Summer

By Neil Armstrong

In March, I met author, G. Barton-Sinkia, whose 874-page debut novel, By the Next Pause, would be launched in June at Ben McNally Books in Toronto. Most of the books I’ve read are under 500 pages (like Lawrence Hill’s novel, The Book of Negroes) with a few being over, like Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.

There are other ‘big’ books that I’m yet to read, but having met this author and hearing her enthusiasm about By the Next Pause, I decided to read it mainly during my commute. I finished reading the novel on Sunday (July 29). Kudos to Barton-Sinkia on her engaging storytelling, clear development of characters and strong sense of the dramatic.

Barton-Sinkia is a first-generation Canadian of Jamaican and Barbadian descent who earned a Bachelor of Arts at Carleton University’s School of Journalism. She married her high school sweetheart, Anthony Farrell, now a writer and producer (The Office, The Thundermans, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Secret Life of Boys).

In 2000, they moved to Atlanta, Georgia where she worked a few years before moving to California. After nearly nine years in California working as a vice president at the Northern Trust Bank, she still had a strong desire to be a writer and began writing By the Next Pause while on maternity leave. Barton-Sinkia subsequently left her job to dedicate her time to writing her debut novel. In 2017, she, Anthony and their children moved back to Toronto – the city they always loved.

The cover of the book shows a cityscape of Toronto with the title and an inscription “Life rewinds and fast-forwards, but continues to always play.” The novel begins in the 80s, exploring a nostalgic journey through the lives of two disparate single parents – one Jamaican, and the other a racist – and their children who are best friends. “By the Next Pause is a reader’s delight, making binge-reading trendy again, just in time for summer cottage season,” notes a media release.

“After living in the United States for almost 17 years, I found myself homesick for Toronto and wanted to write a book that reminded me of my childhood,” says G. Barton-Sinkia. “There are so many stories about Toronto that have yet to be told. Especially novels that feature diverse stories and characters. I wanted to create characters that not only felt familiar but stayed with the reader long after the story has ended.”

Divided into seven parts, By the Next Pause could easily be adapted for a seven-part television series. Not only does the author introduce us to the lives of the main characters – Pam, Simone, Mike and Nolan – but we also meet their family and friends who come in and out of their journey throughout the novel. We rejoice in their triumphs, commiserate in their tragedies and empathize in their anguish.

B. Barton-Sinkia’s novel traverses not only the buildings, streets, landscapes and seasons of Toronto but also events, like Caribana. Simone and Nolan attend the grand parade of the summer carnival and the author vividly captures the sounds, music, dynamic colours and the movements of the festival. She also allows her characters to go beyond Toronto by introducing relocations to Halifax, Vancouver, New York and travels to Jamaica, Europe and beyond.

The author’s strong sense of the dramatic is keen in moments of surprise. After reading the book, one gets the impression that every character was fully developed from beginning to end. You could trace their entry, their journeys and their exits in the novel.

The use of a type of Jamaican Creole in the novel gives the characters of Jamaican descent a kind of authenticity that differentiates them from the Scottish Mike and Nolan, or Rowan and Tess of Halifax. What is captured in the use of the language is how it can also be strategically used in schools to draw a line between those who are Canada-born of Jamaican descent wanting to appear more Jamaican than students, like Simone, who were born in the island and immigrated to Canada.

There are several tragic events in By the Next Pause, but B. Barton-Sinkia was not afraid to deal with issues such as racism, immigration, LGBTQ issues, the 80s school system (which someone who is reading the book says reminds him of his high school years in Toronto), and more. It’s definitely worth reading!

My copy of the book came with a bookmark modeled after a mixtape.

“One of the themes of the novel is the idea that life resembles a playlist. A collection of music that captures life in progress. The moments we rewind & replay, Memories that shape our story. Each song in the bookmark’s playlist either inspired the corresponding chapter or reminded G. Barton-Sinkia of a scene in the chapter,” says the promotional material.

To listen to the playlist, one has to open the “Search” tab on their phone’s Spotify app, click on an icon and scan the Spotify code found on the back of the bookmark.


David Chariandy’s I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter written to his 13-year-old daughter. David, who was born in Canada, is the son of Black and South Asian migrants from Trinidad, and he draws upon his personal and ancestral past, including the legacies of slavery, indenture, and immigration, as well as the experiences of growing up a visible minority within the land of one’s birth.
What is really delightful about this book is how Chariandy uses ordinary moments with daughter to highlight life lessons. “In sharing with his daughter his own story, he hopes to cultivate with her a sense of identity and responsibility that balances the painful truths of the past and present with hopeful possibilities for the future.”

Roger McTair’s My Trouble With Books & other stories of short fiction is a collection of 13 stories set in Trinidad and Tobago, Toronto and the tourist fringe of Barbados. They are filled with memories of childhood and adolescence, as well as with snapshots of McTair’s flat, calm, stoic style of writing. These are valuable, humorous, poignant stories, moored in a Caribbean literary aesthetic while also touching on themes of diaspora and exile.
Roger has a sharp ear for conversations and reading his stories takes into the spaces of his characters – a taxi, a bookstore, a tourist resort – to listen to their interactions which will definitely make you – the observer -- laugh. You know as well when he is poking fun at some in these situations.

On July 24, educator, Andrew B. Campbell (Dr. ABC) held a book signing of his new book, The Invisible Student in the Jamaican Classroom, at The 519 in Toronto.
He hopes it will lead to more inclusive classrooms for LGBT students in Jamaica.

In “The Invisible Student in the Jamaican Classroom,” Campbell, a researcher and lecturer of diversity studies in education shares the experiences of gay males in Jamaica on their formal schooling experiences through reflection.

Campbell, a graduate of the University of Toronto with a PhD. in educational leadership and diversity and inclusive studies is passionate about “preparing educators and all stakeholders to increase their cultural competence so that no child is excluded from the teaching and learning process, and our schools become truly inclusive spaces.”

“There’s a lack of LGBT literature that focuses on the Jamaican experience,” says Campbell, noting that he teaches four online courses in Jamaica and Canada on issues that deal with inclusion and diversity.

He says LGBT is just one of those issues and like any other topic there is a lack of literature on such matters, including disability, sex education, and others.

“The Invisible Student in the Jamaican Classroom,” which is self-published, will be launched on August 2 at the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies during a conference of Pride JA, an annual celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Jamaica.

All of the books are self-published excepted Chariandy's which is published by McClelland & Stewart.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Fundraising Helps Legal Network Support LGBTQI People in the Caribbean

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Maurice Tomlinson    From left to right: Chris Tyrell, Maurice Tomlinson, Al Ramsay, Jim Searle and Philip Wong at "Chill & Chat" on July 11, 2018 in Toronto, Canada.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has received an annual boost of its fundraising efforts to support the human rights of LGBTQI people in the Caribbean.

For the past five years, a private cocktail fundraising reception, “Chill & Chat,” hosted by Chris Tyrell, Jim Searle and Al Ramsay in the summer at the home of Tyrell and Searle in downtown Toronto has raised funds for the organization and its Caribbean Can Rainbow Fund.

 The network says the event is also an opportunity to hear from activists and legal experts building momentum towards LGBTQI equality in the Caribbean and learn how allies can play a role. 

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer and senior policy analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, is leading the organization’s efforts to challenge anti-gay laws and policies in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

The long-time activist for LGBTQI rights in the Caribbean works in collaboration with local Caribbean groups and activists.

The legal network says these laws contribute to the region having the second highest HIV prevalence rate after sub-Saharan Africa.  

It notes that UNAIDS and regional and national agencies have identified homophobia as a factor contributing to this troubling statistic. 

“In numerous countries, particularly the Commonwealth Caribbean, the criminalization of consensual same-sex relationships and gender non-conforming people — accompanied by wider societal stigma and discrimination, often intensified by fundamentalist religious groups — has had a damaging effect on health and human rights.”

As a result, the legal network is pursuing various strategies to ensure that basic human rights are enjoyed by all, it said.

“The “Chill & Chat” is hosted by donors, this is their initiative. They viewed the work that we did, specifically in the Caribbean, as an opportunity to support our organization. This fund goes specifically towards our work in the Caribbean on LGBTQI issues,” says Philip Wong, director of development at the network.

The network invites people to help sustain change by joining members of the diaspora community along with concerned allies to support the Caribbean Can Rainbow Fund

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network’s strategy includes initiating legal challenges to anti-LGBTQI laws in Barbados and Jamaica, and spearheading police awareness training on LGBTQI issues in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Suriname.

It also includes: supporting visibility campaigns such as Montego Bay Pride and Film Festival, convening with progressive faith leaders to spread a more inclusive message and challenge religious assumptions, and writing reports to national and international bodies detailing the impact of homophobia on Caribbean LGBTQI people. 

Photo credit: Maurice Tomlinson   Maurice Tomlinson, senior policy analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, speaking at "Chill & Chat."

“We’re trying to encourage more diaspora groups to get involved so we put on events for diaspora groups to learn about what’s happening on the ground in the country, and to invest time and energy and resources to support this work,” says Tomlinson.

He said on June 6, the network launched a challenge to the Barbadian anti-sodomy law which he describes as the worst in the western hemisphere.

The network plans to host another Intimate Conviction conference which will have religious groups from around the globe meeting again in the Caribbean.

Tomlinson notes that Montego Bay Pride will take place again in October and the network will host another set of police LGBT sensitivity training in a Caribbean island.

There are nine countries in the western hemisphere that still have anti-sodomy laws and the network’s goal is to work with local partners to challenge as many of these laws as their resources allow, he said. 

So far, they have done so in Jamaica, Barbados, and intend to add another Caribbean country soon. 

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, July 26-Aug. 1, 2018.]

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 advocacy@jcaontario.org 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. Natasha Powell, founder of Holla Jazz, is at the far right.

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 Natasha 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.]